At the Official Opening of the Bomber Command Museum (formerly the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum) in 1992, the flypast featured a Tiger Moth aircraft. Arrangements were made to have Society Director and former wartime Lancaster and Tiger Moth pilot Joe English aboard the aircraft. Burke Thomas was Joe’s rear-gunner with 625 Squadron. The following letter was printed in the Fall, 1992 issue of the Society’s newsletter.
by F/O Joe English
Dear Burke; I wouldn’t want to make you green with envy, but I must tell you that today, I had a ride in a Tiger Moth!
Oh, how the memories flooded back. The last time I flew a Tiger was September, 1945. I had just arrived back in Calgary from war-weary England and before I was officially out of my RCAF uniform was at the airport with my brother and sister, watching airplanes take off and land and kicking a few tires on airplanes for sale — me with four long years of university ahead!
So, brother says,” Isn’t that a Tiger Moth over there? Come show us how you can fly that!” Well, because I was in a veteran pilot’s uniform still, I managed to convince the powers that be to let me solo that beautiful little machine. I remember it went well despite the fact that the last machine I’d flown was a four engine Lancaster! Someone suggested it’s like swimming or skating, it comes back? Wrong! Don’t believe it! With my heavy-handed technique I nearly dug the little prop into the runway on take off. But it was very forgiving, just as it had been on my first ground loop in a similar Moth when training. I had a great few minutes of nostalgia back then. Could such an experience happen again to a mere mortal in one lifetime? These little wartime machines are becoming like hen’s teeth, very rare indeed. Lo and behold, a beautifully restored Tiger moth turned up at the High River airport at a very auspicious time this summer. It was to lead in a celebration flypast for our famous Nanton Lancaster Air Museum’s grand opening. The directors of the Society, in secret, selected me to fill the extra seat in the Moth for the flypast on this beautiful, sunny afternoon of July 25, 1992. I was some surprised! My fellow Society directors had heard me talking about the old days (which they allow me to bring up once in a while, since I’m becoming a “rare bird” in my generation, like the Moth) so thought I might enjoy a Tiger Moth ride!
At the High River airport, John Green (NLS founding member and Flying Farmer) helped us push out the Moth. Gordon Jones, the flight service owner and former WW II instructor in Tiger Moths, was to fly the aircraft from the rear seat (Gordon is still instructing today, 50 years later!)
We got in and started the Gypsy Major engine. No mistaking this little four cylinder engine for the Merlin, but it sounded good. I hadn’t seen anyone prop an engine for a long time, but our ground crew chap did it expertly and it fired up on the third pull.
The ten minute trip to Nanton with 3000 spectators and our low pass over town went well and is duly recorded by many cameras.
A beautiful day – a huge thrill for me. It was a great day in many other ways as well but the Tiger Moth ride was my supreme moment! You should have been there!
- Regards, Joe