A Salisbury test pilot, who has flown 400 different aircraft and experienced some close calls including engine failures and a fire before the start of a test flight, has written his first book.

Chris Taylor says from an early age he had always wanted to be a pilot and the stories told by his father, who served as a clerk in the RAF on two fighter squadrons during the Second World War, "sowed the seeds" for his future career along with the family holidays to Anglesey where he would sit on the beach watching fast jets flying from RAF Valley.

"As long as I can remember I wanted to be a pilot," admits the 64-year-old, who also loved to read books and watch TV programmes about aircraft and flying.

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At the age of 17 Chris got his pilot's licence before later joining the Royal Navy while studying for a degree in electrical engineering. After serving as a navigation officer he went on to fly Wasp and Lynx helicopters.

After five years instructing he became a test pilot flying different kinds of experimental aircraft for research and development purposes before returning to the Empire Test Pilots' School at Boscombe Down as a tutor.

Having served at Boscombe Down for ten years he joined the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as an aeroplane and rotorcraft test pilot. With the closure of the CAA's Flight Test Department he formed Dovetail Aviation Ltd and has continued to test fly aircraft ever since as well as being an examiner and instructor.

During his 40-year career Chris has flown more than 400 different kinds of aircraft, which he says is "unusual" today. 

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The first aircraft he flew was a Cessna 150 while he admits his favourite was the "iconic" Sea Fury. 

He added: "I'm lucky I've had a chance to tick a lot of boxes already."

But, as a Fleet Air Arm pilot, he would have loved to have flown the Fairey Swordfish if the opportunity had presented itself.

Chris says he has experienced plenty of engine failures and had the engine of his helicopter stop working and crashed into the sea.

On what it's like to be a test pilot he explains: "We are trying to do very dangerous things in a very safe fashion. We are trying to achieve what we have to do which is to test these aircraft to their extremes but not come a cropper along the way."

Being a test pilot, he says, is a "great privilege" and that "once it is in the bloodstream it is hard to shake it off".

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While testing a microlight at Old Sarum he was just setting off down the runway when the dashboard in front of him caught fire with "flames shooting out".

"That was a completely unexpected occurrence when I was all geared up to do something dangerous in flight and I was getting caught out on the ground within 30 seconds of setting off," admits Chris. 

In the book, he also talks about some of his other close calls including when testing a twin engine aeroplane near London.

To test the performance of the aircraft he shut down the left hand engine but when he went to restart it describes hearing "rattling and clattering", which forced him to shut the engine down again and return on just one engine. 

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"Had I flipped the coin the other way and had I shut down the right hand engine and carried on flying on the left, it would have failed within seconds. I would have gone from having a twin engine aeroplane that is very safe to a twin aeroplane with no working engines," recalls Chris who says once on the ground the engine was found to be "falling apart". 

Speaking about what led him to writing Test Pilot: An Extraordinary Career Testing Civil Aircraft he said there were "many reasons" but the main "catalyst" was his father who had a stroke leaving him unable to speak and write. 

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"All of his funny stories and anecdotes were locked away forever  just gone," continues Chris, who did not want his own stories to be lost so decided to write them down to pass on to his own family.

The lockdown also provided the perfect opportunity to write the book. Chris has already written his second. 

A book launch is being held at Waterstones in Salisbury on Thursday, June 9, 7pm. 


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