Still flying at 90

Up, up and away for Pip

Last updated 10:53 05/08/2014
Pip Piper

AGING DISGRACEFULLY: Pip Piper celebrates his 90th birthday with his first parachute jump over Wairarapa.

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Pip Piper's 90th birthday celebration was more active than the average - he made his first parachute jump.

The Plimmerton resident had been a fighter-bomber pilot during World War II but, although parachutes were part of his everyday workwear, he never got the chance to use one.

Piper flew P40 Kittyhawk fighters and Corsair fighter- bombers over the Pacific and spent a lot of time bombing Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

To make the two-hour flight to Bougainville and back, his Corsair carried an underslung belly tank.

"We dropped 1000-pounders [bombs] on Bougainville when the Japs were still there - it kept them quiet during the day," he said. "They were called 1000lb daisy-cutters. Horrible things."

Piper was born in Lower Hutt and attended Petone Technical College. He worked briefly after leaving school but was conscripted to join the war at the age of 18.

After initial training, he was identified as a potential pilot and began the more specialised training to become a sergeant pilot.

Although he was a capable student, he credits a minor air accident with probably saving his life.

While he was instructing another pilot in instrument flying a Harvard, they hit power lines in the Pohangina Valley in the Manawatu. The aircraft suffered slight wing damage and lost its airspeed instruments.

The Pohangina Valley lost electricity for three days and cows had to be milked by hand.

As a result Piper was court-marshalled, fined £5 and grounded.

He became a flight simulator instructor for about six months before he was allowed to fly again, and then he began test-flying aircraft after they had been serviced or repaired.

He got to know the ground service crews.

He said he learned "a hell of a lot" about keeping safe in the months that he was held back from active service.

"Quite frankly, I think it probably saved me."

After the war, Piper enrolled at Victoria University to follow his interest in chemistry and became a secondary school teacher.

He spent his rural service near Tauranga with his first wife, the late Tilly Hunter.

Their daughter, Sue Piper, said her mother had been very frightened of earthquakes after experiencing a big one in India during her youth.

One morning, Piper had just left for work and Hunter was still in bed when she was wakened by a huge bang that shook the house.

Terrified, Hunter waited for the shaking to stop and ran out of the house, to find it was just Piper.

He had taken off for work, forgetting to open the door of the internal garage first.

Partly from relief and partly from amusement, Hunter fell about the lawn laughing, but Piper didn't think it was funny at all.

Sue said her father was fortunate in his life to have been married to two women such as Hunter and his second wife Pat, whom he met in London.

They spent some time teaching in Sofia, Bulgaria - Pat teaching English idiom to Bulgarian teachers and Piper teaching maths to children.

On their return from Europe, Piper initially taught chemistry at Naenae College for six years before moving to Onslow College in 1967.

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He became a schools inspector in 1981 and finished his career at the secondary teachers training unit at Hutt Valley High School.

Piper attributes his health and vitality to never playing such destructive sports as rugby and to a lifetime of water polo.

These days he advises amateur genealogists one day each week at Porirua Library and he's been an active member of the Plimmerton Residents Association for more than 20 years.

- Kapi-Mana News

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