Tiger Moth solo

One should never fly a Tiger Moth solo from the front seat. I have only once seen this done and that was when my flight commander Davey flew in to see us after he was consigned to another job. He was also smoking his pipe! “It is so much less draughty in the front seat” was his explanation. While he was with us at B flight he never shirked any of the routing jobs; taking night-flying in the foulest weather and often taking the place of any new instructor who he considered should be broken in gently. He delighted in meeting half-a-dozen of us above cloud and re-enacting formation flying as they did it in the last war with hand signals. We were not allowed to practise formation flying and I well remember the day when he got us to do a formation landing. “I shall be on the mat for this” he said. But I think it was his age and the fact that he often wheezed that made our CFI Hicks post him to a less demanding job. His new posting was surveying airfields all over the country for possible enlargements. Ann and I made contact with him after the war and we often met. He was wonderful company and some of the trips he did on his surveying business were hair-raising.

On one of these trips Davey was told to survey an airfield on the coast of Wales near Snowden. He started off with his carefully studied map of the area and his stop watch. As the ground rose as he neared the mountains he decided to follow a valley which did not place too much strain on the climbing ability of the Moth. But mist and clouds were descending and forcing him lower and lower until he was flying at treetop height. The valley at this point was too narrow to permit a turn and retreat. This left the option of climbing through the clouds. He knew exactly where he was and he also saw that in another mile he would have to make a 900 turn to avoid rising ground that was well above the Moth’s climbing ability. Out came his stopwatch and mental calculations told him when to turn. He was only a few seconds out and his right wingtip missed the ground by inches. But he was now free to climb until he was higher than any peak ahead. He then headed West until he was clear of land before descending to sea level. He then returned to the coast, located his position, found the airfield and landed there. He found no-one about and those in the control tower told him “We have been closed all day so you can’t have flown in”. “Well, I just have” Davey replied and had to show them his Moth before they would be satisfied!

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