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Tiger Moth Flight

by Brett Green


Tiger Moth





I pull the rental car off the main road, crossing an old drag racing strip. As the red VW rolls down the dirt track I see a few buildings and a large grass paddock ahead. A silver Tiger Moth waits patiently in the sunshine.



Surfers' Paradise is an area peppered with theme parks and pre-packaged holiday attractions, "Bruce W. McGarvie Air Charter" stands out as different. This is no slick tourist operation.

With the rental car parked in a shady spot I walk across a small covered courtyard into the airstrip office. I am twenty minutes early for my flight and find myself alone in the building. The back wall is plastered with yellowing newspaper clippings - famous passengers, stories of a son and other relatives, new aircraft acquisitions. Three leather flying helmets, goggles and jackets hang in front of the counter. An adjoining room reveals glimpses of aircraft parts

"We're just getting ready mate. You're early", shouts an overall-clad crew member from the front door.

"No worries" I reply, "I'll have a look around". I am pleased to spend some time absorbing the atmosphere of history and engine oil.

Outside, another staff member walks over to the aircraft with a large battery. He spends a few minutes with his head buried in the front cockpit.



Crew member No. 1 returns. "Its pretty warm. Steve reckons you won't need a jacket up there. Okay?". I agree and take the leather flying helmet offered to me. "Here, I'll adjust that helmet for you".

We emerge into the sunshine and Steve, the pilot, walks over. Without preamble, he says "Okay, lets go".

In our short walk across the grass, Steve advises the correct technique for entering the front cockpit. "Step straight up onto the black walkway. Hold on to the struts on top of the cockpit - one in each hand - then step over the side onto the seat with both feet. You can shuffle your feet forward and sit down." So far, so good.

When seated I note that the control column and rudder pedals have been removed. My brief briefing continues: "Let's get you in the harness". Steve demonstrates and adjusts the five-point harness. He plugs in the tube attached to my flying helmet. "That's so that I can talk to you. There's a tube under here" he continues, reaching under the instrument coaming to reveal a narrow rubber cone, "so that you can talk to me in flight".

"You want to bring a camera with you?"

I mentally kick myself for not thinking of bringing any of my cameras on vacation with me. This flight was an unplanned addendum to our family holiday activities. I borrow my daughter's cheap instamatic - better than nothing I suppose. Steve jumps down from the lower wing and walks around to the front of the aircraft. With a single energetic turn of the propeller, the Gypsy Major engine splutters into life. Steve removes the chocks and climbs into the rear cockpit. Without further ceremony the throttle is opened, the plane moves forward and swings toward the open grass paddock. The nose-up attitude of the taxiing Moth means that Steve has to stick his head out the side for a decent forward view.

The Tiger Moth taxies smoothly to the eastern end of the paddock. Almost at the boundary fence, Steve guns the engine and swings the little biplane hard to port. In an instant the tail has lifted, giving a good view of the paddock in front. Another blink and we are airborne.

I've been on plenty of jet airliners. It is hard not to be impressed by their conquest of gravity by brute force as you are pushed into the back of the plush seat, surrounded by TV screens and food and amenities.

Yet I found this simpler version of flying much more impressive. With little more than a frame covered with fabric, this old biplane seemed to work with nature rather than defy it.

As we lift gently into the sky, I am acutely aware of the breeze, the sunshine, the occasional ripple of the air. It was a wonderful sensation, more relaxing than exhilarating, but a great thrill nevertheless.

Steve banks the aircraft and heads east to the coast a few miles away. My family waiting nervously below recede to specks and the magnificent view of the Lamington Ranges to the west disappears over my shoulder. We climb to an altitude of 1,000 feet and are cruising at around 80 knots.

Within a few minutes we are crossing the golden sands of Broadbeach. The nose dips as we head a short distance out to sea. Heading north, we have a magnificent view to port of the beaches and high-rise buildings of the Gold Coast.

As we cruise north, a curious Cessna drops speed and forms up for a close look. We fly at wingtip to wingtip for a few minutes until, with a smile and a wave, he accelerates onward and upward. Steve takes this as a cue, and climbs back to 1,000 feet while banking inland to complete a big triangle.

I take the opportunity to examine my surroundings in more detail. The instrument panel is pretty basic. Not much more than altimeter, tachometer, speedo, fuel gauge, oil pressure, amp meter and compass. 



The tiny windscreen looks to be purely for show, but works well to protect this passenger from the 80 knot breeze. I stick my hand out the side, away from the sanctuary of the cockpit, and feel the surprising force of the wind even at this sedate speed. Control rods move against my left leg as the aircraft is adjusted for the new bearings. We fly over Sea World, and I can already see the landmarks that will determine our return leg - shopping centres, lights of a football stadium, artificial canals snaking around the suburbs of the Gold Coast.

The final minutes of the flight slip quickly away and we are soon low on approach to the eastern end of the paddock. Just before a barbed-wire fence, Steve seems to cut the engine. The revs drop to almost zero. A sharp gust of wind skews the little plane off centre, but Steve gracefully corrects the problem before completing a perfectly smooth three-point landing. The engine roars again briefly as the Tiger Moth taxies back to my waiting family. I turn in my seat to see Steve's head stuck out the side of the cockpit to get a forward view for the last few hundred feet of our journey.



The twenty minutes from taxiing to my return has been full of unforgettable sensations. It is fascinating to share the exact experience of pilots and trainees from over 60 years ago. This twenty minutes has reminded me of what flying is really about.

My flight cost me around $100 - money well spent for a rare journey in a historic aircraft on a sparkling day. Marvellous!


"Tiger Moth Joy Rides" offers scenic and aerobatic flights from Coomera Airstrip, opposite Dreamworld on Australia's Gold Coast.

Telephone number for enquiries is +61 7 5502 7855  (from outside Australia) or 07 5502 7855 for Australian residents. Their website may be found at http://www.tigermothjoyrides.com.au


A d d i t i o n a l   I m a g e s


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Text Copyright 2000 by Brett T. Green
Images Copyright 2000 by Brett and Debra Green
Page Created 10 October, 2000
Last Updated 08 April, 2004

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