Donald MacLean's Blog 17







Biggles on e-Book


"We're only going for a week - do you really need all these toys?"


"Well I am taking a hundred books ... but they're all inside this nice eReader which you gave me."


"'Biggles'  ...  who is Biggles?"


"Long before you were born, darling - Tom Sawyer and Biggles were my teenage fiction heroes.  I expect the stories will seem medieval now - but it will be interesting to read them again.  Biggles was a fighter-pilot - in the pre-Spitfire days. The author was a WW1 pilot, W.E.Johns.  Biggles shot-down whole squadrons of Huns single-handed ... the Camels were old biplanes."


"Like the Tiger Moth ... ?"


"Ah ... you remember ..."


"Your 70th birthday.  Heavens, that's 14 years ago!"


"Mmm ... you booked the old Tiger Moth at Wycombe ... a lovely  surprise present ... and do you remember what happened?"





Sunday 14th July 1996 dawns sunny and calm.  Wycombe Air Park is where Ann learned to fly gliders.  It's also the home of one of the few surviving Tiger Moth biplanes - the type of plane in which I had my first (WW2) flying lessons.   This one is a dignified old lady only a few years younger then me.  The passenger-seat can be booked by the hour - it's in a catalogue called "Special Days for Thrill-Seekers", alongside bungee-jumping and white-water boat rides.  Ann has booked for me the last free slot on this midsummer Sunday - 3.0pm.


We leave home after breakfast, heading for the river at Henley - which is en fÍte for the start of the annual rowing regatta.  Our route passes the airfield so we check-in with the Tiger office soon after 10am.  The 9am and 10am clients are both there - waiting!

Engine trouble

Apparently the old lady's engine is refusing to start.  Young 'Mr 9am' and middle-aged 'Mr 10am' are being very jolly ... their words mean "I'm not having second-thoughts" - but the truth is patently the opposite!


At Henley-on-Thames we rendezvous with the doctor and his wife whom we had met on holiday at Ravello.  They are members of an exclusive club here.  We drink Pimms with them on a riverside terrace.  I think I am the only male not wearing a blazer and straw 'boater'.  I'd rather be back at the airfield with my little radio tuned to Wycombe Approach.  We thank our hosts for their kind hospitality, gush about their impeccable taste in being members of so special a club and, with relief, return about 1.0pm to the Tiger office.



The plane remains where it was.  The engine-cover still raised.  Messrs 9am and 10am are nowhere to be seen.  Messrs 11, 12 and 1pm are looking at their watches and explaining to each other why they really should not wait much longer.   They tell us, with forced smiles, that the engineer has gone off to the nearby town - to Halfords Auto Accessories Ltd - for a new set of contact-breakers in the hope that this will revive the old lady.


You may not be surprised to learn that on the engineer's return the office is occupied solely by 'Mr 3.0pm' and wife.



Now I remember ...
on the ground you can't see where you're going!

Happily the ancient magneto now does its thing and the engine splutters into life.  I don the proffered flying-jacket and helmet, give my kind spouse a 'thankyou' hug and am soon airborne, with the owner in the rear cockpit ... more than an hour early.


Ready for take-off

In the back seat - is he saying
"Maybe I should get out NOW"?






















It all comes back ... like riding a bike






















"Even after 50 years ... it's like riding a bike again!"  I reported through the intercom "Is it OK if we head down to Henley?"





Throttled-back, and at only a few hundred feet, we sail sedately over the punts and pavilions and I wonder if our friends are among the blazers and boaters that are running out, on both sides of the river, champagne in hand, to wave to us - as though the old lady and I are there just to complete a very English scene of half-a-century ago.


With the agreement of the owner-behind-me we follow the Thames Westward and, after bumbling gently over the spires of Oxford, turn to cruise cross-country homeward to a relieved Ann, naturally anxious at our absence for much more than the hour she had booked.


Pilot & certificate

Biggles II ... with certificate


It has been, as she had hoped, a 70th-birthday present to cherish.


And, I whisper it, made the more memorable by the extra airtime kindly donated by the preceding "thrill-seekers" ... whose reading had perhaps failed to include the works of Capt W.E. Johns.




Kind comment.




"The engine is the heart of an airplane, the pilot is its soul."




History of plane



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