At the ripe old age of 93, you’d think I’d want to slow down a bit. But I can’t think of anything worse!
While other grandads might enjoy putting their feet up with a cuppa, I love strapping myself to the roof of aeroplanes and flying.
My family think I’m mad. Back when my wife Isabel was still with us, I wanted to learn to fly a plane. She’d giggled, said I was too old. I was only 80 though – a mere youngster!
Now or never
When she passed away in 2000 I was devastated. I needed something to help cope with the grief. So, I told my daughter Anne I was going to learn to fly a plane.
Her face was a picture! Undeterred, I started having lessons at flying school. Soon, just going straight got boring.
So I learnt how to do a loop-the-loop, then a barrel roll… Talk about dizzying heights! Once I’d mastered those, the chief flight instructor suggested wing walking.
He told me I’d be strapped on top of a Boeing plane - while it flew through the air. I almost choked, picturing a giant Boeing 747. He explained he meant a vintage biplane – a Boeing Stearman. Why not? I thought. After all, I was 82 - it was now or never!
Nerves fluttered as I climbed on top of the wings of the plane. Inside my pocket was a photo of my beautiful Isabel.
As the plane zoomed into the sky, my heart was racing. The wind flapped in my cheeks. My stomach flipped. Then I screamed like a girl!
Isabel would be so cross with me, I thought. Back on the ground, my 16-year-old granddaughter Verity was laughing, and asked why I couldn’t just sit in a plane like everyone else.
But I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I took to the sky again. I’d be going as fast as 80mph. Or 200mph if the plane was diving!
It feels like sticking your head out of a car sunroof – but more extreme! When I had a little stroke in 2004, it only made me more daring.
In 2005, at 85, I became the oldest person to ever do a loop-the-loop while on top of an aircraft. A world record! In 2009, I flew from Calais to Dover, becoming the oldest person ever to cross the English Channel strapped to the wings of a plane.
Since then, I’ve crossed the channel four more times, raising money for different charities. British Heart Foundation, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the Gurkhas…
Last year, I was the oldest wing-walker to fly over the Irish Sea. Icy air whipped my face for an hour and a half. It was so exhilarating.
Not giving up now
Now I’ve done 30 wing walks in total, got five world records. And raised over £1 million for lots of different charities. And without fail, I always carry a photo of my wonderful wife.
At first, I can imagine her telling me off. But now I hope she’d be proud. On my 94th birthday I’ll be doing a wing walk from Land’s End to the Scilly Isles. After that it’s Gibraltar to Morocco. Who knows where in the world I'll go next!
There’s no denying I’ve become a daredevil in my old age. You’re only as old as you feel though. And wing walking makes me feel on top of the world!
Tom uses a TGA superlight mobility scooter when he’s back on dry land