Thursday, 31 January 2013

DH Chipmunk - The Best Toy I Ever Played With!

Summer 1975. As a rather young air cadet I had my first flight in a De Havilland Chipmunk. This is an aircraft that first flew in 1946, and which was designed to be the replacement for the Tiger Moth. We are talking seriously old technology, even by 1970s standards. Prince Phillip learned to fly in Chipmunks.

No. 5 Air Experience Flight (AEF) was an RAF(VR) unit that operated out of Marshalls airfield, a civilian establishment near Cambridge, at that time. For us cadets, a Chipmunk flight was just about the best thing in the world. We had about 15 minutes of instruction on how to jump out of the thing in an emergency, (we were supposed to climb out of the cockpit, then crawl across the wing, and launch ourselves into thin air with one hand on the ripcord). We then strapped on a parachute and climbed into the front seat. Like in the Tiger Moth, the instructor sat in the rear seat. I don't imagine that health & safety laws would allow 14 year olds to do stuff like that now.

But the most delicious moment was when the instructor declared over the r/t "You have control"! You cannot imagine how that felt. A real Royal Air Force plane - albeit World war 2 technology - and I, a 14 year old in a leather flying helmet, was in control of it. Banking, climbing, resisting the urge to try dive bombing, calling out height and airspeed as we were told to do. I was ready to set an easterly course and take on the whole Soviet Union. For 30 minutes, I was Douglas Bader.The instructor landed it of course, but if he had let me then I would have willingly given it a go. 14 year old boys are immortal, you see.

I did more flights in Chippies over the next couple of years, but if I live to be 100 I will remember to my dying day every moment of that first flight.

There are still loads of Chippies in the air. 5 AEF still exists, but it is based at RAF Wyton now. During my service, Canberras operated out of Wyton, (the Rugby player Rory Underwood flew out of there in the 90s). Canberras were part of my life because they had two uses in my time: photo recce (and air cameras were my main job), and target towing out of Akrotiri in Cyprus, on armament practice camp. The Canberra was a beauty, and another Cold War warrior.

Great days indeed. And I was there....


  1. With you all the way there.

    My Chipmunk flights were at RAF Shawbury, and at annual camp 1976 - RAF Valley. Our ATC squadron CO got a flight in a Gnat - the Red Arrows were based there (temporarily) at that time.

    In ATC days, did you do your gliding course in open top Sedbergh and Kirby Cadet gliders? Bloody draughty in Dec. 1974!

    As you say, great days.

  2. I remember those gliders well. And a friend of mine has just restored a T2, and it is back in the air!