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Friday, 3rd April 2020
“When Life was Nasty, Brutish and Short”
By Derek Taylor
Friday, 17th April 2020
Spring Quiz – St. Edward’s Hall
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Open meeting 7th April 2017 - Talk by former RAF pilot, Mike Napier
When Friday night’s speaker, Mike Napier woke up that morning, he was in Cairo, 2,200 miles from Stow. Most of us would have been stressed at cutting it so fine. But for Mike, it was routine. He was piloting the BA flight home. And after a safe landing at Gatwick, he was soon with us in St Edward’s Hall.
Mike confessed that he finds life at the controls of a passenger plane these days a mite boring. And we could soon understand why. He spent nine years flying the Tornado, for part of that time carrying out laser-guided attacks on military targets in Iraq. Even he found it frightening at times, as he sped 100 feet above ground through mountain passes at 7 miles a minute with the prospect of enemy fire just over the next hill.
He showed us a video filmed from his cockpit on one such mission. The wows and hoops from the audience told it all. Even Mike said he got airsick.
Like many small boys, he’d wanted to be a fighter pilot when he grew up. But unlike most, he fulfilled that dream.
The constant danger as an RAF pilot was brought home to us when Mike told of his close friend who’d been killed – not by enemy fire – but in a mid-air collision during training.
And even fewer are those with the gift of being able to make others understand a little of the danger and excitement they've been through. Mike Napier is one of that number. And Society members showed their appreciation at the end with rousing applause.
- Derek Taylor
Mike joined the RAF in 1978, and spent three years learning his trade on a Hawk Trainer, ‘the best and easiest’ aircraft he said, though that comment left us earth-bound mortals wide-eyed.
The complexity of navigating the Hawk – on your own, no navigator – through changing weather conditions, at shifting altitudes, all at the speed of sound, defies understanding, especially when the G-force during a turn means your head feels four times its normal weight.
The Tornado strike/attack aircraft
Gloster? or Gloucestershire?
The Gloster Javelin was a world class interceptor aircraft in its day, Mike explained. But it's now nearly 50 years since it was decommissioned. Why Gloster? The Cheltenham-based aircraft factory changed its spelling in the 1920s because overseas buyers couldn't handle Gloucestershire!
But as often with those who face daily danger, a strand of ironic humour is often needed just to stay sane. And it popped up every so often during Mike’s talk. ‘We dropped four bombs then home for tea and biscuits,’ he told us, and ‘We bravely ran away,’ all in the best traditions of the Battle of Britain pilot's wartime banter. At times, he told us, it was ‘sheer fun.’
The evening too was a reminder of how much we all owe to those few who are happy to risk their lives to keep the rest of us safe.