Having returned from my UK sojourn I can now share with you some of its highlights.
At the end of the first week I trained it out to Hungerford, just past Newmarket in Berkshire to meet with Tim Williams, all 6′ 8″ of him, for a ride in his 1930 DH80A Puss Moth.
It was quite exciting to actually see a Puss Moth for, as Tim tells me, there are only 11 flying in the world, 2 in Great Britain. His bright blue machine, named British Heritage, was housed in a large shed, along with a similar coloured Tiger Moth. The Puss’s wings were folded back, making it easier for storage. I’d forgotten that the Moth did that until I saw it there scrunched up ready to come out into the mild sunshine ready for flight.
It was immediately apparent that Tim has a regular routine with flight preparation as he wheeled out the machine and ensured the wings were clipped securely to the fuselage. After all he has owned it for nearly 30 years and obviously thoroughly enjoys flying it. There was a surety about the way he went about the checks and prop swinging. Even when I had awkwardly climbed into the two seater (with the help of Tim) and was seated in the back I had no doubt about his ability to manouvre it confidently.
For one who gets nervous in the larger air buses I only had a flicker of time when I questioned what on earth was I doing in a little plane like this!
Once the oil was warmed and the propeller spinning smoothly we made our way to the corner of the grassy field to take off into the wind. It would have been how it was for Jimmy Melrose, trundling along in a paddock somewhere. Tim knew this area well having lived in the vicinity for 40 years. With the engine revving the plane picked up speed as we headed for a hedge which was looming up at us with alarming quickness, and without so much as a lurch or bump we were up and away over the green and brown patchwork fields of Berkshire.
Headphones are used these days for communication, but I took mine off briefly so I could get a gauge of how loud the engine was inside the tiny cabin. No wonder Jimmy stuffed cotton wool in his ears. The sliding perspex windows somehow didn’t seem enough and the small latch on the door definitely didn’t seem enough to hold us in, but it’s been flying for 80 years now and there was no feeling of insecurity. In fact it was very comfortable in the back and once we got up to 2000 feet and 80 mph, it was very smooth. The lightness of the plane was evident and for a first time flyer it was like riding a feather as it dipped and floated through the air.
Tim himself had flown this machine to Melbourne in 1984, along with Henry Labouchere. Henry, I was later to meet unexpectedly at Mildenhall. He also is very tall and to imagine these two men climbing out of the little Puss Moth makes one wonder what a sight it must have been.
After about 15-20 minutes over the dales we made a very soft landing in the grassy field and put the plane away. It was a unique experience and one that I’m very grateful for – thanks Tim!
G-AAZP DH80a Puss Moth
View from the Puss Moth
Tim Williams preparing for flight
Friday, 11th December : Mildenhall book launch with Stuart McKay, MBE, author of Mildenhall to Melbourne The World’s Greatest Air Race.
Nick Spencer, my host for the weekend met me at the Bury St Edmonds train station on a cold and wet night and drove me to the B&B at, appropriately, Grosvenor House Court in Mildenhall. Later when he collected me to go to the Mildenhall Museum for the launch, his other passenger was Stuart McKay, a charming Englishman with a very neat white moustache.
At the Museum, the volunteers were preparing for the night’s proceedings with drinks and nibbles supplied. The many displays of the Air Race were on view as were the other historical memorabilia depicting Mildenhall’s interesting past.
A display cabinet housed several models of some of the Race participants and Nick Spencer’s electronic display of the race route was impressive. CWA Scott’s gloves, one of the Air Race medals, a menu signed by both Scott and Black, various Race board games of the day, children’s school books (and their authors) showed how much this Air Race meant to the town and people of 1934.
Mildenhall itself is a pretty town, it has a medieval flavour with its market square and half timbered houses and shops. The housing estate Douglas Park dedicated to the participants of the air race is an indication of the significance of the event. I located Charles Melrose Close along with Boeing Way, Jim Mollison Court, MacPherson Robertson Way and others.
It was a pleasant weekend spent with the friendly hospitality of the people from the Museum and to be able to go there and soak up the atmosphere was a significant highlight for my trip.
Stuart McKay is the Secretary of the De Havilland Moth Club and you can view their website by clicking here
You can visit the Mildenhall Museum by clicking here
Stuart McKay, MBE at his book signing
Nick Spencer and his creation of the participating planes and electronic race map