Flying with a Spitfire to mark 80 years of an icon
When I got an invitation to fly alongside a Spitfire, I literally jumped at the chance and almost took off myself.
There are things you dream about doing and then things you don’t imagine are even possible. This was certainly the latter.
Saturday’s flight from Southampton Airport was taking place 80 years to the day since the very first Spitfire prototype, K5054, took off from what was then Eastleigh Aerodrome on March 5, 1936.
Flying with Spitfires, a new initiative from the Boultbee Flight Academy based at Goodwood Aerodrome, offers people helicopter flights alongside the world’s most iconic aeroplane – and this is exactly what I and four lucky others were invited to do.
On arriving at Southampton I could hardly contain my excitement, which soon reached new levels when I was shown into a hanger where a two-seater Spitfire was being readied for take-off.
Being close enough to touch it is an absolute thrill, one of around only 50 Spitfires still airworthy out of the 20,000 that were built, and at Southampton, the place Supermarine crafted such an engineering marvel.
I also had the pleasure of meeting 90-year-old Gordon Monger, an engineer who worked on Spitfires and a pilot who bravely flew test planes, he told me, when young enough to know no fear.
Also present was the 2428 Hedge End Squadron, there to represent the RAF Air Cadets on their 75th anniversary.
Corporal Edward Grey, 15, had been chosen to fly in the front seat of the helicopter, with three photographers and I in the back.
After a quick briefing by Spitfire pilot Matt and helicopter pilot Indigo, we’re ready for lift-off.
As this was my first time in a helicopter my nerves were jangling a little as the engine fired up, and after hovering down the runway we quickly climbed to around 1,000ft and in seconds everything below had become a lot smaller.
And then I saw it dancing in the distance. We were in position over the airport for the first flypast, and I snapped furiously as a flash of dark green and grey camouflage rushed past us. It came at us again, each time a little closer, the whirl of the propeller and roar of the engine making the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.
We were up in the air for around 30 minutes and I have to say it is one of the greatest experiences of my life. Most special of all was tracing the route of that first Spitfire flight, over the historic docks of Southampton and Portsmouth, flanked most of way by a magnificent Spitfire.
It was so close it felt like I could step straight out onto its wing, and seeing it bank one way and then the next, drift underneath the helicopter and onto the other side was a truly unique way to view the most famous of fighter planes in all its glory.
I have to say the skill of both pilots to keep pace with each other is extraordinary, and during the flight I felt nothing but completely safe.
On coming back down to earth it’s clear corporal Grey has enjoyed the experience as well. “It was absolutely incredible, amazing, words don’t describe how good that was, just surreal,” he said, sitting on the wing next to pilot Matt Jones, MD of Boultbee and co-founder of Flying with Spitfires.
It’s clear the trip was just as special for him. “It’s exhilarating flying it, but particularly today on such an important day,” Matt said. “It was a great honour to be in the plane and I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the sights that Mutt Summers would have seen 80 years ago as he flew around in a Spitfire for the first time.”
“Little did he know the journey he had played a part in starting for this aircraft.
“The Spitfire is such an important part of our history it’s really important they keep flying.”
It’s been a privilege for me too to be part of such an historic day and to have the chance to appreciate the magnificent Spitfire in a whole new way.
Flying with Spitfires offers flights from £299 all over the south coast. Visit www.flyingwithspitfires.com
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