The story behind the story.
Once back in England, we were recounting our experiences to some friends.
“You were lucky,” remarked one of them. “You could have been shot down.”
We laughed. The likelihood that the French Air Force would blow a tiny private aircraft out of the air was remote. We could hardly have been seen as a threat to their national security.
“Ah yes, but what about your predecessor?”
“You know, the Civil Servant.”
We looked blank.
Well, here’s the story, which I am relating now as I remember it being told, and which I believe was true.
Somebody at a Kent airfield had advertised his light aircraft for sale, and had an enquiry from another somebody, a retired Civil Servant. The two arranged to meet at the airfield, and the Civil Servant said he would bring cash with him to purchase the plane if he was satisfied with it.
I’m going to call him CS from now on. It’s quicker to type, and in its context is generally an irritating oxymoron.
Before going to the airfield, CS went to a local BMW salesroom and asked for a test drive in their top of the range model. Once he’d finished the test drive, he asked the salesman if he could take the car for a short drive, alone, as he felt inhibited with the salesman sitting next to him, possibly critical of his driving ability. The salesman agreed, and off drove the CS.
At the airfield, the Aircraft Seller (AS) is waiting for the CS, who duly arrives in a brand spanking new shiny top-of-the-range BMW. He shows the AS a briefcase stuffed with used notes.
They have a test flight, and CS says that he loves the aircraft, and is prepared to buy it immediately. They land. CS goes to the car and collects the briefcase full of money, and hands it to the AS.
“While you’re counting it, I’ll just go and refuel,” he says.
AS hops jumps and skips to the clubhouse to count the money.
CS taxies the plane onto the runway, but instead of turning towards the fuel pumps, he lines up for take-off. AS opens the briefcase and begins counting the money. Beneath the top layer of notes, the case is stuffed with Monopoly money and chopped up newspaper. As AS rushes out to chase after CS, he sees his plane flying up into the sky.
There is a taxi on the airfield, and AS jumps into it and orders it to “follow that plane,” which they do until it turns over the Channel and disappears from sight. An alarm is raised, and an RAF helicopter takes off in pursuit, but is unable to keep up with the speed of the aircraft.
Across the Channel in la belle France, their radar picks up a small unidentified aircraft heading for Paris. The plane’s radio is switched off and they are unable to make contact with the pilot. The French Air Force are informed, and the order is given. Make the aircraft land. Failing that, if it penetrates Paris air space, shoot it down.
Two French fighter planes are scrambled and target the stolen plane, coming alongside. One on each side, they indicate to the CS that he must land, otherwise rattatat, boom!
As reality takes over, CS recognises that he is in something of a pickle, and it would be sensible at this stage to obey the suggestion of the fighter planes. They steer him towards an airfield where he lands and prepares to face the music.
That is as far as the story went, so I’ve no idea what happened to him. Probably living in a peaceful old manor house with spacious lawns and a pond, wearing a shirt with sleeves that fasten at the back.
But the airfield at which his adventure ended was Creil, 30 miles or so north of central Paris.
By a strange coincidence, that is the same airfield at which we had accidentally landed just a fortnight later. Little wonder that our arrival had sent alarm bells ringing. 😀