An RAF WWII hero returned to the skies for the last time by taking to the air in a Tiger Moth biplane; 68 years after first flying the aircraft.
Antony 'Spike' Hughes, 83, left his care home to fulfil his dream of flying in the iconic Second World War aircraft.
He was able to loop-the-loop and barrel roll through the skies over Bicester Airfield, on Wednesday to tick off an item on his bucket list.
After touching down, a thrilled Spike, who has Parkinson’s disease, said: “Well, that was unexpected.
“It’s been a very long time since I was last in the skies, let alone seeing a Tiger Moth, the first aircraft I flew in when I joined the RAF.
“It was a little bit bumpy and noisy, just like I remember, but was an excellent experience. What a fitting way to end my time in the air.
“I loved every second of it and can’t thank everyone enough for helping to fulfil my wish.”
Asked if he was scared after performing acrobatic stunts in the biplane, he replied: “Scared? No, it’s natural being up there. I have more daunting bus rides.”
Spike joined the RAF in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, as an apprentice ground crew when he was just 15.
He was quickly promoted to engineer where he spent the rest of his 45-year career.
His first flight, which was in a Tiger Moth, was seared in his mind’s eye and he always
dreamed of getting in the cockpit one last time.
The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth biplane was operated by the RAF throughout the 1930s to 1950s.
Almost 9,000 of the iconic aircraft were produced, but only around 250 are still in use today.
His final flight was organised with the help of staff at Goatacre Manor Care Centre, near Calne, Wilts., where Spike lives.
It was provided by Finest Hour Experiences, and he was joined by pilot Chris Thompson, whose father "Tommy" Thompson also served in the same RAF squadron as Spike.
He said: “It was great to commemorate Spike’s time serving in the RAF with a flight. He couldn’t wipe that cheesy grin off his face.
“Part of what drives us at Finest Hour is the desire to help those with service backgrounds the best way we can.
“Spike’s a prime example of somebody who deserves our support and it was a pleasure to fly him from our home at Bicester Heritage.
“The big coincidence of the day was finding out my father and Spike’s father served in the same squadron, now we just need to piece together where and when.”
Spike was married to Maureen for 53 years until her death last year at the age of 82.
They had a daughter, Cheryl, 54, and four grandchildren aged 33, 23, 21 and 15 and two great-grandchildren aged two and one.
Cheryl, who is also a receptionist at Goatacre, said: “It was a very special day today. Just amazing and emotional.
“He said the flight was a fitting end to his career, how wonderful.
“I was a little bit nervous wondering how he was, so was amazed how he took it all in his stride when the plane had stopped.
“I said to my son ‘hopefully mum is up there looking down on him, thinking silly old fool’.
“He told us yesterday he wanted to do the loop de loop and given the chance I think he’d want to do it all again tomorrow.
“Just seeing dad’s face made the whole experience really amazing.
“It’s very important for residents to get out of the home and do the things they’ve always wanted to do.
“Goatacre helped Spike complete his bucket list and for that we’re all very grateful.”
In addition to fulfilling a lifelong ambition, Spike also used the event to help raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease.
Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson's UK, said: “It is a fantastic tribute to his career.
“Spike is yet another example of an individual living with Parkinson’s who refuses to be held back by his diagnosis and continues to show great enthusiasm to achieve all that he can.”