Wings – On A Wing And A Prayer


An Australian TV Week article from 1977.

The frail matchbox like plane, it’s propeller turning sluggishly in the early morning wind, homed in uncertainly on the lonely airstrip.

Then came and ominous crack and the propeller fell off. Stunt pilot Neil Williams was terrified for a moment one soon to be seen by television viewers.

Wings, a new British television series re-creating the death and glory daring exploits of World War 1 pilots, now showing on ABC TV. Neil Williams’ experience was commonplace in those early days of the Kaiser’s war, when young men queued to join the Royal Flying Corps as a passport to a life which offered the spice of adventure.

The pick of Britain’s young men became airborne in a newly discovered kingdom of the sky whose broad, blue hues became a battlefield – frequently only a thousand feet about the trenches of France and Flanders. The year 1915 was not for glamorous heroes such as the German Baron Von Richthofen in his scarlet aircraft, says BBC producer Peter Creegan.

“Wings goes back to those early months of the war. A pilot was more of a chauffeur and had the job of keeping the plane in the sky for more than 15 minutes. The amount of fighting that could be done was, in the circumstances, limited.”

Air historians of the World War will know that planes of the period were wired and string contraptions that had a top speed of 68 mph and took 35 minutes to climb 7000 feet.

They were piloted by upper-class young men who had never heard of shot fired at anything but a partridge, and who, if they had done any flying at all had risen 10ft. in home made gliders. But things soon changed.

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