Octogenarian RAF veteran returns to the skies to recreate first flight

31/10/2019

An 83-year-old RAF veteran left his care home for the day to return to the skies for a final time – recreating his first flight in a Tiger Moth biplane, 68 years after the original event.

Antony ‘Spike’ Hughes, a resident at Goatacre Manor Care Centre, near Calne, joined the RAF as an apprentice at the tender age of 15. However, his role as ground crew, then an engineer, meant his feet stayed mostly on the ground during his time in the Air Force; a career spanning 45 years.

He did however, take to the skies on the odd occasion, but with his first flight – in a Tiger Moth – seared in his mind’s eye, he always dreamed of getting in the cockpit one last time.

Spike’s bucket list wish finally came true as he soared, looped and rolled through the skies over Bicester Airfield, thanks to the efforts of care home staff and the team at Finest Hour Experiences.

The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth biplane was operated by the RAF throughout the 1930s to 1950s, so is a model close to Spike’s heart. Almost 9,000 of the iconic aircraft were produced, but only around 250 are still in use today, one of which was used for Spike’s special flight. In a further fitting tribute, pilot Chris Thompson’s father, ‘Tommy’ Thompson was in the same squadron as Spike during their time in the RAF.

Following the experience, Spike – who garnered his affectionate nickname during his time in the RAF – said: “Well, that was unexpected! It’s been a very long time since I was last in the skies, let alone seeing a Tiger Moth, the first aircraft I flew in when I joined the RAF.

“It was a little bit bumpy and noisy, just like I remember, but was an excellent experience. What a fitting way to end my time in the air. I loved every second of it and can’t thank everyone at Goatacre enough for helping to fulfil my wish.”

Asked if he was scared after performing acrobatic stunts in the biplane, including barrel rolls and loop de loops, Spike replied: “Scared? No, it’s natural being up there. I have more daunting bus rides!”

His daughter, Cheryl, who is also a receptionist at Goatacre, said: “It was a very special day today. Just amazing and emotional. He said the flight was a fitting end to his career, how wonderful.

“I was a little bit nervous wondering how he was, so was amazed how he took it all in his stride when the plane had stopped. I said to my son ‘hopefully mum is up there looking down on him, thinking silly old fool!’

“He told us yesterday he wanted to do the loop de loop and given the chance I think he’d want to do it all again tomorrow.

“Just seeing dad’s face made the whole experience really amazing. It’s very important for residents to get out of the home and do the things they’ve always wanted to do. Goatacre helped Spike complete his bucket list and for that we’re all very grateful.”

Pilot Chris said it was ‘a pleasure’ to help Spike. He said: “It was great to commemorate Spike’s time serving in the RAF with a flight today. He couldn’t wipe that cheesy grin off his face.

“Part of what drives us at Finest Hour is the desire to help those with service backgrounds the best way we can. Spike’s a prime example of somebody who deserves our support and it was a pleasure to fly him from our home at Bicester Heritage.

“The big coincidence of the day was finding out my father and Spike’s father served in the same squadron, now we just need to piece together where and when!”

In addition to fulfilling a lifelong ambition, Spike, who lives with Parkinsons, also used the event to help raise vital funds for Parkinson’s UK.

Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson’s UK, said: “It’s great to see Goatacre Manor Care Centre fulfil Spike’s bucket list wish of taking to the skies one last time in the Tiger Moth biplane. It is a fantastic tribute to his career. Spike is yet another example of an individual living with Parkinson’s who refuses to be held back by his diagnosis and continues to show great enthusiasm to achieve all that he can.

“At Parkinson’s UK, we share a similar attitude and drive, but our focus is on delivering better services and treatments for people living with the condition. Thanks to the money raised we’ll be able to support more people when they need us most and invest in our groundbreaking research that we believe will one day bring an end to the condition.

“We are so grateful for Spike’s support and want to say a huge thank you for taking part.”

Goatacre Manor Care Centre is a family-run nursing and residential care home, which has been in the O’Dea family for 30 years and specialises in person-centred nursing care.

Steve Oswald, Operations Director and Registered Manager at Goatacre, said: “We are thrilled that Spike was able to fulfil this bucket list wish. He’s dreamt of returning to the skies in his beloved Tiger Moth ever since he joined our Goatacre family, so to finally get him back in the cockpit is just a wonderful achievement for all involved – particularly Spike.”

For more information of Goatacre, please visit https://www.goatacre.com/

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