In fact, there was one further hurdle I had to tackle. I was summoned to London to the RAF's 'head office', Adastral House on Kingsway in central London, to be interviewed by the Deputy Director of Personnel (Air). He, a group captain, kept me waiting in his outer office for about half an hour before I was ushered into his presence by a secretary. I had done some research and I knew that he had been a Lightning squadron commander in his previous job. I had also learned that he had done all his service flying in single-seat fighter aircraft of one sort or another and had, according to my informants, little patience with, or liking for, non-pilot aircrew. (Hint for youngsters before going for a job interview. Find out in advance as much as you can about the person who is going to interview you.)
"Come in Cunnane and sit down," said the Group Captain, curtly and without looking up. He was flicking, rather ostentatiously, through a blue file. "I have here a copy of your recent very long letter to your AOC," he continued, still without having any eye contact with me. "A most remarkable letter I must say. Whatever possessed you to write it?"
Part of page 2 of my letter - it really was a bit impertinent for a junior officer to write in this vein to an air marshal!
"I would have thought that was fairly obvious, sir," I replied - probably rather too quickly. My tone of voice certainly attracted the group captain's attention, and only then did he look up - straight into my eyes. I ploughed on: "As a good staff officer I wanted to ensure the AOC was aware of the unhappiness amongst his AEOs about their career prospects. I could simply have asked for an interview with the AOC, but I decided to write him a letter instead. The AOC told me that he liked my letter and had forwarded it to the Air Secretary for a decision. I thought the whole matter was settled - I'm supposed to be starting my pilot training in a couple of weeks."
My AOC was two ranks higher, and the Air Secretary three ranks higher, than the Group Captain sitting in front of me. The group captain continued frostily: "I'm aware of all that and I cannot over-rule the Air Secretary. However, I wanted to make sure that you appreciate what you're taking on. Currently," he flicked through my file again as he spoke, "I can see that you're a highly regarded officer and you could be in line for promotion in three or four years. However, if you go on a pilots' course and fail you will not be able to revert to being an AEO. Your career will be over."
"I understand that, sir."
"I expect you would like to go and have a bit of lunch and think it over," said the Group Captain. "Why not come back at 2-o-clock and let me know what you've decided."
"There's no need, sir. My mind is quite made up. I wish to accept the Air Secretary's offer."
He flung my personal file into his Out Tray and took up another from his In Tray. "Very well, Cunnane. Be it on your own head." Clearly, I was dismissed.
I remember vividly that I was very subdued and worried on the train journey back to Mildenhall. The enormity of what I had done was only just beginning to sink in. Why had I been so blunt with the group captain, I asked myself over and over again. Nevertheless, there was now no going back.
Air Marshal Smallwood dropped into my office at Mildenhall a couple of days after I got back. "I understand you were a little short with DDP(A). You'd better make sure you do well in your pilot training - he's not a man to be crossed and he'll not forget you. Good luck to you."