July 29, 1981, was a historic day for many as it saw the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Millions across the globe were glued to their TV sets to watch the fairytale ceremony or preparing for the street parties that would follow, but one Betws man had other ideas.

Howell Betton, of 96 Colonel Road, decided he would make full use of the national holiday by getting some work done on his pet project.

Howell, now 77, was a former RAF anti-aircraft gunner and had spent the previous few years building – by hand – a Jodel D9 single-seat aeroplane, which he stored in an old prefabricated building at Maes-y-Betws farm that he used as a workshop.

“The building had been a home for people after World War Two, but once it became redundant it was moved to the farm where it had been used as a canteen for the old trotting track,” said Howell.

“Then I was allowed to use it to store my aircraft.”

Howell’s plane was still to make its maiden flight and there was still much work required before it would be ready to take to the skies.

“As I had the day off for the royal wedding I went up to the farm to carry out some fast taxi-ing test runs.

“My plan was to get the aircraft out of the shed and get some experience taxi-ing up and down the field at speed in this type of aircraft.”

Howell held a pilot’s licence having been trained “to a good standard” by Victor Hopkins of the Swansea Flying Club.

“Victor was the best flying instructor in Wales and did not suffer fools gladly,” said Howell.

“I spent 20 years in continuous training under his instruction, but flying modern French and American aircraft.

“I gained my pilot’s licence, but had not flown anything like a Jodel D9.

“I bought the plane from a man in Cardiff. It was meant to be home-built and he had started work on it but never finished it.

“My good friend Allan Underwood, who kept the Economic Garage, helped me work on it at my father’s garage in Saron.

“I made most of the metal fittings and re-assembled the dismantled Volkswagen Beetle engine myself under Allan’s eagle-eye, as he specialised in Volkswagens.

“The engine was a 1500cc four cylinder with two Lucas tractor magnetos as ignition for the eight sparking plugs.

“On the day of the royal wedding I took my daughter Dianne and son Hugh down to the track. My other son Michael decided to stay in bed.

“The idea was for them to watch me testing the aircraft on the ground.

“Keeping the aircraft straight when taxi-ing was a major challenge as you had to rely on input to the rudder to keep the plane steady because it only had a tail wheel – modern small aircraft have a nose wheel to make steering easier.

“Taxi-ing at speed was a skill you had to learn gradually which is why I took Dianne and Huw along and handed them an axe and a fire extinguisher to get me out of the wooden aircraft if things went wrong.”

Howell’s plan to spend the morning getting some experience of controlling his plane on the ground soon took a most unexpected turn however – upwards.

“Things seemed to be going well, but then on one of my fast taxi-ing runs the plane shot up into the air and cleared the fence around the track.

“I was suddenly airborne and found myself veering right – and heading straight for the Plough and Harrow pub.

“I had no option other than to get the nose up and pile on full power to gain height so I could clear the roof of the pub.

“The next thing I knew I was over Cae Mawr council estate and looking down on people eating and enjoying the street party.

“Then I was over the rugby pitch with a game going on below me and then up and heading for the new Betws mine.

“My airspeed was low so I tried a small left turn and from nowhere the speed came on so I climbed to 2,000-feet and skirted around Ammanford at a safe height.

“My instructor Victor Hopkins had always taught me to take a packet of boiled sweets with me so that if panic ever set in you simply had to have a sweet and you’d immediately begin to calm down.

“I reach into my pocket, found a hard-boiled sweet and popped it into my mouth.

“I passed over Bonllwyn and Llandybie and continued climbed as the ground began to rise.

“I headed out towards Cross Hands, constantly keeping my eyes peeled for the Carmel TV mast.

“Once I’d reached Cross Hands I made a sharp left turn and began the return to Betws.

“It was only then that I realised that something was seriously wrong with the aircraft which was very nose heavy and had a tendency to drop the left wing.

“However, my engine was sweet with good oil pressure and 2,500 revs on the propeller and I realised the root of the problem.

“Allan had sawn a good eight inches of the control column – the joystick – saying I wouldn’t need the extra movement it allowed, but this made the plane much more difficult to control.

“I had to use both hands on the stick to stop the plane nose-diving towards the ground.

“I found another boiled sweet to take my mind of my funeral, put the nose down and piled on the speed as fuel was beginning to run low.

“I made it back to Betws, but my first attempt at a landing was way off.

“The second was better but I still failed to get the plane down.

“I knew my third would be my last and would need to be smack on the button.

“I came in at a low approach coming in over Garnswllt sewerage works and as I neared my landing spot began to ease off the power, but the aircraft started falling like a brick so I added a little power and controlled the sink rate until I came down between the hedge on my right and the river bank on my left.

“As the wheels touched down I apply the brake to both wheels, but one of the brake cables came though the stop in the floor, causing the aircraft to swing violkently to the left – towards the river.

“I knew the drop into the river was about ten feet so going over the bank could have been deadly.

“I cut the engine and hung on to my one good brake, spinning the aircraft 180 degrees.

“The manoeuvre took me away from the river and I was able to come to a stop, safe and alive.

“So while the rest of the country was watching the royal wedding, I was accidentally flying my home-made aircraft overhead.”