Posts Tagged 'PPRuNe'

Vale Cliff Leach

I’m very sad to report that Clifford Leach, a 150 Squadron Pilot/Flight Engineer, died last week after a short illness. Cliff, perhaps unusually for his generation, plunged right in to the world of computers and forums in his later years, posting on a number of forums about his wartime experiences as ‘cliffnemo’. His magnum opus, however, was a thread that he started on PPRuNe in June 2008 called ‘Gaining an RAF Pilot’s Brevet in WWII’. Cliff posted about his experiences while in training, backed up with original notes and drawings. This drew a number of other contributors into the open, among them the much-missed Reg Levy, a 51 Sqn Halifax skipper who later  (among other things in a very long and varied career) flew Boeing 707s with Sabena. Four years and close to 2,500 posts later, that thread is still more than going strong, with a former Vultee Vengeance pilot named Danny now holding court.

On another forum, one of Cliff’s first posts was typical of the modesty of his generation:

I didn’t do much only three opps

Well, you might not have thought so, Cliff, but what a legacy you leave behind. The PPRuNe thread likely would not have come into existence without Cliff’s input. And it’s the interactive nature of those kinds of threads that makes them so valuable – being able to read experiences written first-hand, then asking questions either about those stories or on anything else even remotely related to the topic at hand. That little post in June 2008 brought into the open many fascinating stories and the thread now contains a goldmine of information for researchers like me – adding colour to the dry facts and figures.

His son Bill has posted on the thread following the death of his father, saying how proud Cliff was of the thread and how he had arranged for a printed copy of it to be left for his grandson. He also related the story of Cliff’s final flight, just a week before he died. A friend arranged for a local flying school to take him up, and he was, says Bill, “astounded that he was ordered straight into the pilots seat and took the controls for the whole flight. He was told that if it wasn’t for a strong cross wind he would have been allowed to land the plane.”

I never had the chance to meet Cliff, though we corresponded through the thread and through email over the last few years. His input assisted greatly in my earlier post on Flight Engineer training, and his recollections about the Lancaster contributed to th final look of the painting of B for Baker that I commissioned a couple of years ago. “On final check before switching off engines [the] engineers final check included raise flaps”, he wrote. “I think that if we had arrived at ‘dispersal’ and found the flaps down, we would have informed ‘Chiefy’.” And that settled it, so I asked Steve to depict B for Baker with her flaps up!

Another remarkable man has, in the words of the late Neptunus Lex, ‘stepped into the clearing at the end of the path’. Blue skies and tailwinds, Cliff. Blue skies and tailwinds.

Edit 25APR12: Link to a story in the local newspaper of Cliff’s final flight, published only a few days before he died.

(c) 2012 Adam Purcell

Logbook

A logbook is a legal requirement for any pilot. In Australia, it must record at a minimum the dates of any flights made by the pilot, crew details, aircraft type and registration, route details and flight times. It allows a pilot to calculate his or her experience in terms of flying hours, and records the results of any exams or licence flight tests carried out.

But logbooks are something more than simply a dry record of dates, aeroplanes and times. They can also be intensely personal documents. Reading through my own one, I find my mind can very easily wander to remember a particular flight, and the circumstances surrounding it. “Bankstown-Three Sisters-Bankstown. Bumpy”, reads one entry. A simple enough description. But it’s one that belies the intensity of that flight, on which I and my passengers flew unwittingly into some pretty severe turbulence. Or ‘Circuits Camden – First Tiger Solo’, recording the first time I flew a Tiger Moth by myself, possibly my proudest yet moment in an aeroplane.

Unless one kept a diary there were very few ways that people could accurately recall where they were at a certain time, let alone what they were doing. This is where all pilots score. Your log book, which it was mandatory to keep and have regularly certified as being a true record, will instantly tell you that and, hopefully, jog the memory especially as the long forgotten names of the people that flew with you are very often there as well.

-The late Reg Levy, 51 Sqn Halifax skipper and later pilot for Sabena, writing on PPRuNe 

I think Reg nailed it. The terse notations in a logbook, taken in isolation, give fairly dry information about where someone was and what they were doing at particular dates in history. This in itself is interesting stuff for a study of the men of Bomber Command. But they can also trigger memories far beyond the short statements themselves.

It’s easier, of course, when the airmen are still around, because you can ask them questions about it. This is one reason why Reg Levy, in the last year or so of his life, contributed to a fantastic thread on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (which by the way is well worth a look if you have a few hours to spare*). He used his logbooks as the basis of a superb running story about his experiences in training, then while operating in Bomber Command, and his rather incredible adventures after the war. The logbooks provided the spark, the interaction with other contributors around the world were the fuel and his sharp memory filled in the details.

It’s a little harder to ‘reconstruct’ what an airman was doing through his logbook alone if he is no longer with us. But it’s a good starting point. Other historical records and personal letters can go a long way to filling in the details. Maybe the end result won’t be quite so personal – but it’s a worthwhile challenge.

jacklog-last-page copy

*Reg’s pseudonym on the thread was ‘regle’

© 2011 Adam Purcell


Archives