Posts Tagged ‘skies’

RAF veteran takes to the skies again at 91

October 18th, 2014

Trevor Watkins, a 91-year-old former RAF pilot who flew during World War Two, has returned to the skies once more.

Mr Watkins was part of a bomber squadron based in Italy.

The veteran pilot from Surrey, who still works, took off in a vintage Tiger Moth.

Describing his flight, Mr Watkins said: “It’s a pretty incredible feeling, or as they say, amazing.”


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World War Two’s legendary aircraft take to the skies again

July 8th, 2014

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire thrilled the crowds at the show at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire last year. The display group is back this weekend (Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 July) as part of the annual Flying Legends show which features classic and historic aircraft.

Picture: IWM


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D-Day anniversary: up in the skies with a Spitfire

May 27th, 2014

Next month, on what for many veterans will be the last time they visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the landings, Spitfires in D-Day livery will once more zoom overhead as they did that day.

The aircraft will fly from the Biggin Hill heritage hanger in Kent, which was founded three years ago by volunteers and has a fleet of World War Two planes including six flying Spitfires and one Hurricane.

At least one Mark 9 Spitfire, called The Spirit of Kent and recovered from South Africa in 1996 by former commercial airline pilot Peter Monk, will be flown over to Normandy. It is hoped, if the heritage hangar can raise the required funds in time, more will follow.

At Biggin Hill, the final preparations are being made, with a group of RAF World War Two veterans, including Maurice Macey, overseeing the painting of the black and white stripes on the planes. I clamber into a World War Two Harvard to accompany Monk’s Spitfire on a trial run.The Harvard is a two-seater plane which many pilots were trained in before getting into a Spitfire. It was notorious for being unpredictable and particularly tricky to fly. Macey, resplendent in a cream suit covered in medals and a golden Caterpillar Club badge –given to airmen who survived bailing out of a stricken plane – wishes me luck before I climb into the cockpit.

Fortunately my pilot Clive Denney is a seasoned professional who has flown World War Two planes for 30 years. But even so, his safety briefing when he hands me a parachute to wear is rather disconcerting. If anything goes wrong, I’m told, slide back the glass roof and jump out. “It really is each man for himself,” he says, pulling on a leather headpiece circa 1943.

The engine roars slowly into life, we trundle along the runway and wobble up 2,000ft into Kent skies. It is perfect flying conditions; fat clouds drift over the Thames estuary, London’s skyscrapers glint in the distance. None the less, I’m rather terrified.

The Spitfire – powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines – is far faster and when Monk takes off it instantly catches up. The plane stalks us just off our right wing, before banking sharply and swooping down above a valley. In the air it is unbelievably quick, and graceful.

http://bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk/


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D-Day anniversary: Spitfires take to the Normandy skies again

May 27th, 2014

Next month, on what for many veterans will be the last time they visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the landings, Spitfires in D-Day livery will once more zoom overhead as they did that day.

The aircraft will fly from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar in Kent, which was founded three years ago by volunteers and has a fleet of Second World War planes, including six flying Spitfires and one Hurricane. At least one Mark 9 Spitfire, called The Spirit of Kent and recovered from South Africa in 1996 by former commercial airline pilot Peter Monk, will be flown over to Normandy. It is hoped, if the heritage hangar can raise the required funds in time, more will follow.

“This is very important as it’s the 70th year and probably the last significant anniversary for a great number of Normandy veterans,” Monk says. “When we have carried out fly-pasts before, these veterans always say they are so happy to see the Spitfire airborne again. Every time I fly one I get the same feeling. It doesn’t go away. It makes you proud to be British.”

At Biggin Hill, the final preparations are being made, with a group of RAF Second World War veterans, including Maurice Macey, overseeing the painting of the black and white stripes. I clamber into a wartime Harvard trainer to accompany Monk’s Spitfire on a trial run.

The Harvard, a two-seater in which many pilots were trained before getting into a Spitfire, was notorious for being unpredictable and tricky to fly. Macey, resplendent in a cream suit covered in medals and a golden Caterpillar Club badge – given to airmen who survived bailing out of a stricken plane – wishes me luck before I climb into the cockpit.

Fortunately, my pilot, Clive Denney, is a seasoned professional who has flown Second World War planes for 30 years. But even so, his safety briefing when he hands me a parachute to wear is disconcerting. If anything goes wrong, I’m told, slide back the glass roof and jump out. “It really is each man for himself,” he says, pulling on a leather headpiece circa 1943.

The engine roars slowly into life, we trundle along the runway and wobble up 2,000ft into Kent skies. The conditions are perfect for flying; fat clouds drift over the Thames estuary, London’s skyscrapers glint in the distance. None the less, I’m terrified. The Spitfire – powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines – is far faster, and after Monk takes off it instantly catches up. The plane stalks us just off our right wing, before banking sharply and swooping down above a valley. In the air it is unbelievably quick, and graceful.

“That is why they were such wonderful planes to fly,” Macey says back on land. “It’s because you felt part of it.” He knows the Spitfire more than most. In total he flew 62 operations before being shot down on August 14 1944 in north-eastern France, bailing out into a field of German troops. “The funny thing was as I floated down amidst all this carnage, all I could hear was a skylark singing,” he says.

Macey was captured and sent to several stalags – prison camps – before ending up on the notorious Long March of Allied prisoners, away from the Eastern Front where the Russians were advancing. Hundreds died en route but the RAF prisoners, in particular, were subjected to a horrendous ordeal. “Some of the other prisoners used to surround me so the Germans couldn’t see my wings,” Macey says. “We tried to always stay near the front, whatever happened, that was the best chance of staying alive.”

In the RAF, Macey earned the nickname “Hawkeye”, for his uncanny ability to spot Luftwaffe planes through the clouds, but it was not just the feared Spitfire pilots who contributed to the D-Day effort. Warrant Officer Neville Croucher, 91, from near Canterbury, is another RAF veteran involved at Biggin Hill who was in the skies on June 6 1944. Croucher signed up for the RAF aged 16 but had to wait two years before he could fly planes. “My parents thought I was nuts,” he says. A Hurricane ace for much of the war, when D-Day approached Croucher was shifted on to Wellington bombers to drop leaflets over Germany and northwestern France shortly before the first landings, assuring French civilians that liberation was at hand.

Warrant Officer Ron Dearman, too, was a crucial part of the air effort. The 90-year-old piloted an Avro Anson back and forth over the Channel throughout D-Day, risking enemy anti-aircraft fire to take aerial photographs so the advancing forces would know what lay ahead. “We were buzzed by Spitfires every time we came back,” he says. “It was a marvellous sight – not that I had all that much time to look.”

Some of these Biggin Hill veterans do not yet know if they will be able to make it to Normandy for the 70th anniversary. Indeed the Normandy Veterans Association, made up now of around 600 men (down from 16,000 in the Nineties), warned in January that this year’s trip will be its last before disbanding.

But those who do make it will share a few precious moments next month. When the Spitfires roar over as they did in 1944, the watching veterans will be instantly cast back: to the pride and sorrow and suffering of the men who stormed a beach – and won a war.

bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk


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