Born in 1895, James joined the Royal Flying Corps as an air mechanic in 1913. By December 1915, he had become a regular observer/gunner for several pilots with 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Flight Sergeant James McCudden had been sent back to England where he began his much-anticipated training as a pilot. He progressed well and was soon allowed to embark on his first solo flight, in a Maurice Farman Longhorn, on 16 April. I got off the ground safely, but I do not remember quite what happened while I was in the air. I only have a vague recollection that I sat quite still, flying automatically until I landed. During this first solo I got up to 300 feet, and then came down all the way to the ground with the engine on. When about 10 feet off the ground, I switched off and made quite a good ‘tail-up’ landing at fully 70mph.
My instructor was quite pleased, so it must have been all right. I had seen so many accidents through want of speed that I determined that I would not stall on my first solo. Oh! That feeling when one has done one’s first solo. One imagines oneself so frightfully important. That same day McCudden qualified for his Royal Aero Club Certificate by flying solo while carrying out four figure of eight turns, followed by a controlled glide from 1,200 feet to land within 40 yards of a specific point. He still had much to learn – but at last he was a pilot.
“Oh! That feeling when one has done one’s first solo flight. One imagines oneself so frightfully important”