Tiger Moth dream comes true at last

By news@wanganuichronicle.co.nz, Anna Wallis, Anne-Marie Emerson

John Donald's dream of flying in a Tiger Moth was realised this week - although it took him nine decades to get there.

Mr Donald, who turns 91 on February 16, was taken for a special birthday flight in a 1941 de Havilland Tiger Moth belonging to friend Richmond Harding.

An hour-long flight from Mr Harding's airfield in Great North Rd swept over the city and above State Highway 4 towards Ohakune on Wednesday.

Mr Donald, who lives in Wanganui with his wife Judy, used to farm in Fields Track and Mr Harding made sure to fly over the old farm, where members of Mr Donald's family were waiting to watch the old warbird and its passengers pass overhead.

A topdressing pilot, Mr Harding said he wanted to take Mr Donald up because he was such an excellent client for Wanganui Aero Work during his farming days. "We did a lot of topdressing work for the Donalds, and our two families have a long association," Mr Harding said.

Before the flight Mr Donald told the Wanganui Chronicle that "excited didn't even begin to describe" how he felt.

"I've never been in a Tiger Moth but I have always wanted to. When the next war comes, I'll be in the air force - I won't be wasting my time in the army, walking around."

Mr Donald was an infantryman during World War II.

The Tiger Moth was built in 1941, and was used as a topdressing plane in the 1950s. It was fully restored in 1978.

As it was wheeled out of its hangar, Mr Donald donned a flying helmet and goggles. Once in the plane, he beamed as Mr Harding swung the propeller around to start the engine.

The Tiger Moth zoomed down the runway and sailed into a clear sky. After the flight, Mr Donald said the trip had been wonderful. "It was even better than I had hoped," he said. "It was a perfect day for flying, and Mt Ruapehu was so clear. It was a dream come true."

Mr Donald farmed in Fields Track for most of his life, getting 700 acres (280ha) in a ballot.

"There were three of us. There was no house, just a road."

He then built the property up to 1800 acres (730ha) and it is now farmed by his son, John.

He has been living in Wanganui for 18 years.

He had flown over the farm before with his mate Keith Collier. "We flew all over the place. Keith was a very good pilot, but one day when the weather closed in we had to land on the fairway of the 18th hole of the Waimarino Golf Course, where we were members. We just pushed it off to one side, went and picked up our golf clubs and played, and then returned to the plane."

He also remembered the plane tipping on its side in a gust of wind after it had come in to land.

"We put it right, and Keith just taxied in and put it away in the old hayshed that was the hangar.

"We drove to the house and his wife Beverley met us and asked if we wanted a cup of tea. Keith said we'd both 'have something a little stronger'. That was all - he didn't tell Beverley any more than that."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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