Liberty Girl

In Eastern France on a bleak windswept and snow covered day in 1979, Maurice rescued a dilapidated and moth eaten US military Piper Cub. Her story began during the 1944 Normandy invasion when General George Patten of the 8th Army was believed to have flown her during those famous operations. She had a 32 ft wing span and 21 ft fuselage with an all up weight of 1250 lbs. A ‘spotter plane' - model J3 L4, the ‘L' standing for ‘liaison' - she was designed to land in ploughed fields, taking messages between tank commanders. One industrious US airman even fixed rocket grenades to her flimsy structure bagging a brace of German tanks before reaching Berlin.

Her rescue from France required the avoidance of airfields due to Maurice being rather light on paperwork. She crossed the Channel in fog on route to Biggin Hill, landing on the former's nearby golf course instead of the airfield ‘over the fence', which had ‘too much snow on the runway'.

On the British aircraft register she was named G-KIRK which later gave inspiration for the name of Maurice's second daughter, Genevieve. That summer she was part of the famous ‘Rough School of Flying' on the Quantock hills alongside Maurice's Stampe biplane and a collection of various Austers, for aerobatics and to teach newly qualified pilots how to, as Maurice would say, ‘enjoy themselves'.

Arriving back, one day, from filming the ‘Fastnet Tragedy', of sailing ships sinking off Lands End, Maurice found ‘Liberty Girl' upside down in an adjacent field from where she was last parked. That was to be her first rebuild.

‘Liberty Girl' lay dormant in a Somerset barn for another 14 years before a second rebuild, this time in Wales. Maurice was now ‘in funds' having at last recovered from a horrendous 14 years living and working as a vet in Guernsey.  

In 1997 in a howling winter gale and off to a party, Maurice experienced his 12th engine failure having to dive her from 400ft, perpendicular to the ground, to achieve a 180 turn into a 40 mph tail wind. The wheels touched just ten yards from a thorn hedge into which Tim his brother and he had to extricate themselves with great difficulty before she might burst into flames. She didn't. With just a bent undercarriage and holes in the fuselage from horses eating the fabric she was soon airborne again. Her stall speed, incidentally, is around 38mph, cruise speed 75 mph at 18 miles to the gallon. She used to operate (just) out of a 200m field outside Maurice's kitchen window. "Always a grand site, first thing in the morning" Maurice would say.

The 2001 London to Sydney Air Race of thirty five aircraft was first brought to Maurice's attention by his first wife Janet, who sent him an advertisement for the event in a clipping from the Daily Telegraph. She suggested he should ‘go for it'. The initial spark of interest was later turned to full flame by an American, Lyle Campbell Esq., who chancing upon Maurice's website and being much entertained by what was there, stumped up the £25,000 entry fee.

After completing the 14,000 mile air race, even though disqualified after the first day, against the odds and the police helicopters who surrounded him at the fly past of Sydney Harbour Bridge - for some unexplained reason it was suspected that Maurice intended to loop the famous landmark - ‘Liberty Girl' was boxed to New Zealand for her third rebuild.

London to Sydney was followed by his entering the New Zealand Air Race and then she flew up to Darwin to achieve a world record from Norfolk Island to Brisbane. Liberty Girl met her fate over Kanazawa City, Japan on her fourteenth engine failure, causing her to land under the wires all but to hit a truck. The local police who attended the crash site were wholly unprepared for such an event, more so Maurice who later escaped custody in nothing other than a Kimono and neck brace. Lucky for Maurice they soon recognized the folly of holding him and allowed him out of the country.  

After her third rebuild she left for Florida on route to Argentina and then, if not the South Pole, Alaska where her floats were quietly waiting. Unfortunately for her and almost for Maurice she went down to a watery grave in the Caribbean. Maurice survived sharks and defective buoyancy equipment to land in the UK some days after much international publicity, shaken and bruised but not deterred enough to suggest the existence of a ‘Liberty Girl II' waiting for the call to flight at some as yet undisclosed location.