Former RAF Pilot Alan Pollock at his home near Guildford
RAF pilot Alan Pollock has only seven seconds to make a life-and-death decision. He’s just feet above the waters of the River Thames in a fighter jet travelling at 300 miles per hour.
Less than half a mile ahead, blocking his way, is Tower Bridge. He can see that it’s busy with pedestrians and that a double decker bus is driving slowly across it. Should he fly through?
In the end, he decided to go for it.
The start of the month had also marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force. The RAF was much loved — the feats of the pilots in the Battle of Britain were still fresh in the memory, and the new generation of jet pilots were in the front line of Britain’s Cold War defence.
Thirty-two-year-old Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock was one of those pilots. He had joined the RAF in 1953 and had risen through the ranks, gaining experience in aircraft including de Havilland’s Vampire jet fighter and its successor the Venom.
He had served in Germany and the Middle East and as an aide-de-camp to Air Marshal Sir Humphrey Edwardes-Jones during his time as Nato Air Commander.
Alan loved the RAF and felt its 50th anniversary should be celebrated with a flypast over London. There had been an official dinner and a few parades — but no flypast. This, he felt, was a terrible slight.
‘One thing that was in the Air Force’s blood was that you celebrated in the air, not on the ground,’ Alan, now 82, says at his home in Surrey.
He was serving at the time in No. 1 Squadron. This is the RAF’s oldest unit and as such he believed it had a responsibility to take the lead in ensuring the half-centenary was celebrated properly.
Alan decided to take matters into his own hands by staging a flypast of his own.
On April 4, Alan and three other Hunter pilots from his squadron had flown from their base at West Raynham in Norfolk to RAF Tangmere in Sussex, the former home of No. 1 Squadron, where they were helping to celebrate the base being given the freedom of the city of Chichester. He decided that the following day, on their way