For 72 years Jack Green has dreamt of finishing a flight in a Tiger Moth without crashing.
In 1942 he was training to be a naval pilot. His first solo flight ended when his plane crashed on an airfield in Birmingham. Before he crashed, the 18-year-old pilot had tried to land twelve times. Each time he thought he had bounced too high and took-off to try again.
When, on his unlucky thirteenth attempt, he finally did touch-down, almost out of fuel, he accidentally opened the throttle and flipped the plane on the airfield. Despite writing-off his aircraft, he escaped uninjured.
The report into his accident states: “Pupil very inexperienced. Flapped on “umpteenth” attempt to land “
Over the weekend, for a 90th birthday present from his family, Jack, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, once again took to the air in a Tiger Moth from Darley Moor Airfield near Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The biplane trainer has recently returned home to Ashbourne, where it was used to train Spitfire pilots between 1942 and 1944.
During the war, only a few minutes flight away from Darley Moor, trainee pilots were being put through their paces at Elmdon Airfield (now Birmingham Airport). One November afternoon, Jack’s instructor stepped out of his Tiger Moth, said ‘you’re on your own’ and waved him off for his first solo flight.
Stirling Bombers were manufactured and tested at Elmdon and on that afternoon a group of them came in to land shortly after Jack had taken off.
On his first approach Jack, who had only ten hours flying experience, saw two red lights signaling that it wasn’t safe to land. “The Stirlings had a big slip-stream and we knew we had to avoid flying near them”, said Jack.
“That must have upset me a bit because when I went around again and landed, I thought I’d bounced too much and went ‘round again.
“This happened about 12 or 13 times”, he explained
“I must have been nervous, and imagined I’d bounced too much and set off again, and again, and again.
“Finally it got dark. So they opened all the Stirling hangars and turned the lights on – and the café lights so as I didn’t lose the aerodrome.
“And then eventually my instructor got in another plane and told me to follow him
“I followed him and then he’d land and I’d land, and I’d be off again. And he had to chase me and pass me.
“ I landed eventually because of no fuel. And I thought ‘well this is the last time’ and unfortunately I must have had my hand on the throttle and opened it and I flipped it.
“My instructor, the next day, said ‘You’re the first person to do his first solo and his first night flight on the same occasion’.
“I had to take a chief flying instructor test, which I failed miserably. I wasn’t allowed to fly again so I went into the normal Navy.
“Today it was a wonderful flight and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The landing was perfect – perfect. I took the controls today for a few minutes and it felt lovely. We flew over Carsington Water – it was beautiful.
“Thankfully the pilot landed me today!” he joked
After being permanently grounded, Jack then served on HMS Lagan – a Frigate patrolling the Atlantic then as a front-gunner on a Motor Torpedo Boat based in Dover.
Blue Eye Aviation have been flying their Tiger Moth from Ashbourne for the last two months. Quite by chance they discovered that the aircraft was used at Darley Moor in the war to train Spitfire and other fighter pilots.
Owner and pilot Will Flanagan said: “It’s like we’re bringing her home again”.
“It’s also amazing that our plane’s registration number is only 106 numbers different from the actual plane Jack crashed. Ours is R5136 and his was R5030. So the plane he learnt to fly in would have been almost exactly the same age and type as ours.”
Various flights are available in the Tiger Moth based at Darley Dale, from short tasters to a complete re-enactment of the route the Dambuster Lancaster bombers flew when training over the Derwent Valley dams.