Posts Tagged ‘Spitfire’

Prince Harry gives up Battle of Britain flypast Spitfire seat for RAF veteran

September 19th, 2015

Tom Neil - the man Prince Harry gave his seat up for in the Battle of Britain tribute

His spokesman said he wanted to make sure that 95-year-old Mr Neil, an ex-wing commander and Battle of Britain Hurricane and Spitfire pilot, would still be able to take part.

And he wanted to ensure that a former para and an RAF corporal who won places on a Spitfire scholarship training programme were also still able to take part in the display.

Security officials tell Prince to stand back and not cross runway at Goodwood Aerodrome as he inspects planes taking part in 75th anniversary flypast

Nathan Forster, a former private in the Parachute Regiment, from South Shields, Tyne and Wear, suffered severe damage to his left leg in an IED blast while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2011. And Corporal Alan Robinson, an RAF aircraft technician, from Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, lost a leg in a motorbike accident.

Earlier, Harry – sporting a rugged beard – was pictured with a full beard as he set off on foot to inspect the aircraft lined up by the grass runway – and was admonished within minutes.

But, as his group began to cross the runway, a security vehicle came speeding up and stopped the Prince and his group in their tracks.

He could be seen being told to stand back and not cross the runway and a few minutes later a small aircraft came in to land.

Prince Harry (second right) walks with (from left) Cpl. Alan Robinson, Nathan Forster and Matt Jones director of the Boultbee Flight Academy, past Battle of Britain aircraft at Goodwood Aerodrome

Harry was then cleared to cross and continue his inspection as rain poured down on the airfield.

The Prince was due to fly in the Spitfire PV202 piloted by John Romain, managing director of the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

But he will no longer be flying in the display as one of the four two-seater Spitfires has suffered mechanical problems.

The aerial display will be a tribute to the Second World War pilots famously dubbed “The Few” by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill for their efforts in defeating the Luftwaffe.

The Battle of Britain, as it happened on September 15, 1940

During the summer and autumn of 1940, 544 personnel from Fighter Command died as the RAF fought in the skies above southern England to force back the threat of any invasion by Hitler.

The 75th anniversary is likely to be the last major anniversary at which the surviving members of the pivotal conflict – who are now all well into their 90s – will be fit to take part.

Mr Neil, 95, an ex-wing commander and Battle of Britain Hurricane and Spitfire pilot, will lead the formation from the rear of a two-seater Spitfire – the symbol of Britain’s fight against Nazi forces.

The event has been organised by the Boultbee Flight Academy, based in Chichester, and two of the aircraft – a Spitfire and a Hurricane – fought in the famous battle.

Prince Harry sported a birthday beard at the Battle of Britain fleet inspection

The Prince had ditched the razor during his summer working on conservation projects in Africa. And he kept his new look on his return to the UK, showing off a rugged ginger beard on Tuesday morning.

It is not the first time the fifth in line to the throne has grown a beard. Most recently he sported facial hair after his trek to the South Pole with wounded servicemen in December 2013.

Harry had shaved it off by the time he appeared at a press conference to discuss the event in January 2014, amid reports the Queen did not approve of her grandson’s “Windsor whiskers”.

The Queen did not mind royal men growing beards while they were away with the armed forces, but she expected them to be clean-shaven when they were home, it was reported.

Prince Harry pictured with a beard

The Duke of Cambridge grew a beard when he joined the Special Boat Service on a mission to Barbados in 2008. He kept it over the Christmas period and gave the public their first glimpse after a festive church service at Sandringham, Norfolk.

William and Harry followed in the footsteps of their father, the Prince of Wales, who was pictured sporting a beard at the Badminton Horse Trials in 1976.

The Duke of Edinburgh was also photographed with a well-groomed beard while on active service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

World War Two

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Battle of Britain Spitfire flypast over London cancelled after Shoreham crash ramps up insurance cost

September 6th, 2015

A Battle of Britain commemoration flypast by 20 Spitfires over London has been cancelled after the Shoreham air disaster made the cost of insuring the event unaffordable.

The organisers of the flypast, which they had hoped would happen on September 20, were told they would need third party insurance cover of £250 million, which would have required a premium of around £50,000.

It raises the prospect that air shows scheduled for next year may find the cost of insurance prohibitive as a result of the Hawker Hunter crash at Shoreham, in which 11 people died.

Paul Beaver, who was organising the event, said: “The intention was that 20 privately-owned Spitfires would fly over London to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. We had started the planning in March, and had applied to the Civil Aviation Authority and even the Prime Minister to get the go-ahead.

“The route we were going to take would have made sure there was always somewhere for an aircraft to land if it got into difficulties, and usually the individual owners’ aircraft insurance, which provides £5 million of third party cover per aircraft, would have been enough.

“But after Shoreham we took soundings from an insurance expert who advises the air shows, and he said the feedback he was getting from underwriters was that we would need to take out £250 million of insurance cover, which made the whole thing untenable.

“I really hope the underwriters take a pragmatic view when the air show season starts next year, because if they don’t it will make life very difficult.”

An unrelated flypast of massed fighter planes will still go ahead on September 15 over the south of England which will be attended by Prince Harry.

Top (L-R): Matt Jones, 24, Matthew Grimstone, 23, Jacob Schilt, 23, Daniele Polito, 23, Mark Trussler, 49, James Mallinson, 72. Bottom (L-R): Maurice Abrahams, 76, Mark Reeves, 53, Richard Smith, 26, Dylan Archer, 42, Tony Brightwell, 52.

World War Two

Mary Ellis was a Spitfire pilot in WW2. At 98, she still flies

March 11th, 2015

“Come to lunch,” said some friends on the Isle of Wight, “there’s a lady we’d like you to meet.” And so we went, and we met her – a slight woman, with a twinkle in her eye and a warm, engaging smile – and were simply enchanted by the most remarkable story.

Mary Ellis is 98 and bright as a button. When she was at school she was hopeless at hockey and so she opted for another sporting endeavour: she learnt to fly. It was at an air show in Hendon that she was bitten by the bug, after persuading her father to let her take a pleasure flight in an Avro 504. “From that moment I was hooked,” said Mary. She had been awarded her flying licence by the time she was 16. That in itself is remarkable, but it was only the beginning of Mary’s story, for in 1941 she heard an appeal on the radio by the civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) for women pilots. She applied, took a flying test and was accepted into their ranks.

At Hatfield, Mary Wilkins, as she then was, learnt to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes and Harvards with the object of delivering the newly manufactured planes to the bases from which they would be used. After basic training Mary was based at Hamble on the south coast, and during the war she single-handedly delivered 76 types of aircraft, including about 400 Spitfires. I say single-handedly as Mary was alone in the aircraft, which was equipped only with a compass and a stopwatch. She found her way to her target using a map. The ATA delivered 308,567 aircraft during the war; Mary’s own total was in the region of 1,000 planes. I asked her if she had been shot at. “Just the once,” she said. During the war, 143 ATA pilots were lost – one in 10 did not survive – including 14 women. “Attagirls”, they were called, and not without cause.

Seated in her first Spitfire prior to delivery, Mary was asked by the mechanic who had helped her into the cockpit, “How many times have you flown one of these?” As she relates the story her face breaks into a smile. “I said never, and he fell off the wing.”

Of the different planes that Mary piloted, the Wellington bomber was probably the largest. That such an aircraft could be handled by such a slender young woman filled many with disbelief. Having landed and taxied a Wellington to its parking place at an airfield, Mary climbed down the ladder to be greeted by the ground crew who asked her where the pilot was.

“I’m the pilot,” she said. It was not until they had searched the aircraft that they finally believed her.

At the end of the war Mary delivered the very first Meteor jet. “You will run out of fuel in about 35 minutes, so make sure you’re down by then.” She did.

In 2006 a memorial to the ATA pilots was erected at White Waltham airfield in Berkshire. Though rarely the subject of recognition, they deserve our gratitude and our admiration, for their work was every bit as vital as the Battle of Britain pilots whose aircraft they delivered.

Mary still gets airborne, though she no longer flies solo. The light in her eyes when she talks of her experiences is completely infectious, but she is as interested in other people and their stories as in relating her own. “I’m nothing special,” said Mary at our lunch. “I’m just ordinary.”

Perhaps she will forgive us if we beg to differ.

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The World War Two Spitfire hero finally remembered

November 24th, 2014

And so, Ernest Russell Lyon lay. His body was never officially identified, instead he became one of 20,456 men and women from the air forces of the British Empire who died during World War Two and are recorded as having no known grave. Their names are carved into the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey.

But the week before Remembrance Day in 2006, Lyon’s nephew decided to renew the search for his body. Richard Lyon, a Cambridge architect then in his late 50s, had never met his uncle, but grew up looking at his photograph which his father Stanley always kept on his desk. With no military contacts, he decided to appeal for information on a Scottish family history website.

Flight squadron 234

He typed his name, rank, the date he was shot down, and the town, Plomeur, which was closest to the crash site. Five months later, an email arrived in rudimentary English sent by the chairman of a local history group in Brittany who, in 2001, had discovered the crash site of Lyon’s Spitfire and were attempting to trace relatives of the airman.

What has followed has been a decade-long battle by Richard Lyon and the French which has gone to the very top of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to officially acknowledge the grave. They have trawled public archives from Kew to Washington DC, interviewed surviving witnesses and compiled various exhaustive reports. Now, they have secured a remarkable victory.

Not just is Ernest Russell Lyon’s name soon to finally be added to his grave, but the MoD has been persuaded to overhaul the burden of proof required by the families of those who have died serving their country to have their identities officially recognised.

It has taken, so says My Lyon, a lot of serendipity, perseverance and “being a bloody nuisance”. But the decision could have a major impact, with the MoD currently considering 45 similar cases to identify unknown graves. Not bad for a man whose only prior military experience was in the CCF at Pocklington School in North Yorkshire where he grew up.

“A lot of feathers have been ruffled,” he says. “There were a lot of people in the traditional bit of the MoD who didn’t want these changes. Now I hope other names will be recognised.”

Mr Lyon, who is married with four children, has pieced together his late uncle’s life in precise detail. When we meet, the living room table in his family home in Cambridge is covered in files and old photographs. At times, he says, Anne, his wife of 42 years, has worried about his sanity.

Ernest Russell Lyon volunteered to join the RAF on March 1, 1941, after he had turned 18. Following training, he was posted to the USA as a pilot instructor. By 1943, he had grown weary of his surroundings, and requested an operational posting.

“That,” says Lyon, “was his big mistake”.

He was sent to 234 Squadron, whose insignia bears a dragon rampant, flames spewing from the mouth. Its motto, Ignem mortemque despuimus, translates as “We spit fire and death”. Lyon found himself in the thick of it, flying near constant missions in the run up to D Day. On the day itself, he provided aerial support over Gold and Omaha beaches.

After that, the squadron was relocated to Cornwall, to extend their range across France. Missions such as the fateful one of July 27, 1944, were to support the allied forces in the ascendancy. The Luftwaffe was no longer a presence to be feared in the skies. Instead, the threat came from the German anti-aircraft guns.

Grave 33 in the CWGC section of the Guidel Cemetery

Various witness statements obtained by the French researchers describe Lyon’s Spitfire crashing that evening. One was Joseph le Corroller, on whose land the plane hit. The farmer (who died two years ago) was the first on the scene and recalls Lyon’s body being thrown some eight metres from the fuselage. After taking out an advert in the local papers, three more witnesses stepped forward. One woman recalled a flying boot being found by her brother close to the crash site containing half a dismembered leg.

Yet despite these gory details, as well as parts of the Spitfire being dug up including the guns, propeller hub, and the exhaust from its Rolls Royce Merlin engine (which Lyon now keeps at home), the authorities insisted there was still not enough evidence. The French tried, and failed, in 2004, to appeal to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Despite the snub, they still named a mini roundabout after the fallen airman. Then, Richard Lyon decided to approach the MoD.

In 2009, after being passed between various departments, he received his final refusal from the RAF Air Historical Branch because the required burden of proof – “beyond reasonable doubt” – had not been met. “It is the same as if somebody who committed a crime and is being sent to the electric chair,” he says. “But my uncle didn’t commit a crime; he gave his life for his country.”

He was told the body in plot 33 could have been an airman who had washed up on Brittany’s beaches and was given the names of eight or nine potential casualties. Lyon then compiled a report on each individual case, ranking the probability out of 100, as well as proving from the local town hall records that no bodies had washed up nearby in the two weeks leading up to Lyon’s death.

Then, the following year, he learnt his appeal was being taken up by a senior RAF official as a test case. Such was the strength of his argument that the burden of proof has now changed from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “clear and convincing evidence”. He says he was told an appeals process for relatives of lost soldiers to have their name recognised has also now been put in place, although the MoD insist this was possible before.

Then, last October, Lyon was called to the seventh floor of the MoD building in Whitehall to present his case personally to the top military brass. “I was looking out the window and Downing Street was below. I knew this was our last chance and I wouldn’t get another in my lifetime.”

The evidence he gave worked and the announcement that his uncle’s grave was to finally be recognised came in August. Even if the MoD still refuse to say he is actually in plot 33, only “buried near this spot” in the cemetery, Lyon is hailing the result a huge success. For in the next few months, a dedication ceremony will take place at his graveside and a new headstone put in place.

Underneath his name, the family are allowed a four line dedication. It will read: “Always known unto God. Now resting here. Ex Corde Caritas (the old motto of his school George Watson’s College)”. And finally, “remembered forever”.

It has taken 70 years, but that is now what Ernest Russell Lyon will be.

World War Two

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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.

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Royal tour: WW2 Spitfire pilot tells story of New Zealand fighter ace

April 9th, 2014

Mr Bunt will tell the Duke and Duchess the extraordinary story of his former station commander Lt Keith “Grid” Caldwell, New Zealand’s highest-scoring fighter ace of the Great War.

Caldwell, who survived the First World War, served as an officer in the Second World War and lived until 1980, was facing certain death when his biplane was damaged at 7,000ft, but managed to guide it down towards the ground by stepping out onto the wing and using his body weight to stabilise it while leaning into the cockpit and holding the joystick.

Mr Bunt gave The Telegraph a preview of the story he will tell the Duke on a visit that he is sure the Duke, himself a pilot, will thoroughly enjoy.

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