92-year-old pilot gets refresher course in Cessna

Tom flying high on birthday

FOR the first time in more than 60 years former Second World War fighter pilot Tom Fitzgerald took control of a plane - but this time it was in celebration.

As the Goonellabah resident turned 92 on Monday, his son Steve thought the perfect present would be for his father to relive the past with a trial instructional flight.

When Tom set foot on the tarmac at Lismore Airport, after the flight, his smile said it all.

"It was magnificent ... I enjoyed every minute of it," he said. "My son arranged this for me and I am thrilled about it.

"It didn't take me back to the war days but it was just the pleasure of going up in the air again in a single engine plane."

Mr Fitzgerald said his experience was a world away from his time in the defence forces.

"We didn't have all the instruments they do today," he said. "The control tower was talking to us all the time and you get all other radio chat from around the area."

During the flight with Northern Rivers Aero Club senior flying instructor Sam Todhunter,Mr Fitzgerald flew over his home at Goonellabah and around the Lismore area.

Mr Todhunter, who celebrated his 81st birthday with yesterday's flight in the two-seater Cessna 152, said it was a pleasure.

"I enjoy aviation and it's always nice to see people get the equal opportunity to enjoy an aeroplane and experience a flight," he said.

Mr Fitzgerald began his career in the defence forces with the Australian Army.

Three days after he arrived in Darwin in February 1942, the then 20-year-old was in charge of an anti-aircraft gun during the Japanese bombing of the city.

He then went on to serve as part of the heavy army presence that protected Darwin from further attacks for the next 18 months.

"I'm not a hero or anything, I was just one of the boys and we were all pretty tough in those days."

Upon returning to Sydney, Mr Fitzgerald was told his services were no longer needed by the Army but he could apply to join other defence forces.

Within months, Mr Fitzgerald was one of 36 pilots who were doing their advanced flying training in the famous Tiger Moth planes.

"The idea was that I was to go on to the bomber command in England but the war was advancing by that stage and I never got to go."



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