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On May 29, 1914, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty in the Asquith government, went to the Central Flying School, Upavon where he made a practice flight. He was fascinated by flight and the previous year had, despite being a senior cabinet minister, taken up flying. Although he never flew solo, he made many flights before the First World War and was only a couple calm mornings away from earning his wings when he acceded to the pleas of his family and friends to quit flying after several close calls.  Churchill’s pursuit of a pilot’s certificate just four years after the first “sustained” flight had taken place in Great Britain was easily the most dangerous hobby that Churchill pursued during his life. He was considered by a contemporary to be “a very fair pilot” once in the air, but much less capable in regard to taking off and landing. The flight on May 29th was made in a military biplane from Upavon to Portsmouth. It covered 60 miles and took about 40 minutes. The plane was piloted by Major Eugene Louis Gerrard, an instructor at the Central Flying School. Gerrard, who was one the first four pilots to be trained for the Royal Navy Air Service, had earned the Royal Aero Club’s pilot certificate No. 76 in May 1911. During the war he took part in the first bombing raids on the Zeppelin sheds at Dusseldorf as well as Cologne and in August 1915 destroyed the Zeppelin “L12” by bombing at Ostend.

The above image is from the Imperial War Museum collection and shows Churchill in front of a Short Type S.38 biplane No. 66 of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps at Eastchurch, Kent on 15 May 1914.

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