For the past couple of years I’ve been saving up to achieve a very special ambition – to fly in a Spitfire. So five percent of earnings from painting commissions together with any winnings on the lottery and premium bonds went into my special RAF Spitfire tin to pay for the possibility of flying.
And last Thursday my ambition was realised. This is the Spitfire I flew in. (I’m under the rear canopy)
My first experience of Spitfires was during the war when I watched dogfights in the air above my home town – Wokingham in Berkshire. My cousin, John, used to carve model Spitfires out of wood, so he became my hero for that reason. Then I heard a few years ago that it was possible to actually fly in a World War Two genuine Spitfire for a fee I was delighted. It took a while but I finally saved enough.
I invited friends Norika and Brian to join my young friend and I for the day as they both have a real interest in flying. Norika was a sky-diver and air stewardess and Brian leaned to fly in Australia. We set off at midday as we were due to arrive at the Biggin Hill Heritage hangar at 2pm. (I received a telephone call in the morning to say that there was too much low cloud so there was a possibility of a postponement.) However as the day progressed the clouds were whispery, the sky was blue and it became a perfect day. When we arrived at Biggin Hill all four of us were given a tour of the hangar.
Over the years, remains of crashed Spitfires are discovered and many of them end up at the Biggin Hill hangar where they are worked on by experts and enthusiasts. Here’s a man on his back repairing a section of a fuselage.
And here are some of the aircraft dotted around the workshops.
Including this German Messerschmitt.
This wartime bicycle intrigued me with the rifle strapped to its crossbar.
But the time was approaching for my flight. However before actually getting kitted up and climbing into the aircraft we had to sit through a 20 minute video explaining everything that could go wrong during the flight. It showed which lever or button to use if we lost power and needed to crash land, and how to jettison the canopy if I needed to bail out in midair! As I would be given a parachute I was told what to do on the pilot’s command of ‘jump, jump’. Then how to open the door and use the crowbar (the reason for that was never made clear). So what with all that and the statistics for death and injury resulting from a Spitfire calamity I wasn’t surprised that at the end of the video we were told that if we decided not to fly right up to the engine start we could get all our money back!
I wonder how many people took advantage of the offer. Nevertheless, feeling courageous, I got kitted up in a jump suit.
Then I was given a briefing by my pilot, Jeremy, before climbing into the aircraft. Which wasn’t as easy as I expected. I’m being helped in here.
The fuselage of a Spitfire is so much narrower than I assumed. In fact only about four inches wider than me! By balancing on the cockpit casing and lowering myself into this little seat I eased myself inside.
I was confronted by this view immediately in front of me
Then I was given fireproof gloves and a helmet, complete with communication equipment, was squeezed on to my head. Here I am ready to go before the canopy was pushed forward.
The pilot talked though the headphones while I adjusted the mike to rest on my lips. Then all was ready.
My friends were watching from the observation deck close by so could take photos – like this as the propellor roared into life with a cloud of smoke and we moved on to the apron.
As we took off I was surprised how slowly we left the ground, but shouldn’t compare a Spitfire with a modern jet aircraft as the top speed of a Spitfire is only about 320 miles an hour. The pilot told me we were flying at the very best time of the day. Hardly any wind, beautifully clear and a magnificent view over Kent. My Spitfire contained two video cameras – one to show my face during the entire half hour flight, the other showing the view forwards, just behind my head. Jeremy asked if I’d like him to perform a ‘victory roll’ – which means turning the aircraft over a 360 degrees. I said yes and this is a portion of the video showing the manoeuvre. (Click arrow).
The whole flight was an incredible experience and doing the victory roll the ‘icing on the cake’. Also I was able to take control of the aircraft for a short while during the flight and was surprised how delicate the controls were – just using fingertips on the joystick in front of me to go side to side and up and down.
My young friend took this picture as we taxied back home
So after unstrapping all the belts and buckles I extricated myself out of the aircraft and Joined my friends once more. But before we left Biggin Hill I was given a car sticker saying I had flown a Spitfire, a cloth badge, two videos of the entire flight, and this framed certificate.
What a day, What an amazing experience! An ambition realised. What comes next?