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Tiger Airways


Tiger Airways takes its name from the Tiger Moth, probably the best known of all the 1930's Vintage Bi-planes. Tiger Airways was the West Country's first modern provider of Tiger Moth Flights and is still the only provider of Vintage Bi-plane Flights in the West Midlands and South West. Offering more than simply joy rides, pleasure flights or scenic flights, Tiger Airways specialise in providing the public with the chance of 'hands on' flying in World War Two Vintage, Open Cockpit, Bi-Plane, Training Aeroplanes from the Tiger Moth era. A flight in one of their vintage aeroplanes, designed more than seventy years ago, is, they believe, the most enthralling of all the experience days now on offer. Include some aerobatics in the flight and you are enjoying the most exciting of all adventure days.

Here Digger talks to Chris Rollings at Tiger Airways.


Tiger Airways



Digger: Is it hectic at the moment? 

Chris: At this exact moment no, but give it half an hour… 

Digger: Is what you’re doing seasonal? 

Chris: Yes, to an extent. 

Digger: Did the dust cloud have an impact on you? 

Chris: We got stopped for a couple of hours at one point. One morning, the Civil Aviation Authority and the National Air Traffic Service got carried away and it was a mistake. It was just the one occasion. I spent and hour and a half on the phone raising holy hell and then they said “Oh, alright then.” 

Digger: They always err on the side of caution in this country. 

Chris: Yes, the position of responsibility these days is commensurate with an absolute reluctance to take responsibility. 

Digger: Yes. In my day, as it were, people were left to their own devices and to make their own health and safety choices and by and large the phrase “It didn’t do us any harm” is true. I’m sure there were one or two injuries... 

Chris: There probably were but are we all going to live forever now? 

Digger: That’s right. 

Chris: The culture is wrong in seeking zero risk. 

Digger: In fact, in one of life’s ironies people are artificially seeking risks because there aren’t enough in normal life. 

Chris: Yes, some are and some always did. But the first rule should be – if you are risking only your life or those who have voluntarily chosen to share that risk with you, then you can do anything. 

Digger: I agree with that. 

Chris: The second rule should be – almost no human activity is without some risk. 

Digger: You hear lists of annual accident statistics and more people are hurt by tea cosies than by bungee jumping. 

Chris: I’m getting into my car and driving down the road in a while and even if I drive carefully at 30 mph I could have a puncture or a steering failure, the car mounts the kerb and ploughs into a couple of dozen people. Now, that risk is low level. What actually should be done is to say – this is the level of risk that you’re allowed to cause to other people – one in 100,000, one in a million or whatever it happens to be. And any activity that can be shown to be inside that level is okay. 

Digger: I don’t know how they’d monitor that. 

Chris: You’d have to let it go on for a while and see how may people got killed. 

Digger: I see potentially dangerous stuff on the road every day – people driving through zebra crossings and just missing a pedestrian, people on mobile phones driving a heavy truck wildly around a corner and so on. The civil servants should focus on ways to plug those safety gaps. So, now we've sorted that all out Chris, what is your background and can you tell us how Tiger Airways started? 

Chris: My background is that as a young lad of fourteen I joined the Air Training Corps. Because I was interested in flying and I scrounged flights in all sorts of RAF aeroplanes and then, at sixteen, I did a gliding course and thought “Cor, this is fun.” And I continued as a staff member of the local Air Cadet Gliding School at RAF Halton. By the time I was eighteen I was an instructor with them and a few years further on I joined a civilian gliding club at what is now High Wycombe Air Park. Six months later – I was a technical sales rep at the time and then I became a professional instructor with the intention of doing it for six months to get it out of my system so then I could get on with a serious career. 

Digger: You obviously had an aptitude for it because you went through at quite a pace, didn’t you? 

Chris: Well, yes I got quite good at gliding – a few national championships and a few records. 

Digger: I used to drive to Dunstable downs and watch the gliders launch form their catapults. It was fantastic – ground to altitude in a few seconds. 

Chris: They’ve stopped that at Dunstable now. The only place that still does that is Long Mynd at Stretton. I got to be quite good at that and got a powered aeroplane licence along the way. I spent some time as senior national coach for the British National Gliding Association and a year or so as chief instructor of the Mile High Gliding Corporation at Boulder, Colorado USA. And my partner, who I met in a traffic jam on the M6, is an airline pilot and ex-professional air display pilot and twice the leading lady of British Contest Aerobatics… 

Digger: It was just a coincidence that you met in a jam on the motorway? 

Chris: Completely, but the amazing thing was that, having met in a traffic jam on the M6, we then discovered we had enormous numbers of friends in common and it was a remarkable chance that we hadn’t met before. 

Digger: What prompted you to wind down the window and strike up a conversation? 

Chris: I had a glider trailer on the back of my car and she had a hawk on a perch at the front of her car. It was a hot Friday afternoon. She looked across and said “Is that a glider trailer on the back?” And I said “Yes.” And I looked at the small hawk at the front of her car and said “Is that a Kestrel or a Merlin?” thereby exhausting my knowledge of birds of prey. She said “It’s a kestrel.” And at that point I looked at the back of her car and saw a much larger bird of prey. So I said “What have you got at the back of the car?” And she said “A golden eagle” as if to say “Doesn’t everybody have a golden eagle at the back of their car?” We chatted for a bit and I gathered at this point that she lived in Scotland and was on the way south visiting friends and I was just on the way home from running a soaring course at a midlands gliding club. I suggested that I would be in Scotland in a couple of months’ time running some soaring at Aboyne in Scotland and she might like to come over and bring her eagle along, because the boys would love to meet a golden eagle at close quarters. I’d take her soaring over Scotland and we might even meet a golden eagle in the air. We exchanged phone numbers, and subsequently when I asked her what she did for a living she said she worked for a transport company, failing to tell me she was a professional pilot flying four engine jets for Air UK. When she turned up at Aboyne, complete with the golden eagle, everybody admired the golden eagle and then we went off in a two-seater and it was a good soaring day so we climbed to about 17,000 feet and then I did my aerobatics party piece to music thinking that would impress her. When it was over she said “Can I have a go?” – she admitted she’d done a bit of flying by this stage so she took control of this big lumbering beast of a glider and did two immaculate barrel rolls with it, much better than I could do it and said “That was nice. I haven’t done any aerobatics for a long time. I think your choice of music was better than I used to use.” So a few years later, we both decided we were fed up with working for other people and wanted our own business and flying vintage biplanes seemed the logical place to start. So Tiger Airways was born. 

Digger: What's the biggest pleasure about what you do? 

Chris: The fact that we think that humanity wears a smile on its face. This may sound like an exaggeration or a boast – in nine years and probably 10 or 11,000 flights, only one person has not said something along the lines of “That was absolutely bloody wonderful.” With a big smile on their face. 

Digger: Was that one exception someone who had been press ganged into doing it? 

Chris: What he said was that “My father has bought me the flight and he knows how terrified I am of flying and that I wouldn’t enjoy it in the slightest but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of not doing it. And I’m glad to have done it.” 

Digger: Well, even that was a kind of praise. It’s getting there. (Laughs) That sort of feedback must be… 

Chris: It makes one feel good. 



Tiger Airways


Tiger Airways


Digger: What sorts of people fly with you? I assume every type? 

Chris: Yes, everybody. From nine year old kids who fancy the look of it through to thirty, forty, fifty year olds who’ve always been interested in that sort of thing to the 91 year old ex-Battle of Britain pilot who we flew two weeks ago. 

Digger: Hmm. How many of those guys are left now? There can’t be that many? 

Chris: Not many, but we actually had one Battle of Britain pilot two weeks ago and we still see ex-wartime RAF pilots every couple of months, I suppose. 

Digger: I went to a WWII day at Duxford and there were about a dozen Battle of Britain guys signing books and paintings of their aircraft. That was about three years ago and I’m assuming they’re becoming fewer each year which is a shame. What makes the Tiger Moth so special? 

Chris: Firstly I think it was the aircraft that trained the RAF during the second world war – almost everybody who fought in the Battle of Britain learned to fly in a Tiger Moth. Secondly, because it was built in such large numbers it’s the one that was around – there were around 7,000 Tiger Moths built, and everybody knows it. I should explain that we don’t actually have any Tiger Moths! (Both laugh) We have a thing called a Stampe SV.4 which is a French and Belgian copy of the Tiger Moth. It’s enough like it that it can fool RAF pilots who learned to fly in Tiger Moths into thinking it is one. 

Digger: I go to the Bourton motor museum and there are German and Japanese copies of Austins from their early car production – these were built under licence. And, of course, the Messerschmitt fighter had a Rolls Royce engine at the start of its life, obviously before the war. 

Chris: Everybody was copying everybody else. The other thing is that the Tiger Moth, for many people, is a generic name for a vintage biplane. The same way that ballpoint pens are Biros and vacuum cleaners are Hoovers. 

Digger: Yes. 

Chris: That one’s a Boeing Stearman – that’s an American Tiger Moth. That one’s a Bücker Jungmann – that’s a German Tiger Moth. 

Digger: When they made the Battle of Britain movie in 1969 they still managed to get hold of a lot of original planes because they were still in service with the Spanish Air Force and elsewhere. Was the same true with the Moth in that it had a long service history?

Chris: The RAF started replacing them with the Chipmunk, a low wing monoplane with the same engine and they first started to arrive almost immediately after the second world war. A few Tiger Moths carried on in use with the RAF through the fifties for things like Air Cadet flights. I think the last navy ones didn’t retire until the early seventies. There were only a few left but a lot of them were dumped onto the civilian market after the war and I understand that in 1946 you could buy one for about £25. 

Digger: And a lot of them rotting and rusting in barns and fields?



Tiger Airways


Chris: A friend of mine joined the air force in about 1950 and did his national service opting for three years instead of two and training as a pilot. Quite a few people did that at that time and when he came out he joined British European Airways as it was then and he was an airline pilot until his retirement. He bought a Tiger Moth in 1952 for £150.  

Digger: And these days? 

Chris: I could probably find one for sale by this afternoon if I looked hard - £50,000 give or take a little. If it’s less than £35,000 then you’re probably going to take it home in a truck rather than fly it home and for £70,000 you’d expect it to be the one that is going to get the prize at the next Tiger Moth Flight. 

Digger: What should people bring apart from themselves and should they prepare in any way? 

Chris: They don’t actually have to do anything to prepare for it. We’ll lend them the sheepskin flying jacket and a white silk scarf and a leather flying helmet. And we’ll show them a fifteen minute video about how to fly the plane and how it works. If they want to read something about it before then they can but in practice just turn up dressed normally and we’ll do the rest. 

Digger: Do you get a lot of repeat bookings? 

Chris: Yes, quite a few. I do keep a careful track of where all the bookings come from and these days the largest source is The Internet and the second largest source is word of mouth. 

Digger: That’s brilliant isn’t it? 

Chris: One lady comes back and has an aerobatic flight with us on her birthday every year. She’s been doing that for eight years now. 

Digger: How far are they physically coming when they find you on the Net? 

Chris: It’s unusual for them to come form abroad but it does happen. We had a chap drove down from Glasgow the day before yesterday – they come form Liverpool, Yorkshire, Essex, Cornwall and that’s an everyday occurrence. 

Digger: Road distances don’t mean much to people these days because the cars are more comfortable and roads better. 

Chris: 30% come from within an hour’s drive, 30% within two hour’s drive and the other 40% further than that. 

Digger: What is it about retro and nostalgia in all its forms? So many people have businesses related to it. Why is it so enduringly popular? 

Chris: The short answer is I don’t know. It’s difficult to say really. I think there’s a feeling that it was better in the good old days. 

Digger: Maybe we just remember the good stuff? 

Chris: Okay, our planes aren’t strictly Tiger Moths but I think with the Tiger Moth it was part of an era when health and safety didn’t rule and people took risks and flew them around the world. And in doing so, they helped create the modern world. The guy who flew his Tiger Moth to Australia was paving the way for the 747 you’ll jump on to go on your holidays there next month. 

Digger: And with the volume of commercial flying there is these days it’s incredible how safe it is these days. 

Chris: Quite. But the thirties was the Tiger Moth’s era and it was the time when flying went from useless to useful. In the first world war it became a weapon of war, but it was really during the twenties, when air travel was a novelty, and by the end of the thirties it was the quickest way of getting somewhere. The guys who were flying the Tiger Moths and planes of that era played a big part in creating the modern world. To get to look and experience what they did it with is fascinating for anyone who has ever thought about it. Probably on our side in excess of  90% of the pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain trained on Tiger Moths. 

Digger: We wouldn’t be having this conversation if they hadn’t. So can you take us through some of your options and packages? 

Chris: Yes, first of all, all of the flights we do are with instructors and they all give the opportunity to do some hands on flying. They’re not a passenger ride, they’re a come and have a go and see what it’s like for yourself. The basic option is a 20 minute flight and the most popular option is probably the 30 minute one and we call it the Cotswold Flight because you’ve got to call it something and we’re right next to The Cotswolds. You can actually go over towards The Malverns or down the estuary or over The Forest of Dean or wherever somebody wants to go. 

Digger: Is there some aerobatics involved in that if you want? 

Chris: If you want, yes. Basically at some point in the flight the instructor will say “While we’re up here do you want to see the world upside down and do a barrel roll? 

Digger: (Laughs) I’ll hit my clipboard against the dashboard… 

Chris: Probably 75 to 85% say yes, it’s not universal. For those who specifically know before they start that throwing the world around a bit is what they want, we do two specific aerobatic options. There’s a 25 minute introduction to aerobatics which is a slightly abbreviated version of the Cotswold Flight really with a chance to do a loop and a roll. For the really adventurous, we do a 35 minute full-blooded aerobatic flight with two choices – you can either have the instructor to teach you how to fly the aeroplane around a barrel roll which is the easiest of all aerobatic manouvres. Yes, that really does mean someone who’s never flown before. 

Digger: So you don’t need any flying qualifications or experience at all? 

Chris: None whatsoever. Or the alternative which is what most people will go for - the instructor will show you how he or she flies a full contest display or sequence – the sort of thing you’d see if you want along to an airshow, from the driver’s point of view with a running commentary being done. 

Digger: I was surprised when I was at Sywell aerodrome at how small an amount of airspace these biplanes need to perform their aerobatics. 

Chris: Basically, biplanes tend to fly slowly compared to most modern aeroplanes and the turn radius, all things being equal, varies with the square of the speed you’re doing it. So with our Tiger Moths or biplanes the maximum speed used for aerobatics is around 100 knots, maybe a touch over, so 120 mph. The Red Arrows will be going up to 250 knots, nearly 300 mph. Two and a half times faster using 5 or 6 times as much sky. 

Digger: Pardon the pun but in what direction are you taking the business? 

Chris: What I’d like to do is slightly expand the variety – an acquaintance in Germany is actually trying to put back into production, to the original drawings, the German Bücker Jungmann, which is their equivalent of the Tiger Moth. Very similar, the same shape but slightly smaller - if you park it next to a Tiger Moth it’s a little bit smaller and actually a little bit more agile. 

Digger: You could simulate dogfights?

Chris: Yes, I want to do that. It’s a bit artificial because the Tiger Moths were never used in combat. And the German Bücker Jungmann was used right at the end of the war when they put bomb racks on them and used them when things were really desperate and they were losing light hell. But, there’s no reason not to simulate combat in them and it would have been part of the training. The other thing is that would be quite interesting to someone who is interested in that part of the war so they could come along and try both sides of basic training and see what the British learned to fly in and what the Germans learned to fly in for the Battle of Britain. Come and try them both on the same day and see what you think. 

Digger: Do you do a video of the experience? 

Chris: Usually yes. 

Digger: That’s good because these days people would like and maybe expect a visual record of their flight to take away with them as well, wouldn’t they?

Chris: We try to make it a day to remember and the video is a great memento of a great day.

Digger: Well Chris, thank you for that, I’ve learned a lot about vintage biplanes and what you are doing with them. It has been fascinating and I wish you every success in the future.

Chris: Many thanks David. 



Tiger Airways


Tiger Moth Flights, Modern Flights, Aerobatic Flights, Spitfire Flights, Stearman Biplane Flights, Wing Walking, Learn To Fly

Chris Rollings
Operations Manager
United Kingdom

01452 854141




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