Double celebration for The Lancashire Aero Club

PUBLISHED: 11:57 04 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:22 20 February 2013

Double celebration for The Lancashire Aero Club

Double celebration for The Lancashire Aero Club

Tom Dugdale's remarkable flying career is commemorated by admirers young and old<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Lancashires Tom Dugdale started his love affair with flying in 1932 when as a ten-year-old he was taken to Southport for the day and took a pleasure ride on a Tiger Moth.

Eighty years on, that passion has remained undimmed and it was fitting that a man with such a remarkable history in aviation should spend time with a future generation of potential flyers.

Among them was Rebecca Morrissey, a 17-year-old A-level student from Littleborough, who was awarded the Tom Dugdale Scholarship. This could well see Rebecca follow in Toms vapour trail.

Tom, born and bred in the Longridge area and still a resident of nearby Dutton manor, made quite an entrance to Barton Aerodrome near Manchester. A helicopter delivered him safely for a day celebrating his 90th year and the 90th anniversary of the Lancashire Aero Club. Tom is president of the club, the oldest in existence in this country.

Being welcomed by Rebecca and fellow members of the 1855 squadron Royton Air Training Corps must have taken him back to his teens when he joined the Air Cadets and then, at the youngest legal age of 19, he joined the RAF in 1941.

He travelled across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary with 2,000 RAF personnel and, after landing at Boston, he travelled to Detroit for advanced training on the Stearman, a bi-plane noted for its freezing open cockpit.

From there, he went on to Pensacola in Florida and earned his US Navy flying wings - they remain on his blazer today.

Before long, he received his RAF wings - these were handed out over desk by an RAF Squadron Leader with rather less ceremony. On his return home, the RAF then decided they urgently needed bomber crews, so he was posted to an operational Lancaster squadron.

A tour of operations for Tom and his colleagues consisted of 15 day and 15 night missions. The day missions were the most frightening - you could see too much! he said. Among those sights was the terrible moment a nearby Lancaster was hit by a falling bomb. Its nose was sheared off and Tom watched in horror as the bomb aimer tumbled out without a parachute to save him.

He was also at the ill-fated Arnhem operation, dropping dummy parachutists to confuse the Germans. At the end of his bomber tour Tom was offered a chance to change to transport aircraft, which he accepted in November 1944.

After conversion onto the Dakota, Tom flew it out to India, where he stayed until the end of the war in Europe.

In July 1945 the squadron moved to Australia, and flew supply missions in support of the naval operations in the Pacific.

The end of the hostilities didnt mean a quiet life for Tom. He took part in the Berlin Airlift, beating the Soviet blockade of the city to deliver desperately needed supplies to German citizens.

Back in the UK he successfully Aapplied to become an instructor, flying jets such as the Meteor. Tom then left operational flying and went to the V-Bomber Flight at RAF Farnborough as a test pilot. The flight had three Valiants, one Vulcan and one Victor. Tom flew them all, and particularly liked the Vulcan. While at Farnborough for three years he flew just about everything with wings, except the Lightning, and his total flying time reached 5000 hours, clocked up in over 80 types of plane. He left the RAF in 1960 after 19 years, but Tom continued his flying career outside the RAF as an instructor at Barton with the Lancashire Aero Club, flying mainly Austers and Piper Colts and Cessnas.

The day of celebration for Tom was organised by Dr Eric Isaac, pilot and committee member at the club. There were nice surprises to ensure he had a memorable day and Lancashire Life was there to capture it. The helicopter carrying him arrived in style making a low pass across the airfield in front of his many friends gathered there, before landing on the helipad.

To honour Toms RAF career he was greeted and saluted by cadets from Royton ATC including Rebecca. Everyone made their way into the Barton Aerodrome Heritage Society Visitors Centre where Tom was introduced to Rebecca and autographed her flying log book before chatting to friends, museum staff and visitors.

Tom, who hold the DFC, was then taken to the hangar area and was surprised to see a replica Spitfire taxi past. Returning to the airfield, Tom was then treated to a spectacular fly-past in his honour by six pilots from Lancashire Aero Club before meeting the Mayor of Salford who chatted at length to him about his remarkable career and his time with Lancashire Aero Club, which was based at Barton from 1947 until early 2007 but now has an airfield of its own at Kenyon Hall Farm near Wigan.

It was a day none will forget.

The Tom Dugdale Scholarship is aimed a bringing young people into aviation. It covers all flying training, equipment and examination fees required to achieve a Private Pilots Licence (PPL).

Rebecca will be trained at City Airport Manchester by Martin Rushbrooke, chief flying instructor and a trustee of Lancashire Aero Club.

Mark Hamilton, officer commanding at Royton ATC said: This is an amazing opportunity Lancashire Aero Club has presented to Rebecca. Like many of our young cadets she has a real interest in aviation and has always relished the air experience flights that are made available to cadets. We are all very proud of what she has achieved and we look forward to the day when she receives her wings.

Rebecca added: I am thrilled. From being very young, it has been an ambition of mine to learn to fly and this opportunity is absolutely fantastic. I am really excited and I cant wait to begin.

The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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