Pictured is Captain Desmond Penrose with a DH82a Tiger Moth.

Former test pilot takes to the air to mark 70 years since first solo flight

Ex-RAF test pilot Captain Desmond Penrose marked the 70th anniversary of his first solo flight at the weekend by getting behind the controls of a 1930s biplane.

The 87-year-old alumnus took to the sky on Saturday (14 April) in a DH82a Tiger Moth at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire for a 15-minute flight and trip down memory lane.

Capt Penrose, who has an atrium named after him at the University, completed his first solo flight in 1948, on the same date and in the same make of plane, at the age of 17.

He said: “It meant a lot to me and the flight was glorious. All week the weather had been atrocious with low clouds and poor visibility, but on the day it was just a joy.

“I flew up north about five minutes to the Shuttleworth Collection [an aeronautical museum in Bedfordshire] where I was a display pilot for 42 years, then returned to Henlow.

“I also did a low fly-past”, he laughed, “Which I would definitely not have been allowed to do on my first solo!”

After landing, Capt Penrose and friends toasted seven decades of flying with a glass of champagne.

Capt Penrose first learned to fly in the University Air Squadrons and moved seamlessly into the ranks of the RAF after graduating in Aeronautical Engineering in 1951.

A graduate of Empire Test Pilots' School, he served four years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, before being talent-spotted by aviation manufacturer De Havilland Aircraft Company, now part of BAE Systems.

Capt Penrose has flown more than 300 aircraft during his seven decades in the air and he holds British and American pilot licenses.

The octogenarian, who will be celebrating his 88th birthday in May, continues to fly regularly during the year and is not planning on hanging up his helmet any time soon.

He said: “There will be a time when I will have to stop - but not just yet!” 

Last year, Capt Penrose made a generous donation to the University for the furtherance of women in engineering. 

This summer, the Penrose Engineering Residential – a free two-day residential event that looks to raise Year 11 female students’ interest and knowledge of engineering subjects – will take place on campus.

When asked what his future plans are, Capt Penrose said: “As long as I’m fit enough and people are kind enough to lend me an aircraft, I will fly!”


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 18/63

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via www.globelynx.com.

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2018 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.