I spent fifty hours working on the repairs, under the supervision of the chief rigger. I learned a lot. Perhaps I should add that my rustic repairs to the longeron and compression struts caused the riggers much amusement. It was a novelty for them to have a pilot repair his own aircraft. Fitting and rigging the new wing and the new propeller was valuable experience for me.
After this I settled down to serious flying training. For hour after hour I practised landing into wind, across wind and downwind, and then in a confined space. I used to plant my handkerchief ten yards inside a fence and practise touching down on it. Then I would move it 150 yards from the fence, and practise ending my landing run on it. This last (without brakes) was the hardest manoeuvre of all, because of the variable wind. For half an hour a day I practised forced landings. I used to climb to 1,000 feet, cut the engine, pick the best field I could see, and land in it. At first I always overshot the field. I imagined that my motor really was dead, and that to undershoot would be fatal. Eventually my skill improved, so that I could just skim the trees or the fence, and drop into the field I had picked. I played this game with serious concentration, and one day I put up a ‘black’ ; after I had rolled to a halt on the grass with my dead motor after my forced landing, I found myself staring at Windsor Castle a few hundred yards in front!
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I also liked to put in half an hour a day on aerobatics. I used to do my loops over a long stretch of straight railway line, so that I could check each loop for accuracy as I flattened out.
On 3 October my compass arrived and was adjusted. I began feeding navigation into my day’s programme and checking up on petrol consumption at different speeds. On 15 October I took off and landed in moonlight. This gave me twenty-three minutes of intense enjoyment; I had a feeling of complete isolation and solitariness, and the thousands of lights below intensified the feeling of being completely cut off. I looped, and did a few stall turns for the same reason that a dog barks at something which scares him.
When I had arrived in England in July I had made up my mind to fly back to Australia single-handed. This may not seem much of a project today, but at that time only one person had flown alone from England to Australia, Bert Hinkler, a crack test pilot from Bunderberg, Australia. I gave myself six months in which to learn to fly sufficiently to make the trip. Time was now running out and so was money; cash was getting desperately short. I cabled Geoffrey asking him to try to raise £400 for me while I went for a trial spin round Europe. The next difficulty was that I had to insure the aeroplane, because I still owed some money for it. November was the worst month in Europe for this kind of flying, and I was not an experienced pilot. However, Lamplugh, who was a good sport and friend to novice aviators, finally agreed to underwrite the risk if I would start by taking with me Joe King, who was an experienced commercial pilot.
That flight round Europe started on 25 October, and it was a sporting adventure from beginning to end. Joe King came with me to Paris. ‘Let’s go,’ said Joe, and pushed the throttle wide open. I assumed that he wanted to take off himself, so I let go the controls. We were a long time leaving the ground, and then only just cleared the trees on St. George’s Hill by a foot or two.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ shouted Joe through the speaking tube.