‘The sight of a Spitfire flying low through Glencoe at the time of the Battle of Britain captured my imagination and fired an unlikely ambition.’

There’s the saying that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. This dictum could easily apply to Bill Innes, who tells us about his life in aviation in his memoir, Flight from the Croft. BooksfromScotland caught up with him to ask him about his career.


Flight from the Croft
By Bill Innes
Published by Whittles Publishing


You’ve written an entertaining memoir on your love affair with all things aviation. Tell us what it was about flying that enraptured you as a boy.

As the book explains, it was the sight of a Spitfire flying low through Glencoe at the time of the Battle of Britain that captured my imagination and fired an unlikely ambition.


How have you enjoyed the experience of writing and publishing your memoir?

This is my sixth book but the one which took longest to complete. I abandoned the project for some years and it took the encouragement of friends who had heard my aviation talks to give me the belief that the story was worth telling. The challenge was to alleviate technical detail with anecdote and humour.


You have many great memories of a vast array of flying experiences. What are your favourite moments of your flying career?

I have been fortunate to have been able to fly a wide variety of aircraft – with differing challenges and differing levels of enjoyment. Aerobatics in vintage open-cockpit biplanes are a more immediate experience than in modern military jets – or even in a WW2 Mustang. It has been my privilege to be part of the launch team for the Boeing 757 in BA and have the satisfaction of introducing it to four different airlines. The joy of being paid for a pursuit that was essentially my hobby meant it was always a pleasure to go to work.

To be able to bring your passengers safely to their destination regardless of all the weather gods can throw at you is the greatest job satisfaction for a pilot


Love (and flying!) can have its downs as well as its ups. What were your scariest moments on an airplane?

As the book explains, I had no right to survive a crash in an air race. I have had engine failures and an engine fire – but professional airline pilots are trained to deal with such.


You have been mentored and been a mentor yourself. What do you think are the key attributes in passing on wisdom?

Having suffered from mentors who could only criticise rather than teach, my generation determined that we would teach before we assessed. There is no point in telling an experienced pilot he/she is doing something wrong unless you can diagnose the problem and suggest what needs to be done to resolve it. Pilots need self-confidence. Good performance must be recognised by praise while unqualified negative criticism can cause serious damage.


Many people don’t feel the same enthusiasm you do about being up in the air. What would you say to nervous flyers to put them at ease?

There is a chapter on this towards the end of the book. While it is no help to sufferers to be told their fears are often irrational, we found that more information on aircraft noises and movements could alleviate some misconceptions.  For example, I would tell passengers that, while turbulence was uncomfortable for them, the aircraft was perfectly comfortable with it.

It is also helpful for the anxious to know that they are not alone – with up to 20% of passengers believed to suffer from some degree of fear. Above all – do not be afraid to confess fears to crew. Cabin attendants are familiar with the problem and will offer sympathetic reassurance.


How do you keep your passion for flying going now that you’ve retired?

After 45 years in various fields in a golden era of aviation, I felt that box had been ticked and concentrated on other interests. Since retirement I have written six books on a variety of subjects, been a presenter and actor on TV and radio, lectured on Gaelic traditional poetry at several universities here and abroad and done numerous presentations connected with my books.

For my 70th birthday I did treat myself to a new aviation experience and had a short lesson in a helicopter.  Although that was fun, increasing aviation bureaucracy makes it difficult to maintain the currency of a pilot licence. I am content to try and keep up with developments in the field at long distance.


Flight from the Croft by Bill Innes is published by Whittles Publishing, priced £18.99

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