Littlehampton test pilot soars to a family first

John Cole, celebrates his 100th birthday at his nursing home in Littlehampton  PHOTO: Stephen Goodger SUS-150421-104341001
John Cole, celebrates his 100th birthday at his nursing home in Littlehampton PHOTO: Stephen Goodger SUS-150421-104341001
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BEING first is something this former RAF test pilot from Littlehampton has been used to all his life.

John Cole was the first of three brothers and the first pilot to fly countless experimental planes during his time with the air force.

And on Monday, he was the first person in his family to become a centenarian.

John, who lives at the Summerlea House Nursing Home, in East Street, celebrated the day on Sunday with 40 family and friends.

His son Stephen, 63, of nearby Church Street, said: “Dad is incredibly good natured and very laid back. There’s no anger to him.”

John was born in the village of Ash, in Kent.

In 1933 he joined the RAF’s engineering team, aged 18.

However, two years later he started his training to become a pilot, eventually being posted to Canada.

John came back to the UK in 1942 to become a test pilot, flying everything from the iconic Spitfire to the RAF’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor.

“He could fly about 27 different planes,” added Stephen. “You name it, he could probably fly it.”

He established the Cotswold Aero Club, in Cheltenham, teaching musician Mike Oldfield.

In 1976, he was involved in a dramatic crash while teaching.

His plane had a malfunction and slammed into the ground, breaking John’s hip and damaging his knee.

Despite his injuries, John managed to punch his way through the Perspex canopy and drag his injured student to safety.

“Doctors said he’d never be able to fly again,” Stephen said.

However, John defied the odds continuing to fly until 86, clocking up more than 15,000 hours in the cockpit.

John moved to Littlehampton with his late wife Ruby in 2003, becoming a Tamarisk ‘junkie’, visiting the Beach Road centre every day until last year.

John has two sons, Stephen and Philip, of Barnham.