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Derek Piggott

Alan Derek Piggott
File:Derek Piggott.JPG
Derek Piggott in his natural habitat at the Lasham Regional Competition in 2005
Born (1922-12-27) 27 December 1922 (age 93)
Nationality English
Citizenship United Kingdom
Occupation Retired Flying Instructor and Author
Years active 1942-

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.

Early years

He first flew in an Avro 504 as a passenger at the age of four.

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, in a T21, climbing to over Script error: No such module "convert". 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.

Gliding career

Derek Piggott is well known as a gliding instructor, and has written several instructional articles.[1] In addition he had success as a competition glider pilot winning three regional championships, was the UK National aerobatic glider champion in 1961 and set several national gliding records including the single-seat altitude record of over Script error: No such module "convert". in an active thunderstorm in a Slingsby Skylark. He holds the FAI Diamond Badge. Between 1953 to 1989, Derek Piggott was the Chief Flying Instructor at Lasham Gliding Society, though he took breaks during this time to do stunt flying.

He has travelled widely, lecturing and advising gliding associations such as the Soaring Society of America and the Dutch gliding association on matters such as the use of motor gliders in training. As a leading authority on gliding, he has written seven books on the subject, an autobiography, several monographs and many magazine articles. His first book 'Gliding' was first published in 1958 and is still in print in its eighth edition. In 2003 at the age of 81, he completed a 505 km task in an Me7 glider with only a 12.7 metre span in a national competition in a time of 7hr 14min. (Several much younger pilots with superior machines failed to complete this task). He is an active solo glider pilot (December 2012) and competitor, though he no longer holds a full Private Pilot's Licence.

He was a member of a test group for the British Gliding Association and tested a number of prototype gliders and foreign machines for approval to be imported. He made a successful emergency parachute descent from a damaged Bocian making him a member of the Caterpillar Club. He researched the effect of sub-gravity sensations as a cause for many serious and fatal gliding accidents.

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.

In Darling Lilli, he was responsible for the majority of the designs of six replica aircraft and for supervising their construction in a period of nine weeks. Some of the dog fight scenes are considered to be among the best made. However, they had to be re-shot the following year because the film was changed from being comic to serious.

File:Cayley Glider Replica Flown By Derek Piggott 2.jpg
A replica of Cayley's glider being flown by Derek Piggott in 1973

Another notable film role, was Derek Piggott's contribution to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in which he flew and advised on the construction of several of the early aircraft recreated for use in the film. Many of the planes employed wing warping for directional control, which involved re-discovering how to fly them safely. Several of the aircraft had dangerous features and he had a number of narrow escapes.

In Villa Rides he had to crash an aircraft that was flying towards a cliff by making the undercarriage collapse. This stopped it from 110 km/h in about 10 metres.

Derek Piggott flew some or all the aerial stunts in these other films:

and for several television programs. For one of these a replica of the Sir George Cayley's first heavier-than-air flying machine was built in the early 1970s. The machine was flown by Derek Piggott at the original site in Brompton Dale in 1973 for a TV programme[4] and again in 1985[5] for the IMAX film On the Wing.

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[6]


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


  • Derek Piggott (1977). Delta Papa A Life of Flying. Pelham Books. ISBN 0-7207-0979-2. 
  • Derek Piggott (1978). Going Solo: A Simple Guide To Soaring. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-1899-X. 
  • Derek Piggott (2002). Gliding: A handbook on soaring flight. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-6148-8. 
  • Derek Piggott (1998). Gliding Safety. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-4853-8. 
  • Derek Piggott (1999). Understanding Flying Weather. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-4346-3. 
  • Derek Piggott (2002). Understanding Gliding. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-6147-X. 
  • Derek Piggott (2002). Beginning Gliding. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-4155-X. 
  • Derek Piggott (1990). Derek Piggott on Gliding. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7136-5799-5. 

His monographs are:

  • 'Sub-gravity sensations and gliding accidents'
  • 'Stop worrying about stalling and spinning'
  • 'Using motor gliders for training glider pilots'
  • 'Ground launches'


  1. ^ Piggott, Derek. List of 'Derek On Instructing' Gliding Magazine, 2003-2004. Retrieved: 29 May 2010.
  2. ^ "BBC News web-site". 12 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Details of SUMPAC
  4. ^ Piggott, Derek. Gliding 1852 Style Gliding Magazine issue 10, 2003. Accessed 11 August 2008
  5. ^ Short, Simine. Stamps that tell a story Gliding Magazine issue 10, 2003. Retrieved: 29 May 2010
  6. ^ Piggott-Hook described on DG website - Accessed 11 August 2008

External links

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