The 19th May 2015 – the day I lived my boyhood dream and fulfilled my ultimate bucket list item- to walk in the footsteps of my heroes. Not only getting to fly in – but actually FLY a WW2 Mk.IXc Spitfire with an illustrious service history, something I never thought would be possible!!
As if that wasn’t enough I booked it on my birthday week and in the 75th Anniversary year of the Battle of Britain to make it a truly special day.
I had booked the flight in February – so had an agonising few months wait, and it was in my thoughts every single day beforehand. Trying to believe it was actually going to happen and envisaging what it would truly be like to feel and fly. Having deliberated the various operators offering passenger flights (since the CAA regulations now permitted) and from where, there was only ever one winner!
I had visited The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar on a couple of occasions during 2014, taking in their spectacular hangar tours & sitting in both a Spitfire & Hurricane. I found them truly welcoming, approachable, knowledgeable and professional. That added with the unique opportunity to fly from one of the RAF’s most famous fighter and Battle of Britain stations – and walk in the footsteps of one of my own personal heroes, Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Wellum DFC (based there with 92 Sqn). Alongside the fact their Mk.IX Spitfire, MJ627, had shot down a BF109 over Arnhem, and had a rich service history (more on this Spitfire below) – it was the choice for me. The only tough compromise I had to make was missing the opportunity to fly over the White Cliffs and the Capel le Ferne Memorial to the ‘Few’ on the south coast, as was just out of range. A very tough decision, but I’m seeing this as my excuse to do it again!.
The big day arrived and before setting off on the 2hr drive I checked in with the Hangar (as instructed) to make sure the weather wasn’t going to ground any flying. A modest wind was forecast but nothing else untoward – so arrived promptly with my wife for the midday pre-flight briefing. After watching the safety videos and getting kitted up in flying suit, helmet and gloves, and then seeing another chap being taken up for his flight – reality was starting to sink in.
Finally, it was my turn and I made the excited walk out to the glorious MJ627 sat on the tarmac, certainly not the mad ‘Scramble’ that the brave young ‘Few’ would have had to make 75 years ago. Having sat in a couple of Spitfires beforehand I knew what to expect in terms of space – although on this occasion I had the addition of being sat on a parachute and kitted up with the helmet & gloves. My pilot for the day was the excellent Richard Verrall who asked my previous flight experience (limited to Chipmunks, Bulldogs & Gliders from young Cadet days) and when strapped in and talked through the whole start-up procedure step-by-step in detail. The moment came as the Merlin engine started and I finally felt the long-awaited feel and vibrations through the seat of the pants as so often described by many wartime pilots.
Taxiing to the end of the runway to warm up the engine, I was taking in every second – the feeling, scanning the various cockpit instruments and I couldn’t help but pinch myself looking out and seeing the iconic eliptical wings either side of me. It still doesn’t feel real even now. Then we moved in position for take-off and Richard checked I was all set to which I promptly replied ‘yes sir’!. Throttle opened, the aircraft lunged down the runway and within seconds we lifted from the historic Biggin airfield and I was flying in a Spitfire! After waving to my wife and those on the ground my mind immediately turned to those pilots – the thought of having to Scramble in one of these machines to defend the country.