THERE was a time when Swindon mayors piloted jet aircraft and rode gliders into storm clouds – and it didn’t even merit a front page news story.
This week we go back more than 40 years to revisit two unusual episodes of mayoral history.
On Friday, May 16, 1969, we ran a page 11 story headlined, “Flying Mayor ‘Missing’”.
It was about Alderman AJ Bown, who took the passenger seat in a two-seater glider as an official duty during his final days in office.
We wrote: “The last that anxious officials of Swindon Gliding Club saw was the glider, piloted by Mr George Turner, chief flying instructor at the club, disappearing into a large black thunder cloud.
“Forty minutes later, with still no sign of the glider and its Very Important Passenger, a light aircraft piloted by Mr Fred Butcher took off from South Marston Airfield in search of the missing machine.”
About 10 miles from the airfield the light aircraft pilot spotted the missing glider in a meadow half a mile from Acorn Bridge on the A420 Swindon-Oxford Road. Neither occupant was hurt.
The mayor, who lived until 1983, had taken trips in open-cockpit aircraft as a sergeant mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.
He told us: “Shortly after take-off we ran into a severe storm. It became as black as night. We tried to get beneath the storm but all the time currents of air were forcing us down.
“Then about 100 feet from the ground Mr Turner spotted a field and headed for it. He made a perfect landing in a field of mowing grass. I was absolutely thrilled to end my year of office on such a note of high excitement. We sat in the glider for about an hour before the towing plane spotted us.
“When it landed Mr Turner was smoking a pipe and I was smoking a cigarette. I was not a bit scared.”
As if this were not proof enough that councillors were made of stern stuff in those days, mayor elect Reginald Jones later went up in the same glider, and his wife also took a trip.
Our next story about mayoral aviation made page 5 on Thursday, May 6, 1971, and this time the headline was: “The Mayor joins the jet set”.
This time the mayor was Reginald Jones’s successor, John Pass, and the aircraft was a four-engine Comet, a reconnaissance model developed from a jet airliner whose early years were marred by calamitous mid-air disintegrations.
The mayor, who lived until 1982, took the controls of one during a flight to Land’s End and back as part of an official visit to RAF Lyneham.
It was a low altitude trip and the mayor, his wife and various councillors had an excellent view of the countryside whizzing beneath at 300mph, but the passenger most excited by the flight seems to have been Adver reporter David Ward.
He wrote afterwards: “Driving back into Swindon last night, I followed a car with ‘Bude’, ‘Clovelly’, and ‘Newquay’ stickers on the back window.
“At the traffic lights I was tempted to shout, ‘I’ve been there too, mate.’ “I wanted to boast I’d been down Devon and Cornwall way only an hour or so before.”