Thomas Castle Aviation Heritage
In August 2019, an aerobatics training accident claimed the life of 30 year-old Thomas Castle, the pain was felt by many in the historic aviation community; in particular at Sywell Airfield in Northamptonshire, where Thomas was regarded as somewhat a fixture at the airfield.
Tom was passionate about all aspects of vintage aviation and aircraft restoration. Working with his father Ian, he helped rebuild the de Havilland Tiger Moth G-ANTE to pristine condition. He then went on to gain a PPL and solo his beloved Tiger. He also worked with Richard Grace and the Ultimate Warbirds team at Sywell, working on Spitfires, Messerschmitts and P-51 Mustangs. There is little doubt that one day he would have been at their controls.
The loss of a friend is a terrible thing and one always hopes that something good may come of it.
To say that Tom’s passion for the Tiger moth was infectious was an understatement, he lived and breathed everything about it down to the most minute detail. He strived for perfection in every field and achieved everything he set out to due to hard work and the understanding for that which he set out to achieve. He was as much an engineer as he was a pilot, a rare combination in it’s own right but even more rare to have that level of aptitude in the vintage aviation sector.
I share Tom’s total passion for vintage aviation and that is one of the many reasons why we were such good friends. We both found the whole industry all-consuming and rarely ever spoke about anything else. Tom would always be mining for information from his peers to try and better himself, whether it was a different way to stitch a rib or a new take-off technique, he had a yearning for knowledge.
Unfortunately it was not until after Tom’s death that I first flew a Tiger Moth and came to realise what a fantastic aircraft it is. The Tiger represents a truly fantastic route into vintage aviation. The aircraft is rewarding to fly in so much as to get the most out of it you must understand its every idiosyncrasy and how every element of it works.
Truly immersing oneself in aviation is near a necessity if you wish to succeed within the industry, but luckily its very enjoyable at the same time. It is those who are already immersing themselves, or are willing to do so, that the Thomas Castle Aviation Heritage Scholarship are seeking.
I have found it immensely enjoyable watching the first recipients of the scholarship make their own way through the process, under the guidance of an experienced instructor, culminating with them flying the aircraft and it appearing as though they had done it a thousand times before because they embraced the same quest for knowledge and understanding that our dear friend Tom once had.
- Richard Grace, Air Leasing / Ultimate Warbird Flights
In early 2020, Ian Castle elected to place the Tiger Moth in trust, with the aim of using it in Thomas’s memory to provide post-PPL flying training scholarships to allow other young pilots a greater insight into vintage aviation.
It is a sign of the strength of the aviation community that the initiative has been supported by the Light Aircraft Association, Ultimate Warbird Flights, Vintec (Vintage Engine Technology), Sharman Avionics, de Havilland Support Limited, Vintage Fabrics of Audley End and Henstridge-based Aircraft Coverings Limited.
In addition a number of well-known warbird and display pilots have offered their services as instructors.
Previous Scholarship Awardees
In 2019 the Thomas Castle Heritage Scholarship was set up around Tiger Moth G-ANTE to honour the memory of a true friend and respected colleague, Tom Castle. Benefiting from the scholarship and being able to fly the aeroplane is a huge privilege.
I first flew the aeroplane with Dave Puleston, on a stunning summer evening. We took off, gently eased into a climb and I realised what a fantastic view I had of the back of Dave's head, which he insists is his best angle! With the wind in your face and looking out at the classic airspeed indicator on the strut, It was just fantastic.
I soon realised why it was such a successful trainer, as it is an aeroplane that keeps your feet busy! Having past experience working on these types of machines its great being able to help maintain the aeroplane and really know it 'inside out'. Being involved in the scholarship is something I am hugely grateful for, especially as I get to share the flying, engineering and socialising with some truly passionate, enthusiastic people.
I hope to continue to work alongside the Thomas Castle Heritage Scholarship in the future, as it is such a worthwhile cause. Tom is always in my thoughts when flying and maintaining the Tiger Moth and he would be so proud of what lan and the scholarship have achieved.
I was fortunate that my experiences with Tom's Tiger G-ANTE started back in 2017. After being told by his dad that he was potentially going to be soloing the Tiger for the first time, we scurried around trying to go unnoticed to get in a good position to film the event. Needless to say the whole flight went seamlessly and he returned with an enormous grin. I was soon to have this grin myself after being taken for a whizz around in the front seat some weeks
later. From then on we shared several flights on summer evenings in just our shorts and t-shirts enjoying flying around in the aeroplane that he was so immensely proud of.
After the tragic accident that took Tom's life, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to be a part of the Thomas Castle Aviation Heritage Scholarship to both fly, and learn some of the techniques involved in maintaining the Tiger. Although I felt immensely honoured to have been given this opportunity, it still didn't feel right that I should be sat in his seat in the back learning to fly this aeroplane without him there. I was put completely at ease after a chat with our instructor Dave who assured me however it went, we would try and enjoy it and could take it at whatever pace that I was comfortable with. After getting airborne, I remembered that this was a type of flying that was impossible not to enjoy and enjoyed reminiscing whilst experiencing the feel of an aeroplane which handled like no other!
Over the course of the summer, I enjoyed learning to get to grips with this unusual aeroplane and after some bouncing, skipping, floating and a lot of patience from Dave managed to start to get a bit of a feel for it! Not only was the flying a great experience in itself, I also enjoyed the BBQ's, stories, fuelling, prop swinging, engine stripping and seeing other people emerge from the plane with the same grin that Tom had on that evening back in 2017.
Tom loved this aeroplane and also loved taking people out in it to experience it for themselves. He would be immensely proud of his father lan who has found the strength of character and made it his mission to set up this trust to allow young pilots to do exactly that - A chance to experience vintage aviation at its very finest in Tom's memory.
I will continue to enjoy my Tiger journey and look forward to seeing many more people emerge from the aeroplane with the Tiger grin', whether it being from the ground or maybe one day Tom's seat myself.
When I think of aviation, I immediately think of happiness, joy and the bringing of generations together by a shared passion for flying.
My love for aviation started as a child, being mesmerised by every aspect of it. As I grew older the people I met changed me, one being Tom Castle. His passion for aviation filled the entire airfield and was infectious to all around him. Anytime he was in or around a Tiger Moth he had the biggest smile on his face, a smile that could be seen for miles.
Towards the end of 2020 I had the honour of getting involved in Thomas Castle Aviation Heritage Scholarship along with getting to help out with the Tiger Moths. During UE days with the Blades, one of the most rewarding aspects for me was strapping guests into the Tigers. Getting to see the joy and excitement on their faces as they landed was incredibly gratifying.
I've also been extremely lucky to have experience the thrill of flying in an open cockpit in the Tiger. Once I have completed my PPL and gained my wings, I cannot wait to get into the pilot's seat and learn to fly it myself. To be only 18 and in the position where I can receive such great tuition on these types of aircraft through the trust is phenomenal and something, I'm incredibly grateful for.
From strapping in to flying, I have also been involved with the bare bones of vintage aircraft. Fabric covering has always been fascinating to me, so to be taught by lan Castle and have the pleasure of covering parts of aircraft is something I will treasure for a long time to come.
Being invited to instruct the first worthy recipients to benefit from the Thomas Castle Aviation Heritage Scholarship is a real honour. I cannot think of a better way to keep alive the memory of our dear friend Tom than providing enthusiastic young people the ability to expand their flying skills using the very Tiger Moth in which Tom cut his teeth.
When operating any vintage aeroplane, general flying is really only the tip of the iceberg, so in harmony with the aviating, it is so important to foster other key elements: sympathy for both airframe and engine, important engineering skills which underpin the operation, and general aircraft husbandry, among other things.
We encourage everyone to treat the aeroplanes like a member of the family and after a day of flying, we all practice the time honoured ritual of cleaning and a post-flight inspection. Having a good look around your aeroplane after flight ensures that there are no nasty surprises the next time you fly and is a great way to share what you have learnt that day with colleagues.
During my early flying, much of what I learnt was at flying club social gatherings or during a tea break after cleaning an aeroplane or sweeping the hangar. Knowledge gets absorbed by osmosis, not just formally in a classroom. Immersing yourself in the right environment, with like-minded friends, is a fun way to learn. That said, you do need to develop a bit of a filter, as I have heard more than my share of tall stories in the average flying club bar.
Many will progress to other vintage types, so it is important not to make the training purely type specific but to touch on handling and operational aspects which will stand them in good stead when flying any vintage aeroplane, or indeed any piston-engineered aeroplane. Often these types are operated outside the structured environment of a licensed aerodrome or flying school, so it is also critical that we instil the discipline and good old fashioned airmanship which will hopefully keep them safe at a farm strip or outside a 'controlled environment’. You can't really teach common sense or completely prepare someone for the vagaries of flying to some of our more esoteric locations; however, you can share some of the things you have got wrong over the years which might help prevent someone else messing up. Everyone has to forget to put their goggles on once before take-off in a Tiger though and experience a high speed fly in the eye- you are unlikely to do it again!
I have been lucky that the people I have flown with are incredibly enthusiastic, driven and committed to aviation. To watch them progress on both the flying and engineering front is a real thrill for me. Sacrificing luxuries to embrace challenges like slowly building their own aeroplanes, is very impressive and I look forward to sinking a beer when they have test flown their creations.
During all flying and engineering activities, we strive to perpetuate the enthusiasm, impeccable standards, quest for knowledge, discipline and fun, which we always associated with Tom. I am a firm believer that learning anything should be fun and we certainly attempt to do everything with a smile. There is no better way to experience the world, or blow away your cares and worries, than when flying an open-cockpit biplane.
Since completing my tailwheel differences training a few years ago, I was particularly keen to get my hands on the controls of a Tiger Moth. My late grandfather completed his first solo in a Tiger Moth back in 1943, so when the opportunity to fly G-ANTE came up in the summer I leapt at the chance.
She is such a beautiful example; meticulously maintained and serves as a fine tribute to Thomas Castle who was very proud of the machine. I am most grateful to have been trusted to fly Tom's Tiger' and can vouch that the open cockpit flying experience truly exceeded my expectations. She was an utter delight to fly!
I have definitely caught the Tiger Moth bug' and can't wait to do more, hopefully doing what I can to help support the Thomas Castle Aviation Trust in introducing young people to classic aviation.