BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY
by (Flying Officer) W. E. Johns
First published March 1935
This guide is to the first hardback edition published by Norman Wright in 2009 as it corrects the errors of all previous editions.
Originally, the story “Knights of the Sky” was taken out of order and placed as the last story and then re-written to fit
as the story was originally set at 169 Squadron but Biggles had moved to 266 Squadron!
INTRODUCTION (by Norman Wright) (Pages 7 – 9)
BIBLIOGRAPHY (Page 11)
AUTHORS NOTE TO THE 1955 REPRINT (by W. E. Johns) (Pages 13 – 14)
1. BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY! (Pages 15 - 31)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 14th April 1934 – Issue 323)
(This was ‘First Time Up’ (Chapter 1) & ‘Landed but Lost’ (Chapter 2) in the original “Boy’s Friend Library” first edition and in the 1955 revised edition)
“One fine late September morning in the war-stricken year of 1916, a young officer, in the distinctive uniform of the Royal Flying Corps, appeared in the doorway …” Johns describes Biggles as follows. “There was nothing remarkable, or even martial, about his physique, on the contrary, he was slim, rather below average height, and delicate looking. A wisp of fair, nearly golden hair protruded from one side of his rakishly tilted R.F.C. cap; his eyes, now sparkling with pleasurable anticipation, were what is usually called hazel. His features were finely cut, but the squareness of his chin and the firm line of his mouth revealed a certain doggedness, a tenacity of purpose, that denied any suggestion of weakness. Only his hands were small and white, and might have been those of a girl. His youthfulness was apparent. He might have reached the eighteen years shown on his papers, but his birth certificate, had he produced it at the recruiting office, would have revealed that he would not attain that age for another eleven months. Like many others who had left school to plunge straight into the most ghastly barbarism that Europe had ever known, he had conveniently ‘lost’ his birth certificate when applying for enlistment, nearly three months previously”. (So if in September 1916, Biggles is aged 17 years and one month, he must therefore have been born in August 1899 and was 16 when enlisted). Biggles is at Flying Training School No. 17, near Settling in Norfolk. Almost immediately, an instructor asks him if he has ever been in the air. When he says no, the instructor asks him his name. “Bigglesworth, sir. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mouthful, but that isn’t my fault,” he said apologetically. “Most people call me Biggles for short”. The instructor tells him to get in his two-seater aircraft and takes him for a 5 minute spin. He then asks Biggles how he liked it. “Grand!” he cried enthusiastically, “Top hole”. The instructor asks him what flight he is in and then he angrily realises that Biggles isn’t one of his pupils and he is passed on to another instructor called Captain Nerkinson, known as ‘Nerky’ behind his back. Nerky shows them an aircraft, a Maurice Farman Shorthorn, known as a Rumpity (Johns himself learned to fly in “an old Rumpity”). Another Rumpity comes in to land, flown by a pilot called Rafferty and breaks up on landing but the pilot is alright. Nerkinson says “You have just seen a beautiful picture of how not to land an aeroplane”.
“A week later, a Rumpity landed on the aerodrome, and Captain Nerkinson swung himself down to the ground. Biggles, in the front cockpit, was about to follow, but the instructor stopped him. “You’re absolutely O.K.” he said, “except that you are inclined to come in a bit too fast. Don’t forget that. Off you go!” Biggles then takes off on his first solo flight. He is soon hopelessly lost. He was supposed to be gone ten minutes but he is gone over an hour. Biggles lands in a field intending to ask the way. He is surprised when Captain Nerkinson lands next to him in another Rumpity. After a telling off, he is told the aerodrome is just the other side of the hedge! He flies back to the aerodrome, nearly crashing into Nerkinson in the process. Three days later Biggles is posted to No. 4 School of Fighting, Frensham on the Lincolnshire coast. Biggles is told to report to Major Maccleston of “A” Flight. Biggles watches a Sopwith Pup take off as a F.E. comes in to land. They collide in mid-air and one plane catches fire. A flight-sergeant tells him “We killed seven here last week”. An instructor lands and invites Biggles to get in and do some gunnery practice. Three days later, Biggles is posted to France. Biggles says he hasn’t passed his tests yet. His tests are filled in and stamped and he is told “You’ve passed them now – you may put up your ‘wings’!” Biggles is elated that he is entitled to wear the coveted ‘wings’ and that he is going to France. “The fact that he had only done less than fifteen hours’ flying, dual and solo, did not depress him in the least.