RHS Career Path (by Mike Lacey)

The 3 photos (probably all taken the same day) are of Mike with his home-assembled Bowers Airspeed Fly Baby at Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada in Autumn 1971

I don't really remember how meals worked in the old dining room at Red Hill School, although I do have vague memories about smallish square wooden tables, these days they would seat 4, but I don't know about then and can't help thinking there were more than 4 boys per table; perhaps two tables were pushed together - I suppose I did not find the meals that memorable, and can only assume I must have eaten in the "music room" along with everyone else. I do remember there being whist drives or at least one whist drive in there, presided over by Morley Gayton, along with Court and Community Meetings when the tables were rearranged to form a long board; or perhaps that should be bench. Now, I wish I had paid more attention at the time - but I didn't.

I had never thought about the lack of career advice at RHS before - but it is plainly obvious now. As far as I can recall, it simply didn't happen; but it took John Cain's email to flip that particular switch. In fact, another thing that I have always thought we were left unprepared for, unless we were particularly adventurous, was interaction with the opposite sex. When I let RHS, I did not have a clue about this, either...

But coming back to careers, it seems now that Red Hill, or to put it bluntly, Shaw, was more focussed on the past and the present and was content to let the future unfold in its own time. There must have been some sort of presumption, even if only amongst the community as to what our futures held - my assumption that Smithy would be a Civil Engineer, for example, is and was based upon what he clearly enjoyed and excelled at when I knew him at Red Hill. I had also always assumed Foggy would be an Aeronautical Engineer or Pilot or at least something to do with aircraft and have been sitting here wondering what it was I thought Burkill would be. In those days, there was no Internet so even he could not of seen it as an opportunity, if, in fact, it was.

Rookie and I had spent many an hour talking about how we would, together, modify an Austin Seven and I suppose that is as far as I went into probing the future, however, Rookie would obviously have been a car mechanic and from what little I have heard of him since Red Hill, he perhaps came close. Pete Browning, CD and Stan Barr, who seemed to be able to play anything, and taught me a few chords on the guitar, were all budding musicians and I would have supposed they or at least one or two of them should have found a career in music somehow, although CD did seem to like photography. Squish, who for me stood apart at Red Hill, was obviously a teacher or budding electronics specialist. I will always remember his turning a loudspeaker into a microphone to hear people walking past Holland's house, up to the Art Room, where his shack was. Clearly, the assumption made is that we would all somehow continue along the lines we had preference for at RHS, but after a couple of Reunions it seems that few did.

Given the stories of superior intelligence, I had also assumed a number of us would go on to great things, but perhaps great things do not require high IQs?

So, when I left, or was told by Shaw not to return, I didn't have a clue what to do next and it was the interest I had developed in electronics - taking stuff apart with Burkill, although I don't recall putting much back together - that led me to my first job at an electrical manufacturer called Lee Products in North London who made sub-assemblies for Decca and car radio aerials.

Meanwhile, my parents - for some reason - thought I could train to be a cook (Wilf!) in Denmark, courtesy of contacts my Grandfather had and I went to Denmark to learn the language, in spite of having failed to learn any French, beyond reciting verbs, at RHS. Denmark was interesting in those days, and probably still is. But it was especially so at that time in my life; as I found there were a lot of very pretty girls there - although, as noted, my education in how to communicate with them was, somewhat lacking. It didn't really matter too much, because they wanted to practice their English on me. In the end I stayed in Denmark for almost 2 years but didn't learn to cook - I suppose I was too busy making up for lost time!

In 1966, I returned from Denmark to rejoin my family and immigrate to Canada; I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. When we got there we drove from Montreal to Vancouver and I got a job in a Volvo garage - shades of Rookie - and then another job at a radio station where I worked installing background music systems - shades of Burkill, again - until one day I drove past a local airport where a flying school was offering introductory flying lessons for $5.00 and I had five dollars and I think I thought I could finally give Foggy a run for his money! This, in time, led to my Private Pilot License which led to me building my own airplane - shades of Foggy and dogfights on the Terrace.

In 1967 or 1968 I was at the airport coffee shop, in Kelowna, British Columbia, as a dedicated Plane Spotter should be, when one weekend a small airplane arrived and taxied in.

I had never seen anything like it.

In a way it looked a bit like an Alon Aircoup, but it did not have a twin tail. In fact it was a single-seat monoplane with wire braced wings and the flying wires attached to the wheel axels. I became even more interested when the pilot climbed out and strolled over to the coffee shop - he was taller than me! I just had to ask him who made his aircraft and what it was.

He told me it was a Fly Baby and it was designed by Peter Bowers, an engineer at Boeing, but Boeing didn't build it... he did! This was the first time I came face-to-face with a homebuilt aircraft. Even after all those days of balsa modelling and dog-fighting on the Terrace, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a homebuilt aircraft.

The pilot invited me to have a look at his airplane. I was building hours for my Commercial License at the time and had joined a flying club that had a Cessna 172, but one of the members had crashed it and so my flying opportunities were pretty limited. I decided there and then, that if he could build and fly a Fly Baby - I could too.

And I did, although it took about three years to complete

But this led me away from electronics, which had appeared to be the career path I was walking and led to my taking a degree course in Aeronautics at San Bernardino Valley College of the University of Southern California (USC) where I finally became a student and qualified at the top of my class to be an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. The Professor of the Aeronautics School at the college was Art Scholl, who was famous in those days as a motion picture and air show pilot. If you ever watch the credits for Top Gun you will see the film is dedicated to him. He flew a highly modified De Havilland Chipmunk in air shows as well as in aerobatic competition. He was also the US Aerobatic Champion and he invited me to work for him. I did, maintaining his show aircraft as well as rebuilding his midget racer, Miss San Bernardino.

I even flew my Fly Baby (CF-CQU) from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Fla-Bob Airport, Riverside, California, without radio or radio navigation aids (a battery was too heavy and you could easily start it by hand). I was meandering along at a reasonable height of a couple of thousand feet over the city of Sacramento when I suddenly had a helicopter for company. They looked at me and I looked at them and they looked at me, but we couldn't talk and in the end he gave up and disappeared again

Technically, I was visiting my parents who had officially moved to California. I was, however, working in the USA illegally and whenever Immigration would do a sweep of the airport, looking for Illegal (Mexican) Aliens, I managed to be invisible. But I was leading a charmed life and in the end I returned to Vancouver, Canada and a job as an aircraft mechanic at a Cessna Aircraft Dealer. I left my Fly Baby tied down outside Art Scholl's Hangar - I never saw it again - it was stolen.

I became the Chief Engineer for the Cessna Dealer in a few months. But "customers" were always coming into the hangar to quiz me about features or components of various aircraft and for reasons I have never been able to quite explain, or even understand, this somehow led me into aircraft sales. Encouraged by a dentist who was a World War II Spitfire pilot I obtained a distributorship for Grumman American Aircraft and set up shop.

And so it is that I spent a reasonably successful career in aviation working as an Engineer, or a Commercial (corporate) Pilot in Canada or Aircraft Salesman for Hanson PLC in the UK. Although I have tended to blame Foggy as the inspiration for all of this, I am sure he was not the only aero modeller at RHS and hasten to add that I had never expected to follow a career in aviation; because everyone always told me I was too tall to be a pilot.

I am too!

Having lived in Canada and California for 20 years I had the opportunity to return to the UK in 1984. Business in British Columbia is very cyclical, being dominated by Mining, Forestry and Fishing and in 1983 all three primary industries were struggling and so was I, so I sold my interest in the business and I applied for three jobs advertised in Flight International magazine. I was invited to interviews for two of them. I accepted an offer from Eagle Beechcraft based in Leavesden and Ascot, whose chairman, Harold Bamberg, had played a major role, as Eagle Airways, in the Berlin Airlift and he enjoyed making sure everyone knew it.

Eagle wanted to hire me as their Chief Engineer, but I needed a UK License which, I was assured, would not be a problem. So I went down to the Civil Aviation Authority and politely asked for one of theirs, in exchange for mine - they all fell about laughing. It seems that they didn't count Canadian or American qualifications as having any value - if only I had Australian qualifications...

The job was amended to Technical Sales Executive and I returned to live in England for the next 9 years. Eagle was the Beech Aircraft Distributor in the UK and Ireland, but they lost the mandate and when it was picked up by Lord Hanson's Air Hanson, I was offered the Sales Manager's job there.

I once flew a demonstration flight for Alan Bristow, of Bristow Helicopters, to Gibraltar where he kept his yacht - Whirly Bird. He arranged for me to go on a tour of the Aircraft Carrier Ark Royal, which was in port there and I was allowed to sit in a Harrier Jump Jet in the hanger deck... I could not close the canopy! I was too tall!

I suppose the point of all of this is that although we had no formal career advice at Red Hill, there were things going on, mostly outside the classroom; like dam building or making Crystal Sets to listen to Radio Luxemburg; or taking photographs with contact paper instead of film; or making paper darts to fly across the Terrace; or building camps, that tended to encourage us to look in certain directions. As has been pointed out by others, we had to learn how to get along in a corporate environment by doing, the Community Meeting being a good training example. And avoiding being sat on by Bomber Wells, another, I think we also learned persistence and negotiation - I am reminded of sessions in Shaw's Study, where I discovered I never had any dreams I wanted to talk about. Although we perhaps did not realize any of this at the time, we were preparing ourselves for the future by default and the Red Hill environment inspired it.

There have been times when I have regretted my somewhat informal education at Red Hill and I have wondered what I might have achieved; had I learned in a more formal environment. I also wonder what might have happened had I not been thrown out of RHS and survived to an honourable discharge with some sort of qualification - who knows?

Perhaps things would have been totally different. But it was, after all, my attendance at Red Hill School that added the aviation, electronics, mechanics and perhaps sales skills, courtesy of John Fitzsimon (Rookie), Andrew Cleare (Foggy), Chris Burkill, Stan Barr, Chris Davies (CD), John Welch (Squish), Michael Smith (Smithy) and others, to spice up my career.

There again, I can't help but think that, perhaps, I am still wondering about what I should do with my life...

Mike Lacey
March 3rd 2011