First flight in a Stirling



First flight in a Stirling
Initial dual


Detailed description of impressions, emotions and events leading up to and then during Bertie Gray’s first trip in a Stirling aircraft. Includes descriptions of stalling, corkscrewing and flying on two engines.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage



Nine page handwritten memoir


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Monday, 21.2.44

[underlined] ”Initial Dual” [/underlined]

The morning starts with the usual parade and is followed, for us, by a sharp spell of “P.T.” Feeling now fully awake and with the blood tingling in our veins we are marched off for our usual ground instruction.

We can hardly believe our ears when we are told that the programme has been changed and we are actually to fly today. This is what we have been longing for, what all our long months of training have been leading up to. Being our first flight in the R.A.F. we are going merely as passengers.

As the Parachute Section we are fitted with a harness. “Is that right for you?” asks the parachute basher. Shall we just say, “Yes, O.K.,” as it feels alright to us or shall we admit that this is our

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first flight and the first time we have been fitted with a harness? Discretion wins the days and the fitting is expertly tested and adjusted.

Next we draw our parachute and then try to enter the Crew Room with the bored air of having been there hundreds of times before. In this we are not entirely successful as the door was not labelled and we were obliged to confirm our bearings from a sergeant just inside the door.

We examine the room with great interest. No one pays any attention to us. Several crews are briefed which we endeavour to overhear. But time passes and still our names are not called. Have we been forgotten? Are we going to miss our flying today after all? Not if we can help it!

At last things begin to move but we have no flying kit yet apart from our ‘chute and harness. So a frantic hour is spent in

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securing some few essentials after which we get an early lunch and so back to the Crew Room.

We have been assigned to a crew and now await our briefing. Whilst sitting in the Crew Room we smile as we remember the good natured chaff of our less fortunate friends as we left our billets a short while ago. They would give their ears to change places with us but know that their turn will come all in good time.
Our skipper’s name is called at last and his crew and ourselves pick up our fit and walk to the kite which is nearby. We notice that we have been assigned to “W” for William. Apart from this distinguishing mark it looks much the same as the other huge, four-engined, Stirlings dispersed around the ‘drome.
We enter the kite in our turn and make our way forward to the

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pilot’s cabin. There is some little delay before we may start up our engines so we pass the time examining “William’s” interior. Soon, however, the engines are started one by one, warmed up, tested and ready for taxying.

At 15.22 hrs. we started to taxy round to the end of the runway which, surprisingly, took eight minutes to accomplish. Once there the engines opened up their full throated roar as the pilot [deleted] opened up [/deleted] [inserted] advanced [/inserted] the throttles. We heard the hiss of escaping air as the powerful brakes were released, and one minute after reaching the end of the runway we were air-borne. We had experienced a take-off before and know that to expect but the feeling of power and acceleration down the runway almost took our breath away.

We were unable to determine precisely when we left the “deck” but the upward thrust as the pilot put “William” into a climb

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pressed our feet down hard against the floow.

As “William” climbed steadily upwards we were most interested in looking downwards at the rapidly receding landscape. Yes!, Look, there is the ‘drome, there are the hangers, that is the Sergeants’ Mess and there is the building where our less fortunate pals are undergoing their tedious ground training. And here are we, rapidly ascending into a strange new world.

Suddenly our view is obscured and we are passing up through the clouds. Then we burst through into the brilliant sunshine above the carpet of snow-while clouds stretching as far as we can see in all directions.

We are now flying at about 8,000 feet in this strange new world of scintillating sun shine with just an occasional glimpse through a gap in the clouds of the strangely unreal-looking earth
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“Yes”, we think, “flying is one of the grandest sensations in the world”. But wait, what is the pilot saying over the intercom? He is going to throttle back and loose[sic] flying speed until we stall!! We have an idea that stalling an aircraft is a dangerous occupation and not to be undertaken in the light-hearted manner of our pilot.

We have little time for further reflection. We can feel the mighty bomber loosing[sic] flying speed so we quickly take hold of two convenient supports with both hands and hope that the evolution will not be as bad as we fear. Here it comes! She’s stalling and we feel the sickening drop in the pit of our stomachs as the aircraft falls heavily downwards. About three hundred years later we can feel that the pilot is getting her under control again and we are regaining flying speed. No, perhaps it was not as bad as we expected but quite enough to

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be going on with.

We do several more stalls and then the pilot decides to do some “corkscrews”. This is better, we decide, plenty of fun and exhilarating sensations. One moment our feet almost float off the floor as our bodies temporarilly[sic] appear to loose[sic] all weight. The next moment our knees are doing their best to fold up and we feel as if some malignant force is trying to crush us flat against the floor.

After several more “corkscrews” we resume normal flying which seems now quite tame by comparison with what we have been doing. However, there is still another surprise in store for us.

We are still several thousand feet up and we hear the pilot say over the intercom that he is going to feather the Port Outer. We watch the prop. with interest as it ceases to turn and eventually

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comes to rest with its blades in line with the airflow. No sooner has this happened than the pilot informs us that he is going to feather the Port Inner, which he then proceeds to do.

Most interesting, we think, that this massive bomber can fly on just two engines and those both in the one wing, with the other two engines just so much dead weight on the other wing. Then we get a further shock for the pilot is talking of feathering another engine but, to our relief, decides that it would be putting an unneccesary [sic] strain on the one remaining engine. So the two engines are unfeathered and we come down below the clouds to pin point our position.

At first this is a little difficult but then we spot the sea away in the distance on our starboard bow and soon we have identified the county below.

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We experience a feeling of regret as the pilot swings the aircraft round and sets course for home. However, all good things must come to an end sometime and eventually, having received permission to land, “William” comes in gracefully to land back at Base.

That evening finds us proudly making the first entry in our new log book which is a permant[sic] record that our first flight lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.

[line across the sheet]

Being the account of the impressions of one “Sprog Sergeant”

[underlined] Herbert M. Gray. [/underlined]



Bertie Gray, “First flight in a Stirling,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2024,

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