AN ADDINGTON aviator with the only plane of its type left in the skies avoided disaster by performing an incredibly skilful crash landing.
Dave Hulme is the last person in the world to own a 1937 Percival Vega Gull after the other 89 were grounded years ago.
However, when the 64-year-old recently took off from Biggin Hill, he was alerted by air traffic control that his tail wheel was left lying on the runway.
"It sounds dramatic but I had it under control," said the veteran pilot. "I actually had no idea about the wheel until I was called about it.
"I didn't land immediately because I had to fly past the traffic control tower so they could check it was definitely my wheel."
Mr Hulme then headed for the runway again and landed on his front two wheels, and skimmed along until the plane came to a standstill so he could then gently lower the back end on the ground.
"There was hardly any damage and it has not put me off getting back in my plane," said Mr Hulme.
"I didn't tell my wife for a while but she found out. She used to fly with me but has not been since the children were born."
Mr Hulme spoke of his May ordeal in the week an Air Accident Investigation Branch report into the incident was published.
He has been addicted to flying since he visited Biggin Hill at the age of four.
"I can still remember it. I grew up in New Addington and have been flying all my life.
"It's not a rich man's sport. My flying friends, we're all the same. Only thing is now, the costs are going up. It means we fly less."
Mr Hulme is very proud of his plane which in 1937 would have cost £1,750. It was built with a De Havilland Gipsy Six engine at what is now Luton Airport. It has a range of 850 miles and can travel at 175mph.
He said: "I have flown to Sweden before. It's so easy; you clear it with air traffic control and ask the air base over there."
The plane was also flown by the aviatrix Jean Batten – who made the first solo flight from England to New Zealand. Before the Second World War, the planes were used by the air force as well as air attachés. After 1937, they were requisitioned by the RAF although few survived the war.
"There were only 90 of them made," said Mr Hulme.
"They are now all over the world – some hanging from ceilings in museums. Mine is the only one still flying."