All pilots vividly remember their primary flight instructor, but most of us lose touch with our original mentors as we pursue our aviation careers. AVweb reader John Laming is a striking exception. This former Royal Australian Air Force fighter and bomber pilot and retired 737 captain writes a poignant account of the day a few years ago when he had the chance to offer his old military flight instructor ó age 80 and nearly blind ó the left seat of a Piper Cherokee, and talked him through his final landing. Donít miss this touching story.
October 4, 1999
|About the Author ...
John Laming is British
by birth, but migrated to Australia in 1947 at age 16. He spent the war years as
a boy in Kent, England, and thus witnessed firsthand the Battle of Britain air
battles. He entered the Royal Australian Air Force in 1951, and remained in the
RAAF until 1969. There, he flew fighters, bombers and transports, and was
awarded the Air Force Cross. After leaving the military, he spent seven years
with the Australian Department of Civil Aviation, flying DC3s and F27s doing
flight calibration testing of navaids around Australia and New Guinea.
Laming's airline career began in 1976 when he joined Air Nauru to fly
Boeing 737-200s around many exotic Pacific islands, including Solomon Islands
(Guadalcanal of wartime fame), Tarawa, Marshal Islands, Guam, Truk, Saipan,
Palau, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Manila, Hong Kong, Japan and
other areas. In 1988, he returned to England and flew 737s for Paramount
Airlines around Europe and Middle East. After that, he spent a year flying for
German operator Hapag-Lloyd on Boeing 737-400s and -500s.
Upon reaching mandatory retirement at age 60, Laming returned home to
Melbourne, Australia, and took up instructing on singles and twins. He also does
occasional contract work as a simulator instructor on the B737-700 at the SAS
Flight Academy at Stockholm, and does consulting work on aircraft accident
John Laming is married, and has two children. His son (37) presently
flies as FO on the 737-400 with his old company Air Nauru. Now in his late 60s,
John remains fit, renews his instrument rating annually, and hopes to stay
active in aviation for many years to come. These days, his greatest pleasure is
to hop into a Boeing 737 simulator and fly it single-pilot. He says he knows
it's not the real thing, but reports that there is no greater sense of
achievement than to know that he can still hack a single-engine ILS in a 25-knot
cross-wind at night.
In my career I have flown with many flying instructors, and like
most pilots, I remember my first flight quite vividly. It was in a Lockheed Hudson flown
by Captain Harry Purvis AFC, and which took place at Camden near Sydney in 1949. Harry was
a highly-experienced and well-known pilot who had flown with Charles Kingsford Smith in
the Southern Cross. I sat on the metal floor of the Hudson and suffered the pain of
blocked ears because no one had told me how to relieve the internal pressure.
It was two years later before I saved enough money to take my first dual trip in a
Tiger Moth. The instructor had a thick European accent that was exacerbated by his
bellowing unintelligible orders down the Gosport tube. The flight was a disaster, and I
didnt learn a thing.
Determined to learn to fly, I saved more money and had another go. This time the
instructor was a kindly man called Bill Burns. Bill was a wartime pilot who had flown in
New Guinea and now worked for Qantas as their flight safety manager. He sent me solo after
eight hours of excellent instruction.
How I Met Sid
AVRO Lancaster Bomber
Shortly after, I joined the RAAF to be a pilot, and it was during my early training
that I first met Flight Lieutenant Sidney Gooding DFC. He had been a Lancaster pilot in
World War II, and after the surrender of Japan in 1945, had stayed in the RAAF, and was
posted to Japan as part of the Allied Occupation forces. There he flew Mustangs and an
occasional Spitfire. Later he flew Lincoln bombers against the communist terrorists in
Malaya, after which he returned to Australia to become a QFI (qualified flying
The Korean war began to hot up in 1951. As pilot recruiting increased, Sid, along with
other experienced former wartime pilots, were posted to the instructional staff at RAAF
Base Uranquinty near Wagga, in New South Wales. Uranquinty had been turned into a migrant
reception area in the early post war years, and when in 1952 the decision was made to
return the aerodrome to full Air Force control, it became No 1 BFTS (Basic Flying Training
Douglas C-47 Dakota
At the time, I was one of 45 trainee pilots on No 8 Post War Pilot's Course and after
initial training at Point Cook and Archerfield we were sent to Uranquinty in April 1952 to
start basic training on Tiger Moths and Wirraways. There, my instructor was Flight
Sergeant Vernon Jackson who had previously flown Dakotas. Vern was a real gentleman and a
fine instructor who eventually retired as a Group Captain. Fifty years later, we still
keep in touch. There was a wealth of experience among these pilots with most having flown
operational tours on Beaufighters, Bostons, and Mosquitos. Others had flown Liberators,
Hudsons and Spitfires. Apart from the inevitable bad-tempered instructor that is
encountered sooner or later at all flying training establishments (including the
airlines), we were fortunate to encounter keen and dedicated men who actually enjoyed
Besides flying, Sid Gooding gave class lectures on airmanship. Our first impression was
of a genial smiling man with a battered pipe and a wry sense of humour. On his uniform was
the purple and white striped ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross. We all wondered how
he had won this decoration for bravery, but in those days it was not the done thing to
ask. His officer's cap was set at a rakish angle and he looked entirely at ease.
Conforming to RAAF discipline and good manners, the class stood up as he entered the room.
He would thank us for the gesture and tell us to be seated.
After introducing himself, Sid unfolded a large blueprint and pinned it to the
blackboard. With a grave expression he then explained that he enjoyed inventing things,
and that the blueprint was of a pair of steam-driven roller skates, with a tiny firebox
built into the heels and the wheels driven by pistons rather like a steam locomotive. To a
stunned classroom of trainee pilots, he proceeded to go into the details of its design.
This was far better than the dry formula of aerodynamics or the study of saturated
adiabatic lapse rates, and Sid soon got our attention. Five minutes later, he put away his
blueprint and talked about the real subject of his lecture, which was carburetor icing on
Tiger Moths and Wirraways.
Each lecture would be preceded by the blueprint of yet another invention before getting
on to more serious matters such as cockpit drills, propeller swinging, thunderstorm
penetration, engine handling and aircraft captaincy. One strange invention that Sid
produced was a Phillips electric shaver head, manually operated via a flexible wire cable.
The blueprint showed one end of the cable connected to the shaver, while the other end was
attached to a large rubber suction cup. Sid explained that while flying the Lincoln
bomber, an inboard engine would be closed down and the propeller feathered. As the
aircraft slowed down, the cable would be cast out of a window and an attempt made to
lassoo the sucker to the spinner of the stopped engine. If this was successful, the engine
was restarted and the rotation of the spinner would allow the cable to turn the blades of
the shaver, and on long flights the crew could all have a shave. We never quite knew if
Sid was serious or having us on! But I do know that no one ever went to sleep in Sid's
lectures, for fear of missing the good gen on airmanship or his inventions.
Each instructor was allotted four students, and those that had drawn Sid were indeed
fortunate, as he proved to be kind and patient with even the most backward students. In
the back of our minds was the constant worry of being scrubbed from flying because of
perceived lack of ability. Those unfortunates who failed flying tests were posted away to
undergo a navigator's course at East Sale, while others were discharged from the RAAF
altogether and sent to back civilian life. I was nineteen years old, and with no home and
no job to return to, the prospect of being scrubbed was terrifying and made me work all
But with a good instructor in the back seat and the willingness to burn the midnight
oil, the chances of not making the grade were greatly reduced. Sid's students were usually
successful, while Vern Jackson's expert tuition set the framework for my eventual
graduation as a pilot. This was despite my next instructor at the Advanced Flying Training
School at Point Cook who was a real screamer. However, fortune smiled upon me, and I
received my wings in December 1952.
A Memorable Cross-Country
On one occasion I flew a Wirraway with Sid on a low level navigation exercise. We
flight planned from Uranquinty to Tocumwal, which was a RAAF airfield on the NSW and
Victoria border. In those days, the airfield was a vast storage depot for war surplus
Mustangs, Liberators, and other types. Sid had done this trip with his other students, and
having noticed the absence of guards around the base, he decided to liberate the
navigator's astrodome on a Liberator (I thought "liberate" was a neat choice of
words), and use it as punch bowl at home. We flew at 200 feet across the countryside, and
after landing Sid disappeared armed with a crash axe and screwdriver. While I kept an eye
open for roving guards, Sid found a suitable Liberator and wary of red-back spiders
carefully removed the astrodome.
The immediate problem was where to stow it in the Wirraway. It was too bulky to fit
through the fuselage access door, so one of us would have to hold it on our lap in flight.
This was solved by Sid removing the instructor's detachable stick from the rear cockpit
(which was normal procedure for solo flying from the front seat) and flying as a
passenger, rather than as an instructor.
After clipping on his parachute, and settling awkwardly into the rear seat, he managed
to wrap both arms around the precious astrodome and hold it on his knees. I strapped into
the front seat and started the engine. With the rear control column stowed, Sid warned me
that I was in command and for Christ's sake don't prang the aircraft, as there was no way
he could take over control if something went wrong. Making the flight with the
instructor's controls disabled was a potential court martial offence, and so probably was
the removal of an astrodome from Her Majesty's Liberator bomber! Sid, however, was
determined to have his punch bowl.
The flight home at 200 feet was uneventful, and I had almost forgotten that Sid was
aboard until a quiet voice from the rear seat exhorted me to land real carefully and try
not to ground loop after touch-down. To our mutual relief, the landing was a smooth
three-pointer on home turf, and afterwards Sid wrote in my hate sheet (student pilot
progress report) that I was now qualified to carry out solo, low level navigation flights.
An RAAF Pilot...At Last
After graduation from Point Cook, I did a short spell on Mustangs and Vampires before
being posted to fly Lincolns with No.10 Squadron at Townsville. The Lincoln was a more
powerful version of the well known Lancaster four engine heavy bomber. Among the aircrew
were veterans of bombing raids over Europe, including navigators, gunners and radio
operators wearing the gold eagle badge of the Pathfinders. While collecting my tropical
kit and parachute at the clothing store, I was surprised and delighted to run into Sid
Gooding again. He had been with the squadron for a few months as the QFI and was
responsible for the conversion of new crews to the Lincoln. He congratulated me on
receiving my pilot's wings, and said I was on the roster to fly with him on the Anzac Day
ceremonial fly-past over several North Queensland towns.
Sid Gooding at the scene of the crime.
When we met, he was exchanging a scorched and battered flying helmet and goggles for a
new set. On seeing my raised eyebrows, he pointed across the airfield to the burnt out
wreckage of a Lincoln bomber. Sid had been converting an experienced Dakota pilot and
while demonstrating a landing with one propeller feathered, he got into difficulty when
the aircraft drifted off the runway just before touch down. Sid decided to go around, and
applied full power on the remaining three Rolls Royce engines. Even with full rudder
applied, he was unable to stop the Lincoln from yawing into the dead engine. He managed to
keep it in the air for the next 20 seconds before the left wingtip hit a power pole and
spun the huge aircraft into the ground. The three crew members managed to escape from the
wreckage before it went up in flames. The only casualty was the radio operator who broke
his nose during the final impact. Just before the plane blew up, Sid decided to return to
the wreckage to find his wallet, which had dropped from his pocket as he ran. Fortunately,
he had second thoughts on the matter, because 2,000 gallons of fuel from the ruptured
tanks ignited a few seconds later.
Sid returned to the scene of the accident the next day, and posed for the unit
photographer. The photo was a classic. It reminded me of the scene of a lion hunter
posing, rifle in hand, and with one foot placed triumphantly on the dead beast. In this
case Sid had one foot on the wreckage of the Lincoln, his pipe in hand, and service cap
jauntily tilted on his head. The caption was "All my own work!"
When I first arrived on the squadron, I had 280 flying hours in my logbook. The
commanding officer briefed me that I could expect to fly as a second pilot for nine months
before being given a take off or a landing. At the end of that time, I would be then be
checked out to fly in command on local flying. At a later stage, I would be given my own
crew (consisting of seven men) and become qualified to take part in anti-submarine
operations. Contrast this with the major airlines where seniority ruled supreme and 15
years to first command was the norm.
While building hours on the Lincoln, I flew with captains of varying abilities, but my
favourite was always Sid Gooding. In later years as an instructor, I tried to model my own
technique around his patient and laid back approach. His helpful attitude was in marked
contrast to that of the many supercilious and pompous check captains that I encountered in
my airline career.
It was Anzac Day 1953, and Sid and his crew (with myself as second dickey) got airborne
in Lincoln A73-10, for a fly-past over North Queensland country towns. It would culminate
in a low run down the main street of Cairns over the marching war veterans. Seconds after
liftoff, the starboard outer engine lost cooling glycol, and Sid asked me to feather the
propeller. It was inconceivable that we should turn back and abandon the fly-pasts, and in
any case the RAAF reputation depended on our presence in the skies over North Queensland
on this day of national importance.
We flew over several country towns with No. 4 engine feathered, finally passing low
over the Cenotaph at Cairns, dead on time. Engine failures on the Lincolns were not
unusual, and I became quite used to flying with one engine stopped.
One day, Sid gave me the controls for take off. I was delighted to have a go, and
managed to keep straight with much juggling of throttles and rudders. The Lincoln was a
tailwheel aircraft, and therefore prone to swinging both on take off and landing. The
technique was to lead with both port throttles until the rudders came effective, then
increase to full power on all four engines. As the tail came up, gyroscopic forces acting
through the propellers, were countered with judicious use of rudder. I had been used to
this in the Mustang, so it was no big deal to keep the Lincoln straight down the runway.
However, as this was my first take off in a Lincoln, Sid talked me around the circuit and
with quiet encouragement and also talked me through my first landing in this big bomber.
It bounced a few times, but ran straight and I felt on top of the world.
In that era it was considered good manners to thank the captain for giving away the
landing, although that old world courtesy seems to have disappeared in modern times.
Certainly I never saw it happen in the airlines. As we taxied back, I thanked Sid for the
take off and landing. "That's quite alright, Sergeant," he replied, "It was
Forty Years Later...
The years passed, and I heard that Sid had left the RAAF to become a schoolteacher.
Faced with the inevitable desk job, I too regretfully left the RAAF after 18 happy years.
The pages of my logbooks filled up with civilian flying hours with the airlines, and on
reaching age 60, I was faced with compulsory retirement from flying Boeings. To earn a
crust, I renewed my instructor rating and did occasional work as a flight simulator
Then, from a colleague came the news that Sid had retired from teaching and lived in
Numurkah in country Victoria. I found his address and was soon on the phone. His voice
brought back happy memories of our flights together nearly forty years ago.
Sid was nearing 80, and his eyesight was fast fading. He welcomed my suggestion that I
could fly up to see him, saying that he would arrange a picnic for my arrival at a nearby
airstrip. The next day was sunny, and I track crawled at 2,000 feet to Numurkah. None of
this one-in-sixty rule for me!
Circling the airstrip, I could see two people with a car waiting in the shade of some
trees. The wind was calm and the touch down slightly bouncy. After many hours in Boeings,
I still had trouble nailing the round out in light aircraft.
As I climbed from the Cherokee, I recognized Sid immediately. He looked younger than
his real age, although by now his hair was white. Having said that, I felt conscious of my
own balding head and middle-aged spread. We talked of old times, and I mentioned that I
had a photograph of him standing on the wreckage of his crashed Lincoln. He asked me to
examine the photo closely to see if his wallet was there. I thought that with time, I must
have imagined the story of Sid's wallet, but happily it was still true.
Sid Gooding and the author
While Doreen his wife arranged the sandwiches and tea, I finally asked Sid how he won
the DFC. He said that he had been on a 1,000-bomber night raid over Germany when another
Lancaster collided with his aircraft. With part of the right wing torn away and the
outboard engine demolished, Sid needed full rudder and aileron to hold altitude. He
considered jettisoning his bombs and returning home, but realized that this meant flying
back into the outbound bomber stream. A midair collision was a near-certainty in the dark,
so he decided it would be safer to continue to the target with his crippled Lancaster than
risk a turn back. His big worry was that if a German night fighter locked on to him, he
would be unable to take evasive action. In the event, he dropped his bombs on the target,
and returned safely after flying seven hours with full control deflection. For this he was
awarded the DFC.
Taking Sid Up
As we talked, it was clear to me that his eyesight was bad, because he was unable to
see the photographs that I brought with me. He told me that his wife read books to him,
and that sometimes he obtained talking books from a Melbourne library. The time came to
say farewell, and on impulse I asked Sid would he like to come on a short joy flight with
me before I left for Melbourne. He was delighted with the idea, and after helping him on
to the wing of the Cherokee, I soon had him strapped into the left seat. His wife politely
declined my invitation, and told me quietly that Sid had hoped that I would offer to take
There was no way that Sid could see the instruments clearly, although he could discern
the horizon as a general blur between sky and ground. I started the engine and, after
releasing the brakes, asked Sid to taxi the aircraft. By giving him general directions
left rudder for five seconds, right rudder for two seconds, now rudder central we
taxied to the end of the field and lined up for take-off. I could see Doreen watching from
The Cherokee is a simple training aircraft, and with Sid at the controls I asked him if
he wanted to do the take off. "Just keep an eye on me, and give me directions,"
he said, and off we went. I gave him a few minor corrections to keep straight and as we
reached rotate speed, I called for him to place the nose just above the horizon. He flew
by instinct and experience, holding the attitude just right.
He could not see either the altimeter or airspeed indicator, so I told him to level out
while I set the throttle. He held attitude accurately despite seeing only a blur. His turn
to downwind was smooth and beautiful to watch, and I found myself going back in time when
I had watched Sid execute a perfect asymmetric circuit after we had lost the engine on
Anzac day in 1953. I asked him could he see the airstrip now on his left. He had no hope,
he said. Would he like to do the approach and landing, I said. He said he would happy to
give it a go, but would need steering directions on final. By this time we had gone a fair
way downwind, and I lost sight of the grass strip behind us. Talk about the blind leading
In the RAAF, we used to fly practice GCAs (Ground-Controlled Approaches). These were
radar approaches conducted by ground controllers, sometimes known as
"talk-downs." The controller sat in a radio truck and guided the radar target
down the course and glidepath marked on his screen. As the aircraft came over the
threshold, the radar controller would say, "Touch down, touch down ... NOW!" and
seconds later the wheels would hit the runway. GCAs were very effective in thick fog, but
unreliable in heavy rain due attenuation of the radar screen. Today there was no fog or
rain just a fine sunny afternoon and perfect for a GCA. But first I had to locate the
I told Sid I would talk him down like a GCA controller using RAAF terminology with
which we were both familiar. He had flown radar controlled approaches in Mustangs and
Spitfires, so he was no stranger to the technique. Sure, he lacked currency after forty
years, but he could still pick an attitude despite being partially blind.
His circuit height was remarkably accurate as I asked him to add more or less power to
maintain cruise airspeed. Finally I spotted the strip and turned Sid on to long final. He
held the nose attitude admirably as I gave him heading instructions to keep the airstrip
dead ahead. I warned him of the trim change with lowered flaps, which he fixed with the
trim wheel after a little groping. I told him that when round-out was imminent, I would
call him to flare and close the throttle. From experience, he knew the rate at which to
keep coming back on the wheel during hold off. Any problems, I told him, and I would take
over control. Thirty seconds to round-out, and I could see Doreen walk from the shade of
the trees to watch the landing. I think she knew that Sid would be on the controls.
"Five, four, three, two, and flare NOW, Sid," I called, and held my breath,
my hands poised close to the controls. "Six inches above the grass, Sid ... hold it
there." Sid held off beautifully then greased it, maintaining the aircraft right down
the centre of the strip. I asked him to apply the brakes gently, and as we slowed down I
took control for the 180-degree turn. We taxied back to the trees and shut down the
engine. After the propeller had stopped and I switched off the ignition, my mind went back
in time to when Sid had given me my first landing in a Lincoln. I was glad that I could
return the favour, albeit forty years later. For me, it was a touching moment, and while
Sid happily told his wife about his landing, I busied myself with a walk around before
Then we shook hands and said our farewells. As I settled into the cockpit of the
Cherokee, Sid touched me on the shoulder and said, "Thanks for the landing,
John". "That's alright, Sid," I replied. "It was a pleasure."
NOTE: Sid Gooding just celebrated his 84th birthday. John Laming
wrote this story as a birthday present for his old military instructor. Can you imagine a
more thoughtful gift?