The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 12 Summer 2005
From cockpit to cockpit
by Tony Lack
Tony Lack (right) with Martin Knebel and D-ENDI
(N9240) at Sywell. Inset: Tony in the cockpit again.
Six months after leaving school and volunteering for aircrew, I found myself posted to No. 14 Elementary Flying Training School at Elmdon - now Birmingham International. This was a disappointment for me as Northampton was my home town and No. 6 EFTS, Sywell, would have been my preferred posting, but, of course, the RAF did not work that way.
It was the winter of 1943-44 and poor weather ensured that our training on Tiger Moths was prolonged and always bitterly cold despite Sidcot suits and sheepskin flying boots. My first log sheet shows that on March 25 I eventually went solo in R5022 then, two days later, did my last flight with my instructor, Sgt Hayes, in N9240. Then it was on to Ansons in South Africa (No. 45 Air School Oudtshoorn) for Navigator/Bomb Aimer training and eventually on Wellingtons at 26 Operational Training Unit at Wing in Buckinghamshire where I joined four others to form a crew. With the end of hostilities, training was continued to the end of OUT and then I remustered to Air Traffic Control - probably the next best trade if you're not flying.
Some 45 years later my interest in Tiger Moths was rekindled by the offer, through a business contact, of a flight with Charles Shea-Simonds in his Australian-built G-AG22. It was great to be back in a Tiger Moth, though this time it was as a passenger in the front cockpit. Fired by the experience, I joined the Moth Club and visited Woburn a few times. Then, helped by an aviation enthusiastic cousin (ATC and ROC), whose expertise was wasted during the war when on call-up he was sent down the pits as a Bevin Boy, we attempted to trace the history of the Tiger Moths I had flown. Needless to say it was a sad history.
Happily, Stuart Mckay's authoritative 'de Havilland Tiger Moth' indicated that N9240 was among the 'surviving airframes' and had changed her spots to G-ANDI and again to D-ENDI. Hope at last of seeing her again, even though she was now based in Germany. This hope rose rapidly when, in Moth Magazine No. 123, I read about the Vintage Air Tour 2003. This listed D-ENDI as one of the 'Vintage Tourists' and there was even a photo of Dr Martin Knebel airborne in 'my' cockpit.
The next step was to get in touch with the co-owners in North Germany and thanks to Stuart McKay I soon had an enthusiastic letter from Klaus Lorenz giving me details of N9240 from her build in 1938 to her civil registration. He generously ended: "Anyway, it would be a great pleasure for us to arrange a meeting or let's say a 'rendezvous' during our next trip to good old England. We usually fly one or two trips home a year... she seems to feel better!" We were soon exchanging news about ourselves and D-ENDI. For Christmas 2003 I received as a Christmas card a photo of D-ENDI, Klaus and Martin with Christmas Greetings to "the oldest known pilot of D-ENDI". I'm sure there are many more older and would like to hear from any, and especially from my instructor in those days, Norman Hayes.
Eventually I heard that Martin and Klaus would be flying over in D-ENDI for the Moth Weekend in June organised by Ron and Val Gammons, and one of the stop-over points was to be at Sywell. In the 1930s, Sywell was part of my boyhood background. It was a frequent destination for our cycle rides to watch the many Moths circling the area, to see Alan Cobham's air circuses and air displays which included the spectacular 'birdmen' like Harry Ward (or was it Clem Sohn?) the pioneers of free-fall and the exciting atmosphere of pre-war aerodromes. Eventually June 26 arrived with a dodgy weather forecast, so when we got to our hotel near Northampton, a phone call to the Control Tower at Sywell in the early afternoon surprised me with the news that No.8 (D-ENDI) had already landed. My wife and I were immediately on our way and soon met up with Klaus and Martin for the first time.
Despite a light drizzle I was most anxious to get out there and meet the old girl again and get some photographs. The cockpit covers were removed and Klaus and Martin proudly showed me the old cockpit - with original instruments and controls. There were, though, a number of changes - no windy (but the screw holes still visible), no camouflage and trainer yellow, no Gosport tubes oh blessed memory, no blind flying hood and no gas patch forward of the strakes but it was still all so familiar. "Would you like to sit in your cockpit? asked Martin. Would I! So with some difficulty, into the rear cockpit. And Martin took some photos for the family album. "How would you like a short trip? asked Martin. Seriously? In weather like this? Yes please. So with Klaus getting into the front cockpit, Martin handed me his scarf and helmet.
My excitement grew as Martin swung the prop, the Gipsy barked then settled into a familiar rumble, chocks away and we were taxiing. After all those years, familiar is the only word to express the feeling of the throttle opening and the surging run and lift off. This was heaven, and over 60 years ago I was doing it in this very aircraft. Low cloud ensured the climb was short, then Klaus came through the headphones "which way do you want to go?" no question about that. "Northampton, roughly South West." Then came the kind offer to take over for a while -great satisfaction and soon we were over the South Eastern parts of the town. Picking up familiar landmarks, the River Nene, the old school playing fields, we banked towards Abington Park and the Kingsley area. By now my camera was busy recording from a special Tiger Moth the places of my childhood. Then we turned towards Sywell and back to earth again in both senses to rejoin my wife, who had last seen me walking out to take a photo or two! Other Moth owners in the Aviator Hotel had assured her that I'd be back if I was lucky or that I'd be soon spending the £40,000 I didn't have on my own Tiger Moth. My thanks are due to Klaus and Martin for making possible such a wonderful experience and for caring so well for N9240; to the Moth Club for being in existence; to the organisers of the Vintage Weekend; to Stuart McKay for being the first link in the chain stretching back 60 years and three months; and to Sywell Aerodrome for being a significant part of my life for some 70 years.
This is based on an article that first appeared in The Moth Magazine, October 2004.