Pi­lot pro­file: Henry Labouchere

Fly­ing ad­ven­tures have taken this renowned de Havilland Moth spe­cial­ist and pi­lot across sev­eral con­ti­nents in nu­mer­ous air­craft, and made him many friends around the world

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words: Colin Good­win Pho­tos: Philip White­man

Tiger Moth spe­cial­ist Henry has enjoyed a var­ied and full fly­ing ca­reer all over the world

“Are you bored yet?” asks Henry Labouchere.

Pi­lot ed­i­tor Philip White­man and I are en­joy­ing lunch with Labouchere at the Che­quers pub in Bin­ham, near his Nor­folk home, airstrip and hangar. And no, we are not bored yet. That would be im­pos­si­ble for two avi­a­tion nuts.

How to de­scribe Henry Labouchere? Well for starters he’s tall, well spo­ken and ter­rif­i­cally en­er­getic. And if you’re into old aero­planes, tales of ad­ven­tures in old aero­planes, and the guts of old aero­planes, then he’s about the most in­ter­est­ing per­son that you’re ever go­ing to sit down with for a pint. And if you own an old aero­plane, par­tic­u­larly if it was made by de Havilland, he is about the most use­ful per­son you will ever meet.

Seventy-years-old this year, Labouchere’s life in avi­a­tion has been crammed full of ex­cite­ment, va­ri­ety and enough drama to make you won­der how he has man­aged to ar­rive at that age at all. If you’re a Tiger Moth owner or de Havilland en­thu­si­ast then I am in­tro­duc­ing a per­son with whom you will al­ready be very fa­mil­iar. Henry has flown, in his own rough es­ti­ma­tion, about 119 dif­fer­ent Tiger Moths. He’s owned one him­self since 1971 and, as we are about to dis­cover, his life with this air­craft is as fun-filled and ro­man­tic as most of the other as­pects of this ex­tra­or­di­nary fly­ing life.

“I grew up around here,” says Labouchere, “and in the 1950s the skies of Nor­folk were ab­so­lutely full of air­craft. Javelins at Hor­sham St Faith, Lin­colns at Wat­tisham, Pren­tices at Feltwell.

In 1955 a Vam­pire crashed on the edge of our gar­den but luck­ily we were on the beach. It had come from Oak­ing­ton.

“I’m from an army fam­ily, my father was a colonel. He died when I was fif­teen so my mother played a big part in bring­ing me up. She was an amaz­ing woman. She’d taken part in ral­lies be­fore the war: proper in­ter­na­tional events like the Liège-rome-liège rally. Horses were her big­gest pas­sion but along with my brother Colin (who is ten years older than me) she was a founder mem­ber of the Fak­en­ham Fly­ing Group, where she flew the group’s Tiger Moth and Miles Mag­is­ter. I re­mem­ber her hav­ing an en­gine fail­ure and force land­ing into a field. I don’t think she ever ac­tu­ally got her li­cence but I cer­tainly re­mem­ber her do­ing quite a lot of solo fly­ing−it was a dif­fer­ent world back then. She was bril­liant at ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, ex­cept per­haps at be­ing a mother.

“My brother was a big in­flu­ence on me. He joined the RAF and took part in the 1959 Lock­heed aer­o­batic com­pe­ti­tion in which he came sixth fly­ing a Tiger Moth. Sixth against ri­vals of the cal­i­bre of Neil Wil­liams.”

Labouchere had what he de­scribes as an idyl­lic and priv­i­leged child­hood only marred by the dreaded sub­ject of ed­u­ca­tion. “I went to a school in Devon where they didn’t un­der­stand me put­ting det­o­na­tors on rail­way tracks or bor­row­ing trac­tors.” School was fol­lowed by agri­cul­tural col­lege and then an ap­pren­tice­ship as an out­board motor me­chanic. How­ever, ‘much more sig­nif­i­cant,’ ex­plains Labouchere, ‘was a cou­ple of years work­ing for Peter Charles at West­wick Dis­trib­u­tors crop sprayers, which had five Pawnees, a Cub and a Tiger Moth.’

Then in 1969, when he was 21 years old, a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion was made. “I went to Aus­tralia on a cheap ticket and wound up in Perth paint­ing white lines on the Ger­ald­ton High­way. We used to amuse our­selves paint­ing curved white lines that led off the road into a gum tree.” Line paint­ing was fol­lowed by driv­ing a loader truck for a crop dust­ing com­pany in Western Aus­tralia.

“These com­pa­nies had some of the finest pi­lots in the world,” he ex­plains. “At Agri­cul­ture and Gen­eral Avi­a­tion Ltd we had two amaz­ing pi­lots. One, Tony Jones, was ex­tremely metic­u­lous. He al­ways used to care­fully ser­vice the air­craft, would stop for breaks

“I went to Aus­tralia on a cheap ticket and wound up in Perth”

and would never take a full load. His col­league, Brian Stan­away was the com­plete op­po­site. A shit-or-bust char­ac­ter who was a throt­tle to the fire­wall man. We had Cessna 185s. Once Brian was taxy­ing it down­wind with the tail up and throt­tle pinned. He ground looped it and col­lapsed a gear leg. There was lots of dust and a door flew open and out came Brian’s head, “Eff­ing Cess­nas. Just like a cray­fish: rip a leg off and all the guts fall out!” Ter­rific pi­lot. He was killed when the Ag­wagon he was fly­ing crashed and caught fire. Ag­wag­ons al­ways caught fire.”

Henry had taken the pre­cau­tion of bring­ing his Mini Trav­eller with him to Aus­tralia and drove it across the end­less Nul­la­bor Plain from Perth to South Aus­tralia. “I paid for petrol by pick­ing up hitch­hik­ers and tap­ping them for petrol money.”

For a man who grew up around avi­a­tion and whose bed­room ceil­ing was cov­ered with a dense flock of Air­fix mod­els, it was in­evitable that Labouchere would even­tu­ally get be­hind the con­trols him­self. “I’d done a fair bit of fly­ing with the Fak­en­ham Fly­ing Group in their Tiger Moth and got as far as fly­ing solo but the funds ran out for go­ing fur­ther.

I was taught to fly in Mt Gam­bier, South Aus­tralia by a bloke called Roger Pitt. Great pi­lot. He no legs, both taken off in an ac­ci­dent with a swing saw−a sort of pre­de­ces­sor of a chain saw that was lethal. Any­way, when it came to do­ing my cross-coun­try exam I was pet­ri­fied that I’d get

lost. I did all the prepa­ra­tion metic­u­lously and filled in my log with all the fre­quen­cies and way­points. In prac­tice I cheated by not go­ing more than twelve miles from the air­field and never lost sight of it. Amaz­ing how you can nav­i­gate by com­pass once you’ve had a bit of prac­tice.”

Henry Labouchere’s itchy feet next took him to a com­pany called Freeport In­done­sia, where he worked on a Catalina. “It’s there that I earned enough money to buy my Tiger Moth. It wasn’t very cheap – A$3,000 which was about £1,300 – and it wasn’t very good, but a Cessna 180 was about eight times more ex­pen­sive. Tiger Moths were what I knew from home and it was all I could af­ford. I put ev­ery­thing I owned in it and flew it all around Aus­tralia. On my trav­els I met a bloke called Ray Cooney who’d just come over from New Zealand in a DH Rapide. ‘What are you up to?’ he asked me. ‘Not much,’ I replied. So I went with him to NZ. There I got a job at a com­pany called Air­work near Can­ter­bury where I met my great friend Si­mon Spencer-bower who I fly he­li­copters with to­day. He had a Tiger Moth back then and still has it. Ki­wis are great fliers.”

Af­ter a brief re­turn to the UK in 1972 to help Peter Charles set up a spray­ing com­pany called Air Farm­ers, Henry was back in Oz in late 1973 and then in 1974 hopped across to New Zealand. It was a life filled with dif­fer­ent air­craft, re­mark­able trips and anec­dotes galore. An itin­er­ant life, scratch­ing a liv­ing any way and how. “I used to fly this vet who was a spe­cial­ist in ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion,” ex­plains Labouchere, “in a Piper Tri­pacer. It was ide­ally suited to the job be­cause it was the only aero­plane that I knew of that could be pushed through a twelve-foot gate. We’d land in fields that were too short for take­off, push the Piper through a gate and onto the road and take off again.”

You don’t reach three score and ten do­ing the sort of fly­ing Henry Labouchere loves by cut­ting cor­ners or be­ing slap­dash. His bohemian life in the air is con­trasted by his im­pec­ca­ble at­ten­tion to de­tail in his log­books which, as you can guess, form a stack of books as im­pres­sive as a set of en­cy­clopae­dia. Many of the en­tries make for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing. On a trip from Britain to Aus­tralia to cel­e­brate fifty years since the Mac­robert­son air race, Labouchere had an event­ful few days in the Mid­dle East and Asia. The tally reads ‘Mag fail­ure over moun­tains. Made new plug leads. Ground looped on land­ing. Ra­dio prob­lems. Buzzed by Migs. Landed Jor­dian air force base in dark. Carb fail­ure. En­gine fail­ure at 6,000ft over moun­tains, turned back to Karachi.’ All this in the space of a cou­ple of days.

An­other log book en­try for 21/12/1975 says: ‘Mother killed’. “She was killed on a horse. Bet­ter than dy­ing in a home. Like I said, an amaz­ing woman.”

In 1977 an­other amaz­ing woman en­tered Henry’s life in the shape of Jill. “She came from an avi­a­tion back­ground her­self. Her father had learned to fly in Canada dur­ing the war and ended up in In­dia fly­ing B-24 Lib­er­a­tors to Burma. Af­ter the war he flew for the An­glo Ira­nian Oil com­pany in DC-3S and Doves. Soon af­ter we met she learned to fly her­self but she didn’t do that much and stopped al­to­gether when the chil­dren were born. A com­bi­na­tion of sim­ply not hav­ing the time and also the con­cern that we both had that if she had an ac­ci­dent it would leave the kids with­out a mother.”

Jill Labouchere clearly hasn’t turned her hus­band into a nineto-five man but she did per­suade him to take his en­gi­neer­ing li­cences. “That was to­tally down to Jill. I’d never have done it off my own back. I’d also have stayed

in Aus­tralia or New Zealand but Jill didn’t want to move.” Need­less to say, he shipped his Tiger Moth back to the UK.

While the en­tries in Labouchere’s log­books and the vol­umes them­selves are beau­ti­fully pre­cise, the pho­to­graph col­lec­tion is a bit more ran­dom. He’s brought some with him to the pub but back at the hangar and in the ram­shackle Por­tak­abin around the back of it are piles of snaps il­lus­trat­ing this re­mark­able fly­ing ca­reer. Talk­ing of which, did Henry ever con­sider go­ing pro­fes­sional? “I did think about it but would have hated be­ing an air­line pi­lot. Imag­ine lead­ing the life I’ve had and all the scrapes work­ing for an air­line. I’d have been fired within a week.”

Flick­ing through pho­to­graphs brings forth a con­stant stream of anec­dotes. “Ah, my Zlin,” notes Labouchere. “I bought it in Por­tu­gal and on the way back I was ar­rested in Spain and ended up in jail in Bre­ganza. It only had eighty hours on it and had a com­pli­cated fuel sys­tem with six tanks: two in the wings, two tip tanks, and a header tank and sump tank. The main tanks fed through the header so if you ran out in a main tank it took min­utes for the header to re­fill. Any­way I learned about the fuel sys­tem the hard way and had to land on an army base in the Pi­cos. Czech plane, Por­tugese-reg­is­tered, Aus­tralian pi­lot’ s li­cence and UK pass­port. The Spa­niards loved me!”

In Aus­tralia Labouchere had met an en­gi­neer called Arthur Heath. “Won­der­ful en­gi­neer, sadly killed in the ter­ri­ble In­vader crash at Big­gin Hill air­show in 1980. It’s through him that I got a few jobs work­ing on films. The first was A Bridge Too Far, which in­volved fly­ing and look­ing af­ter DC-3S, and then a film called

Hanover Street with Har­ri­son Ford.” Nat­u­rally there are some good sto­ries around this film work. Like fly­ing Stear­mans to Slo­vakia for a film with the late Christo­pher Reeve when all the air­craft were de­stroyed overnight on the ground by ninety-knot kata­batic winds. “It wasn’t a straight­for­ward trip to get there. It was dark be­fore we landed

Jill and I had bought a Leop­ard Moth in 1980... de Havilland’s per­sonal favourite

and I could only see where I was go­ing by fol­low­ing the ex­haust flames from Pete Kynsey’s Stear­man in front of me.”

Around this time Labouchere met an­other char­ac­ter with whom he would go on to share many great ad­ven­tures. “I was at the de Havilland rally at Woburn one year,” he ex­plains “when this bloke came up to me and asked if I could help with his Tiger Moth which had mag trou­ble. Re­luc­tantly I fixed it. That was when I first met Torquil Nor­man. I helped him buy a Leop­ard Moth and then a few other air­craft in­clud­ing a cou­ple of Cessna 180s.

“Jill and I had bought a Leop­ard Moth in 1980. An ab­so­lutely won­der­ful aero­plane and Sir Ge­of­frey de Havilland’s per­sonal favourite. When our two daugh­ters were lit­tle we used to load our­selves into the Leop­ard Moth, all four of us, and go down to Italy on hol­i­day. Often we’d go with Torquil Nor­man who’d be in an­other Leop­ard Moth or some­thing, and his brother Des­mond who’d be in a Tiger Moth. Des­mond would al­ways get lost.”

Later we’re met at the pub by now grown up daugh­ter Hen­ri­etta (who lives in Venice; her older sis­ter Lucy lives in Malawi), who has very fond mem­o­ries of these ad­ven­tures. Hen­ri­etta has her brand new daugh­ter with her. “She’s not been in a Tiger Moth yet,” she says, ev­i­dently con­sid­er­ing that Tiger Moth hours are a Labouchere es­sen­tial. Henry adds, “My daugh­ter Lucy’s two-year-old boy En­rico is ab­so­lutely mad about ma­chines. Any­thing with an en­gine or wheels. I’m pretty sure he’s go­ing to love fly­ing.”

In the mid ’90s Torquil Nor­man− who had flown Seafires, Sea Furys and Me­te­ors in the Fleet Air Arm in the 1950s−and Labouchere de­cided to fly to Oshkosh in Nor­man’s DH Drag­on­fly. An air­craft, ac­cord­ing to Henry, that is as lovely to fly as the DH84 Dragon is not. “Quite some­thing to de­sign an air­craft [the Dragon] with four ailerons, none of which does much. And a big rud­der that barely works ei­ther.” The trip to Oshkosh was full of drama with en­gine prob­lems, weather is­sues and an en­forced twelve-month lay­over while an en­gine was re­paired. The pair even­tu­ally made a well pub­li­cised and pop­u­lar ar­rival at the event in 1996.

For a bloke who claims to have “not done much” Henry Labouchere has had a won­der­ful life around avi­a­tion and there’s no sign of a let up. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery year he and Jill visit Aus­tralia, New Zealand or their other favourite part of

the world for fly­ing, Africa. My cur­rent com­puter screen saver is a pho­to­graph of a group of colour­ful Ma­sai women with a DH Moth fly­ing low be­hind them. Reg­is­tered G-AAMY, it’s the air­craft that starred in Out

of Africa. It’s now owned by a prop­erty ty­coon in South Africa but it was Henry Labouchere who or­gan­ised its pur­chase at auc­tion and who shipped it out to Africa, re­assem­bled it and flight-tested it.

Henry is cur­rently plan­ning to ship a Tiger Moth and Hor­net Moth down to Africa on be­half of one of his cus­tomers. His is not a con­ven­tional avi­a­tion ca­reer. “It’s been, and still is, rather a hand-to-mouth ex­is­tence. I’ve been mar­ried to Jill for forty years and I don’t know how she puts up with it.” Apart from be­ing a paid com­mer­cial pi­lot, there aren’t many an­gles in avi­a­tion that he hasn’t tack­led to keep the fam­ily in food and the cen­tral heat­ing run­ning. Buy­ing and sell­ing air­craft, the film work “which never paid very well”, ser­vic­ing and restor­ing air­craft, and in­spect­ing ma­chines on be­half of their prospec­tive buyer. “You’re al­ways at the cus­tomer’s beck and call, often be­ing called in to help with a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem on a week­end. If you want to earn a liv­ing at it you have to be flex­i­ble and be pre­pared to jump in your air­craft and fly half­way across the coun­try to fix a duff mag.”

I fear that Henry Labouchere is a mem­ber of a dy­ing breed. There aren’t many peo­ple around who not only have vast fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent types−and this across the globe in re­mote and chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ments− but who also have a pro­found en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge and the hands-on skills to go with it. Labouchere was born just in time to ex­pe­ri­ence a world in which fly­ing was much freer of reg­u­la­tion and more a mat­ter of mas­ter­ing the weather and the el­e­ments than nav­i­gat­ing pa­per­work.

One lunch with Henry Labouchere is not enough. Each dog-eared pho­to­graph brings with it a fresh tale of der­ring-do and char­ac­ters. It’s in­spir­ing, too. Lis­ten­ing to Henry and his de­scrip­tion of fly­ing in won­der­ful places, in par­tic­u­lar Africa, has made me even more de­ter­mined to ex­tend my own fly­ing hori­zons.

a cus­tomer’s air­craft in his Nor­folk work­shop

Henry's Tiger Moth, in his own­er­ship since 1971 and...

BE­LOW LEFT: Henry's newly pur­chased Tiger Moth, then reg­is­tered VH-WAL

BE­LOW RIGHT: back home, Henry pre­pares to fly an­other Tiger, G-ANRF

Henry en­joy­ing him­self in one of the 119 Tiger Moths he has flown

ABOVE: Henry worked with well-known Bri­tish ag pi­lot Peter Charles

BE­LOW: log­book page records an event­ful cou­ple of days fly­ing


ABOVE: in 1996 Henry joined owner Torquil Nor­man in fly­ing DH Drag­on­fly G-AEDU across the Pond to Oshkosh LEFT TOP TO BOT­TOM: snap­shops from Henry’s photo al­bums, in­clud­ing Cubs and Rapi­des in NZ, Leop­ard Moth, Stear­man and Pawnee in the UK

ABOVE: not your usual of­fice no­tice board...

BE­LOW: page af­ter page of vivid mem­o­ries and fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries

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