Derek Piggott bigraphy, stories - Pilots

Derek Piggott : biography

27 December 1922 -

Alan Derek Piggott MBE (born 27 December 1922) is one of Britain's best known glider pilots and instructors. He has over 5,000 hours on over 153 types of powered aircraft and over 5,000 hours on over 184 types of glider. He has been honoured for his work on the instruction and safety of glider pilots. In 1961 he became the first person to make an officially authenticated take-off and flight in a man-powered aircraft. He has also worked as a stunt pilot in several feature films.

Royal Air Force

Derek Piggott joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 as aircrew and made a first solo in a DH82 Tiger Moth after only six hours dual. He completed his training in Canada and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1943. He was then sent on a multi-engine instructors' course and then on a course for elementary instructors before returning to England. By 1944 there was a surplus of trained pilots and he so volunteered to fly military gliders. After a short conversion to Airspeed Horsa, General Aircraft Hotspur and Waco Hadrians, he was posted to India and then on to Burma where he flew Dakotas dropping supplies to front-line troops. During his stay in India, he instructed Indian Air Force students and flew low anti-riot patrols just before partition.

Back in the UK he was posted as a Staff Instructor at RAF's Central Flying School at Little Rissington where he trained instructors and flew Harvards, Balliols, Athenas, Meteors, Spitfires, Mosquitos and Lancasters. After being awarded the A1 Instructor Rating, he joined the Home Command Gliding Instructors' School teaching civilian instructors for the Air Training Corps on Slingsby T21 and Slingsby Kirby Cadet gliders. As Chief Flying Instructor he introduced improved training methods. He also taught school teachers in the Combined Cadet Force how to teach flying in primary gliders. Flying with an ATC cadet as co-pilot in the National Gliding Championships, he established a British two-seater altitude record climbing to over in a thunderstorm over Sheffield. In 1953 Piggott received the Queen's Commendation for work on developing and introducing new instructional techniques for gliding in the ATC.

In 1953, he left the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant and joined Lasham Gliding Society and became its Chief Flying Instructor.

Piggott Hook

Derek Piggott also is the inventor of the "Piggott-Hook", which is to prevent air brakes opening on a launch. The system is installed in all new gliders built by DG Flugzeugbau


In 1987 Derek Piggott was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). In 2007 Derek Piggott was awarded the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal - the highest award for aviation in the UK. Also in 2007 the Royal Aeronautical Society appointed Derek Piggott an Honorary Companion of the Society. In 2008 he was awarded the Lilienthal Gliding Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale for outstanding service over many years to the sport of gliding

Other flying

In 9 November 1961, flying Southampton University's Man Powered Aircraft (SUMPAC), Derek Piggott became the first person to make an officially authenticated take-off and flight in a man-powered aircraft.

The longest flight was 650 yards (594 m). Turns were attempted, with 80 degrees the best achieved. He made a total of 40 flights in SUMPAC. 

He took a break from being a gliding instructor to become a stunt pilot and was also technical advisor on several feature films. His role as a stunt pilot, began in 1965 with the film The Blue Max which tells the story of the competitive rivalry between two German pilots in the First World War. He was enlisted as one of several pilots who helped recreate the live dog-fight scenes for the film. However, he was the only stunt pilot to agree to fly for the climax of the film in which the two rivals challenge each other to fly beneath the spans of a bridge over a river. Taking the role of both German pilots and with multiple takes from contrasting camera angles, he ended up flying through the wide span of this bridge in Ireland 15 times and 17 times through the narrower span. The two Fokker Dr.I triplane replicas had about four feet of clearance on each side when passing through the narrower span. Piggott was able to fly through the arch reliably by aligning two scaffolding poles, one in the river and one on the far bank. The director had placed a flock of sheep next to the bridge so that they would scatter as the plane approached in order to demonstrate that the stunt was real and had not used models. However, by later takes, the sheep had become accustomed to the planes and continued to graze, and so they had to be scared by the shepherd.

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Living octopus

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