The Flying Flea

The Email from Harry

Dear David

The Torver website has an article by Pat Barr about Torver Mill, where son Christopher lives, referring to the Flying Flea's being on show at RAF Millom Museum.

Millom closed in 2010 and I have been keen to trace the present whereabouts of the Flea to renew its acquaintance. I have tracked it down to the Solway Aviation Museum at Carlisle Airport near Brampton, where it is displayed indoors in splendid state. (The Museum displays outdoors about 10 military aircraft, with visitor access to the cockpits of the Vulcan and Canberra bombers. Very impressive!)

I don't know whether you would wish to bring the Flea's story up to date, but I thought I would put you in the picture. Unfortunately I have no point of contact with the original author.


On 27th August 2013 I received an email from Harry Bradley, 
father of Chris who now resides at The Mill (see right).  
The article he referred to was Torver Mill by Pat Barr.

This led to our contacting David Price, Managing Director of the Solway Aviation Society Ltd museum, who confirmed that the Flea is indeed on display there.  He went on to say:
"The further story is quite simple in that when RAF Millom Museum closed, the flea was taken by us on loan from the Pennington family and, after a season in store is now back on public display.  As the only remaining aviation museum in the county, we were very pleased  to be able to secure the Flea.
We have not changed it at all since it arrived as the restoration by Millom/Haverigg was done very well and continues to deserve mention.

A further email from Harry offered more information:
"I was very interested to learn from David Price’s email that the Flying Flea still belongs to the Pennington family.

It was on a 2010 visit to Millom that I first saw on a display that the HM14 Flea was a DIY machine with instructions given in a 1935 series of articles in the British 6d magazine “Practical Mechanics”. Based on work by Henri Mignet, a radio engineer and failed WWI French pilot, prototypes were made in the period 1931 to 1933, with the first aircraft emerging in 1933, with public flying the following year. With details featured first in a French magazine in 1934, it is reckoned that in France alone over 500 were produced, with at least 7 fatal flying accidents occurring in 1935/6. It was grounded and eventually banned after 1936 French and British wind-tunnel tests showed a fundamental flaw with the original design. Authorisations to Fly were not then issued without approved modifications, and no British Authorisations were issued after WWII though several more HM14’s were built. About a dozen, several being replicas, are on display at British Museums, and some are still flown in Australia.

"Extensive details of the history and aeronautical features of the Flea can be seen on"

David Price added a little more with:  
"The interest in the Flea revitalised some years ago. Apparently the plans were revised once the flaw emerged. Is it correct that the French resistance built some folding wing versions? Millom also built a military replica with similar folded wings."

And Harry replied:
"Intrigued by your reference to the French resistance, I started digging.

Some Frenchmen escaped to Britain at the defeat of France in 1940, including Colonel Eon, appointed P.A. to General Koenig, Head of Resistance in the de Gaulle “French Government” in London. Eon, a distant and imperious character, in early 1944 commanded Henri Mignet, who had apparently also escaped, to design a small, unobtrusive aircraft capable of flying from roughly prepared ground, or even ground not prepared at all - such as a road.

The result was the design for the HM280 Pou Maquis. At serious risk of stating the well-known, the Maquis were the French Resistance fighters taking their name from the French for “scrub” prevalent where they operated initially in the largely unoccupied South of France. It is known that 3 were built and tested on several occasions, but serial production never happened due to the end of the war. I have found no record of where they were built. The 280, a folding-wing design, was certainly used in French military manoeuvres in late 1945.

The HM280 was regarded as a prototype for the HM290 DIY model which was apparently widely built in France and elsewhere from 1945 and might still feature at the regular Henri Mignet fan-club gatherings. All versions are known in France as the Pou-du-Ciel, literally “louse from the sky”.

So what is this extraordinary "Louse from the Sky", 
slightly improved in its English form, 'Flying Flea'?  
Well, there she is on the right.  Of course we don't know what Billy Pennington's Flea looked like and there doesn't seem to be a picture of it on the Solway Aviation Museum website Besides, it has no doubt been smartened up considerably since Billy terrified the locals with it.  Did it ever actually fly around Torver?  Probably not according to Pat's account since Billy seemed more inclined to tinker and he did hand over the engine for fitting into a Morgan.

If any of our more senior villagers have memories of Billy and his Flying Flea we would love to hear more, and if there's a photograph hidden away in some Torver attic I hope the owner will feel duty bound to dig it out and get it posted here.

And no sooner requested than supplied, again from Harry, the Billy Pennington Flying Flea in all its glory, 
as displayed in the Solway Aviation Museum at Carlisle Airport near Brampton.

And to finish, here is a page of Flying Flea videos on You Tube showing the Flea in flight and a wonderful radio controlled model built in America.

No, not quite the finish...
My great thanks to Harry Bradley for his research and for bringing the Flea back home to Torver through the Torver Website.

And to David Page of the Solway Aviation Society Ltd for all his help.