Editor Nigel Price visits a friendly Derbyshire company that offers flights in historic aircraft, at a very reasonable price.
On a pleasant sunny day there are few aviation experiences that can rival flying in an open cockpit aircraft – the warm air on your face, a superb view and the feeling of freedom is real joy. Perhaps one of the best ways to sample this form of flying is in the classic de Havilland Tiger Moth – an elegant biplane that oozes charm and charisma. And what better area to fly over than the rugged and varied landscape of Derbyshire, with its hills, castles and of course the famous Howden, Derwent and Ladybower dams? (The latter three locations being where the Dambusters did part of their training.)
Enter Derby Aero Club-based Vintage Flying, a friendly company with no fewer than three ‘Tiggers’ used for flights over the dams, and beautiful Peak District countryside. The most historic of the fleet is G-ADPC, which is painted in a striking blue livery. This is an early airframe, built by de Havilland in 1936 and was initially used by a private flying school. It has military time under its belt, having served with the Fleet Air Arm as BB852 during World War Two. Later, it had the distinction of landing on the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the English Channel in 1964, shortly before being demobbed!
“Later, it had the distinction of landing on the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the English Channel in 1964, shortly before being demobbed”
The most eye-catching of the trio is 1940-built ‘EM973’ (G-ALNA), which emerged from the workshop in March after a top-to-toe overhaul that took over 30 months. It wears the ‘shark’s mouth’ markings applied to the original EM973 while serving with 401 Squadron. The trio is completed by R5136 (G-APAP), a 1940-built example that’s finished in a camo livery and is thought to have served locally with the RAF during the war. Another two Tigers are being restored to airworthy trim by Vintage Flying at Derby Airfield, with Airspeed Aviation as the resident supervisory engineering entity.
At the Controls
One of the driving forces behind Vintage Flying is highly experienced pilot Paul Ford. He’s rarely away from the airfield during the flying season, and sharing the Tiger Moths with people is clearly a great labour of love for him. Paul: “I was born in London, and when I was four we moved to Cambridge. Aeroplanes have been my passion from a very young age – when I was 11, I discovered Duxford airfield, and later worked for [pioneering warbird operator] Ormond Hayden-Baillie. I learnt to fly on Tiger Moths with the Cambridge Flying Group and have been involved with historic aviation ever since.”
A mechanical engineer by trade, he not only flies the aircraft, but builds and maintains them too. “The first aircraft I worked on was a RE.8 at Duxford when I was about 12, and I’ve overhauled lots of others since then, but Tiger Moths are my favourite.” Paul has also built and owns a Fokker Triplane, which he enjoys flying.
Vintage Flying’s home at Derby Airfield is a rare beast when it comes to aviation; it is relatively new, opened by Martin and Margaret Jones of Airspeed Aviation/Derby Aero Club in 1990 after having to relocate from nearby Burnaston aerodrome when the site was closed and repurposed as an industrial zone. Vintage Flying relocated from Sywell, Northants, around five years ago, having seen Derby Airfield as a perfect operating base, with three grass runways, unrestricted airspace all around, a highly regarded maintenance and engineering facility and an Aero Club all in one place! Vintage Flying Flights take place under the auspices of Derby Aero Club, with Airspeed overseeing Maintenance and Engineering,
Since relocating to Derbyshire, Vintage Flying has gone from strength to strength. Paul: “The operation has grown rapidly, with 360 customer flights in 2018, and the team are on track to complete 500 this year, and the aim of expanding to 600 per annum in the near future.
“We are, of course, a business but our emphasis is having fun in a safe and professional manner. We only have one paid member of staff, everyone else, including myself, is here because we love being around classic aeroplanes.”
The team has seven pilots on roster, including a former Red Arrow, a current serving RAF air commodore, airline pilots and the chief flying instructor at Derby Aero Club, so no shortage of experience. The enthusiasm of the Vintage Flying team is palpable – there’s certainly a buzz about the place, which all adds to the enjoyment.
A Flying Visit
Flying Vintage’s raison d’être is, of course, to enable people to sample the delights of the Tiger Moth and open cockpit flying. A typical flight experience starts with a welcome by a team member, and orientation talk on the airfield and its facilities. The person going flying is then taken to be kitted out in their flying clothing, including flight suit, sheepskin jacket, gloves and headgear. A full brief of the flight, safety talk and introduction to the Tiger Moth then takes place. An outline of the aircraft’s history is also given, which is a nice touch.
Next you walk out to the aircraft for photos and then it’s time to climb into the front cockpit. You’re shown all the instruments, and the ‘dos and don’ts’ are talked through, all in a way that’s appropriate to your aviation skill level, whether that’s as an experienced pilot, or someone sitting in an aircraft for the first time.
After being strapped in using a four-point harness with a central buckle, the radio/intercom bursts into life as the engine is started and the aircraft made ready for flight. After the last checks have been made, and clearance has been received from the control tower, the Tiger taxies out ready for take-off.
Read the rest of this exciting feature in the July issue of Britain at War – in the shops now.
Contact – Vintage Flying
Airfield operations (Flying Days Only): Vintage Flying, Derby Airfield, Hilton Road, Egginton, Derby, DE65 6GU. Tel: 01283 585803. Please note: Flights and visits are by appointment only, so please telephone first to avoid disappointment. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: vintageflying.co.uk