These two rules seem reasonably easy to obey, but it is difficult to convey to anyone not experienced how extraordinarily hard they are in practice. It is a common occurrence for a new pilot to lose completely a formation of four or more machines, especially after a series of turns or on a cloudy day. He may have had his attention distracted by some peculiarity on the ground, or by what he thinks may be an enemy machine, and meanwhile his leader has dived three thousand feet, followed by the rest of the flight.
At such moments let us hope that, if the formation is really nowhere to be seen, our new pilot will turn round and go home. Otherwise he is likely to run into trouble, thus adding to the long list of flying officers who have failed to survive their first fortnight.
The other great difficulty is that of keeping the look-out. With the best will in the world, it is not for some time that it is possible to see half of what may be happening - or about to happen. Many a pilot has landed from a two-hour patrol during the whole of which he has never seen the enemy formation which his Flight Commander has been trying so hard to cut off, or, worse still, has not noticed the five enemy scouts hovering over the two-seater which he was so upset to see allowed to go free. In short, experience is the only guide of value, and I would venture to assert that it is the most exceptional pilot who is anything but a passenger in his flight for at least the first six weeks. One day, however, there arrives an even newer pilot than oneself, and then is tasted that sensation of superiority which, however ill-founded, more than makes up for the period of feeling that the difficulties were almost insuperable and that a state of inexperience seemed permanent.
The above will have given some idea of the feelings of the new pilot. Once the settling-down process is completed it is astonishing how valuable knowledge is picked up day by day. To work behind a capable Flight Commander, who uses his brains not only in the air but also on the ground, and who is not averse to answering questions after the patrol is over, is to receive an education which will in all probability he the direct means of saving one’s life, or at least of avoiding risking it, at some future date. No. 8 Squadron was particularly fortunate in its Flight Commanders and as almost all of them previously served with the Squadron as ordinary flying officers I believe that we built up a tradition of flight tactics and of leadership which were transmitted through the different flights by educating the officers along the lines which experience had indicated to be correct. Further, apart altogether from the officers, the same spirit animated the ground staff, with the result that we gained enormous confidence in our fitters, riggers, armourers, and all those who directly or indirectly kept us up in the air.