"Flight from the Croft" by Bill Innes is an inspirational book that tells the story of how one man turned his dream into reality. In 1940 the author, then a seven-year old boy, saw a Spitfire flying through Glen Coe. As he says, he "gazed in wonder at the sheer beauty and grace of her and an improbable ambition was born." The ambition seemed even more improbable when his father died later that year. After his mother's subsequent breakdown, Bill and his five-year old brother were fostered out to a crofting family living on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Conditions were primitive and life was hard, but Bill's "Granny", as he called his foster mother, believed in the value of education.
Thanks to her support and against all the odds, he found himself at Glasgow University. There he joined the University Air Squadron and, between his studies, learned to fly. National Service followed graduation and with his University Air Squadron experience, Bill was accepted for pilot training in the Royal Air Force. His underwent training in Canada, and he then returned to Britain to take up duties as a second pilot on RAF transport aircraft. His National Service ended at a time when an explosion in commercial air transport was about to begin. Bill's university ambitions to become a teacher were shelved in favour of his much longer-standing ambitions to fly, and he joined British European Airways as a trainee commercial pilot.
What follows is an amazing account of an insider's view of commercial aviation in Britain and much more widely during an era many regard as a "golden age" of flight. Whether that's a view that survives sharing the author's early experiences of flying WW2 surplus aircraft in a world with limited navigational aids and frequent smogs is open to question. What is beyond doubt is that his tales of flying, initially mainly based in Scotland, bring vividly to life a world that is now long gone. We follow Bill as he progresses through many of the important British airliners of the post-war era, including the Viscount, the Comet, the Vanguard and the Trident. We also hear of his misadventures with a private flying club and later of his time flying Boeing 757s and 767s.
This is a book that should be regarded as essential reading by anyone with an interest in aviation, and especially commercial aviation. For us it was especially compelling when dealing with the sometimes highly marginal world of early post-war commercial flying in Scotland, and it certainly added a new dimension to our appreciation of Scotland's story during this era.