History

Cambridge Flying Group

The Cambridge Flying Group is a non-profit-making group open to all, which has been training people to fly Tiger Moth biplanes for over 66 years, just for the love of flying.


The Tiger Moth is a very basic aeroplane with few modern aids. Although more difficult to fly than modern aircraft, it is an excellent trainer. It was used as the basic trainer by the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces, for almost all of the pilots who went on to fly the numerous types of aircraft in World War Two. 


Nothing can match the thrill of flying in a historic open cockpit biplane, or the satisfaction of mastering all the techniques required to fly it well.

One of our two Tiger Moths, G-AHIZ, was built in 1944 and has an exclusively civilian flying history. The other Tiger Moth, G-AOEI, was built in 1939 and served in France with the British Expeditionary Service, before escaping back to England during the Dunkirk evacuations. She has a very interesting wartime history, as detailed later.


After WW2, the government realised how important it was to have a base of civilian pilots that could be called upon if the worst ever happened again. So, they encouraged civilian flying by subsidising the cost. 


The No 22 Cambridge Private Flying Group was formed in 1953, under the auspices of the Popular Flying Association. The group recruited 3 former RAF pilots as instructors, all of whom had served in WW2. New students were initially taught on a Taylorcraft Plus C2, changing shortly after to the first Tiger Moth, G-ANLG, in 1954.


Bill Ison, our first Chief Flying Instructor, continued instructing with the group until 2010, when he was 89. Den Cash, another of the original three instructors, flew on a regular basis with other members of the group until 2020.


22 Elementary Flying Training Schools (22 EFTS) was based at Cambridge Airfield and trained a huge number of RAF pilots and instructors during WW2 using Tiger Moths, hence the reference to 22 in the name of the Private Flying Group. The group’s name changed to the Cambridge Flying Group to better reflect that it was open to all, but it still retains 22 in its badge in homage to 22 EFTS.


Sir Arthur Marshall had been instructing on de-Havilland Moths at Cambridge from well before the start of the war, and developed a scheme to train RAF instructors from scratch. This radical approach, at the time, focussed on the aptitude to instruct rather than just flying experience.


The Marshall Company, who own Cambridge Airport, have always supported the group and Tiger Moths have been flying continually from Cambridge since the Airport opened at its current location in January 1938. 


The group is still very active with 10 flying instructors, all of whom give their time voluntarily, including 2 examiners, who conduct the final flying test for grant of the Private Pilots Licence.


We have a wide range of social backgrounds, age and experience, but we all share a common love of flying open cockpit Tiger Moths and sharing that with others.
 

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 22 Elementary Flying Training Schools (22 EFTS) was based at Cambridge Airfield and trained a huge number of RAF pilots and instructors during WW2 using Tiger Moths, hence the reference to 22 in the name of the Private Flying Group. The group’s name changed to the Cambridge Flying Group to better reflect that it was open to all, but it still retains 22 in its badge in homage to 22 EFTS.

The early days

Bill Ison, our first Chief Flying Instructor, continued instructing with the group until 2010, when he was 89. Den Cash, another of the original three instructors, flew on a regular basis with other members of the group until 2020.

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EI was initially based at Squadron HQ at Amiens Montjoie, but, in November 1939, was detached with Pilot Officer Peter Lockett to 51 Wing, initially at Abbeville and, from April 1940, at Dieppe St Aubin.  

G-AOEI - History

G-AOEI was built for the RAF by de Havilland at Hatfield and delivered in the summer of 1939.

On the outbreak of War, EI’s first deployment was with 81 (Communications) Squadron in Northern France.  The Squadron provided support to the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force by taking personnel, messages and supplies wherever they were needed.  It was the only RAF Squadron to be equipped almost exclusively with Tiger Moths.  

EI was initially based at Squadron HQ at Amiens Montjoie, but, in November 1939, was detached with Pilot Officer Peter Lockett to 51 Wing, initially at Abbeville and, from April 1940, at Dieppe St Aubin.  

During their six months together, Peter accumulated more hours on EI than any other wartime pilot.  Among their shared adventures was a forced landing in a field due to fog, scouting  locations where new airfields could be built for the RAF and ferrying a Chaplain to his Sunday services.

For the six months after the Dunkirk evacuation, EI’s whereabouts are something of a mystery.  It seems possible that EI became a prototype for the use of Tiger Moths as emergency anti-invasion bombers as part of “Operation Banquet Lights”.  The operation was so desperate that it was surrounded by great secrecy and pilots were required not to log flights where bombing was practiced using bricks.  The remains of EI’s bombing equipment were found by EI’s first civilian owner, Flying Officer Malcolm Freestone, when he took delivery of EI from the RAF in 1955, including the bomb release gear in the rear cockpit, cable runs and rack attachment points outboard of the undercarriage.

From October 1940, EI was based at Hendon and for the next two months became heavily involved in training 28 members of the Czech Reserve who had been posted to 24 (Communications) Squadron to gain familiarity with the wide range of British types it operated.

EI remained with Communications Squadrons at Hendon until being sent to storage in October 1944.  EI’s main role at this time was to provide currency flights and a self-drive taxi service to Staff Officers, many quite senior, most of whom were undertaking desk tours in London.  

The most senior officer known to have flown EI at this time was Air Chief Marshal Sir Guy Garrod who, at the time, was the Member of the Air Council with overall responsibility for training.  EI’s reluctance to start on his final EI flight home from Netheravon, where Garrod had been watching a demonstration of airborne forces, was noted in his logbook.

The highest-timed EI pilot during the Hendon period was one of the Czech instructors, František Altman, who earned an AFC for flying VIPs, including Winston Churchill, and is said to have been Lord Trenchard’s first choice for communications flights.

 

The other Czech instructor who flew EI, Alois Vrecl, was a pioneer of Czechoslovak aviation and had the most colourful aviation career of all EI’s known wartime pilots.  He had flown for the other side during World War One, claiming three combat victories over Russian aircraft.