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Author Topic: Derek Piggott  (Read 413 times)
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Jack Plane
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« on: February 01, 2019, 03:31:23 AM »

Obituary in today's Times:  Derek Piggott
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Buster11
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2019, 06:32:30 AM »

Unfortunately only readable once you've registered. Any chance of posting it here? Derek was, of course, a member of the British team at the first post-War Wakefield contest at Akron, and won by Chesterton. He was also one of my instructors on a gliding course at RAF Detling in 1952, but that might not appear in the obit...

Here he is r.o.g-ing a Wakefield on Epsom Downs around 1942.
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Jack Plane
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2019, 06:59:10 AM »

Derek Piggott obituary
Daredevil airman who supplied troops in Burma, flew film stunts for the climax of The Blue Max and was Britain’s greatest glider pilot
February 1 2019, 12:01am,
The Times

When the makers of the First World War film The Blue Max asked for two stunt pilots to fly under a narrow-span bridge, there was silence until Derek Piggott stepped forward.

Changing costume and aircraft, Piggott doubled for both German aces in the climax to the 1966 film in which the rival fighter pilots challenge each other to fly beneath the bridge. On a blustery day Piggott, whose clergyman father had been a conscientious objector during the conflict, flew under the structure in Ireland more than a dozen times in two Fokker Dr.I replicas. He had just 1.2m of clearance on each side.

As well as flying stunts, Piggott was widely acknowledged as Britain’s leading glider pilot and author of “the bible” Gliding, now in its eighth edition. When schoolchildren visited Lasham Airfield in Hampshire, where Piggott was chief instructor from 1953 to 1989, he would captivate them with stories of flying.

During the Second World War he had flown perilously low over the Burmese jungle to supply British troops, and in 1955 he flew perilously high to break the altitude record for a glider. On that occasion he hit a thunderstorm at 25,000ft (7,620m), suffered electric shocks and nearly lost consciousness because of the lack of oxygen. Ice collected on his Slingsby Skylark glider and froze the controls, which meant that Piggott was powerless to stop the aircraft rising. At the last moment he found descending air and swooped back safely towards earth.

In another notable film stunt he deliberately crashed a Tiger Moth into paddy fields in India for a scene in Villa Rides in 1968, and in the same year nearly crashed an airship accidentally during the filming of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He managed to get it back into the air just in time before flying into power lines.

A passionate — and award-winning — aeromodeller in his childhood, Piggott supervised the construction of several “barely flyable” early aircraft for the 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and was then mad enough to fly them during filming. He maintained that he took only calculated risks, but had several narrow escapes.

The self-effacing pilot also helped to choreograph dogfights for films such as Von Richthofen and Brown, advising pilots to move in behind other aircraft until they were “scared” and then “close in a little more”.

He had proven to be a magnificent man in a very different type of flying machine at Lasham in 1961 when he became the first person to make an authenticated man-powered take-off and flight. Sumpac (Southampton University Man-Powered Aircraft), which was built by students, was better known as the “flying bicycle”. Needing two horsepower to take off, Piggott was required to add lung-busting pedal power to his skills as a pilot to ensure that the 45kg nylon-covered pusher-prop aircraft left the ground. Pathé News breathlessly reported the “flying bicycle” rising 3m off the ground. Piggott would go on to fly the craft up to 600m before crashing.

For all his derring-do, Piggott’s proudest achievement was more prosaic. He is credited with pioneering modern training methods for glider pilots, which saved many lives.

He remained one of Britain’s leading glider pilots into his eighties, when he completed a 505km challenge in a Fedorov Me7 Mechta glider in a time of 7 hours and 14 minutes. Several much younger pilots with superior machines failed to complete the task. By the time of his final solo flight in 2013, he had piloted 153 types of powered aircraft and 184 types of glider.

The occasional health and safety incident was unavoidable. The mayor of Basingstoke once reported that a spear of ice had fallen from the sky and narrowly missed him. It emerged that Piggott had been flying overhead at a height of 19,000ft and the “spear” had fallen from his wing.

Alan Derek Piggott, always known as Derek, was born in Chadwell Heath, Essex, in 1922, the youngest of the five children of the Rev William Piggott and his wife, Alice (neé Harvey). After the First World War his father had led a rent strike against London county council in protest at slum conditions. The vicar regularly propounded his views at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. When Derek’s mother died in the late 1920s, the family moved to Sutton in Surrey, where he attended Sutton County School and later became a trainee scientific instrument maker.

Piggott, in the foreground, still in the cockpit in later lifePiggott, in the foreground, still in the cockpit in later life
His love of aviation started at the age of four when he was taken to a flying circus and sat on his mother’s knee during a flight in an Avro 504 biplane. He would go on to build such biplanes throughout his childhood as a founder member of the Sutton Model Aircraft Club. He was in no doubt which of the services he would join when war came, but was frustrated to find himself in a reserved occupation.

He was finally allowed to join the RAF in 1942 and was commissioned as a pilot officer in 1943, having trained in a de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth. Piggott was hoping to fly the Avro Lancaster bomber but by then the RAF had a surplus of trained pilots. With the war in danger of passing him by, he volunteered for military glider operations, which promised immediate action. He was transferred to No 668 glider squadron, but then switched to No 267 Squadron and was posted to India. He flew Douglas Dakotas, dropping supplies to frontline troops in Burma. At the end of the war he stayed on and flew low-level anti-riot patrols in the run-up to partition.

After returning to Britain he was posted as a staff instructor at the Central Flying School at RAF Little Rissington, where he trained instructors and flew North American Harvards, Boulton Paul Balliols, Avro Athenas, Gloster Meteors, Supermarine Spitfires, de Havilland Mosquitoes and Lancasters.

His ambition was to become an instructor at the prestigious Empire Test Pilots’ School, but he was told that he would not be admitted because of the high tone deafness he had developed while flying. Banned from taking control of powered aircraft, he became chief instructor at the RAF gliding school at Detling in Kent, where he developed a sequence of training exercises in dual-controlled gliders, which had to be performed with an instructor. These would then be signed off on progress cards before the trainee pilot was allowed to fly solo. Piggott’s training manual was widely adopted. Many trainee glider pilots regarded having Piggott’s signature in their log book as a badge of honour.

“The solo method of training produced very poor pilots in the main,” recalled Piggott. “As soon as I flew with someone, I could instantly tell they had been trained on a single-seater. Their rudder co-ordination was hopeless. A lot of the people I had been instructing in two-seaters realised how bad their flying was when I flew with them.”

Having risen to the rank of flight-lieutenant, a further promotion would have required him to take a desk job. As he wanted to carry on flying, Piggott left the RAF in 1953 to become chief flying instructor at Lasham Gliding Society. He would remain there for the next 36 years, helping to build up one of the largest unsubsidised glider centres in the world, with 700 members and 250 gliders. Renowned for his patience with gliding novices, he would be inundated with requests for flights with him and would not leave the airfield until he had accommodated them all.

As Britain’s greatest glider pilot, Piggott could have made considerable earnings as an agent to gliding manufacturers, but he refused all offers because he wanted to remain impartial when test-flying new models. He would often write to manufacturers to suggest modifications that would make new craft safer.

He had married Myfanwy Joy Rowlands in 1949, but they separated in the early 1970s and she died in 2014. Their daughter, Julia, who was a founder and artistic director of the charity Pyramid of Arts, which supports people with disabilities, also died in 2014. He is survived by their son, Robert, who is a retired schoolteacher, and Maria Boyd, his partner of many years who teaches dyslexic children. They met in 1974 when he taught her to fly. She had read Gliding as a girl.

In 1987 Piggott was appointed MBE and in 2007 he won the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal, the highest aviation award in Britain.

People often joked that it was a good job that he was so entertaining on the subject of flying because he rarely talked of anything else. He continued to ride the thermals, relishing the sounds of the wind — and the silence — until shortly before his death.

Derek Piggott, MBE, was born on December 27, 1922. He died after a stroke on January 6, 2019, aged 96
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Jack Plane
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« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2019, 07:05:08 AM »

With "Flying Bicycle" in 1961 and in later life with a passenger in the cockpit...

...to which some wag in the Comments section asked "Is that God?"

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DavidJP
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« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2019, 09:57:34 AM »

There was also a piece in BMFA News!
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« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2019, 11:04:18 AM »

Very sad news indeed!  RIP Mr Piggott.

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