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Vintage Airways

Home > Melbourne > Adventure | Day Trips | Escape the City | Fun Things To Do | Vintage and Retro
by Neil Follett (subscribe)
I'm a retired photographer living in Lilydale mainly researching and writing on Australian aviation history. Now writing more on general subjects.
Published January 13th 2019
Catch a tiger by the tail, hop in for the ride of your life
Biggles flies again.

Fancy yourself as Biggles, the legendary fictional world war one fighter pilot? Zooming your bi-plane around the sky looking for enemy aircraft.

Well, you can, almost. Vintage Airways at the Yarra Valley Airfield, 10 kms out of Lilydale have two 1930s vintage Tiger Moths in their fleet.

Tiger Moth
The two Tiger Moths of Vintage Airways fleet at the Yarra Valley Airfield.

The Tiger Moth is a two-seat open cockpit bi-plane. You can whet your appetite for open cockpit flying by a simple ten-minute flight or a longer one. The brave at heart can opt for the thrills of an aerobatic flight, with rolls, spins and loops; more fun than fairground rides and a better view.

Tiger Moth
Tiger Moth looking longingly at the grass airfield and the wide blue yonder.

If you still want to play Biggles, you can select a flight that the pilot allows you to fly the aircraft yourself, after take-off of course. Before take-off the pilot explains the basic movements of the controls to go up, to go down and to turn. You certainly feel the part as leather helmet and goggles are provided plus a heavy leather jacket if the weather is a little cool.

The only concession to modern technology is a radio for communication between passenger and pilot, rather the talking tube of earlier times.

The basic instrument panel of the Tiger Moth.

Whichever type of flight you choose, you will love it. Your normal experience of flying is probably looking out a window. The Tiger has no windows so the view of the Yarra Valley below you is uncorrupted by glass or perspex. It is akin to riding in a convertible car, only in three dimensions.

Tiger Moth passenger
Installed in the front cockpit with helmet and goggles the would be Biggles is all smiles.

I chose the "fly it yourself" option

Pilot James strapped in and ready for take off.

I am installed in the front cockpit with the pilot in the rear cockpit as he calls "contact" and an assistant swings the propeller and the engine roars into life as the engine instruments flicker a response.

Propeller swinger
No starter motor in the 1930s. The propeller is swung by hand to start the engine. It is akin to using a crank handle to start a vintage car.

We taxi to the end of the airfield and turn onto the grass airstrip. No ribbons of bitumen here, just old fashioned grass of the 1930s.

The throttle is opened wide, the noise intensifies and as our speed increases the pilot eases the joystick forward and the tail rises. He then gently applies back pressure and when the lift generated by the airflow over the four wings equals the weight of the aircraft, we are airborne.

Getting airborne after a short take-off run on the grass airstrip.

When I took over the controls at about 1000 feet, gentle movement of the joystick to the left or right turned us in that direction. It was a calm day so the ride was smooth with no bumps or turbulence usually present on hot days when parcels of air become warmer than its surrounds and rises, taking an aeroplane with it. This is how gliders stay in the air finding parcels of rising air and circling within them.

All too soon it was time to return to earth where the pilot gently eased the Tiger back onto terra firma.

It's an experience everyone should experience, even if it is only the ten-minute option.

Vintage Airways at the Yarra Valley Airfield can be contacted on (03)8741 2021 or at their website:

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Where: 13 MacIntyre Lane, Yering, VIC 3770
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