A flypast worthy of ‘The Few’ – even if the Prince stayed grounded

September 16th, 2015

Yet even for those watching from the ground, the flypast made quite some spectacle. Around 40 Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Bristol Blenheim bomber soared up from the aerodrome before dispersing and flying in formation across wartime airfields dotted all over the south of the country.

The fighter planes flew in groups of four, the unmistakeable snub-nosed Spitfires and sleek Hurricanes banking over Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and the waters of the Solent.

For the few dozen surviving pilots of the 3,000 heroes of the Battle of Britain, the battle for national survival which raged above England in the summer and autumn of 1940, there was an acceptance that yesterday’s scenes will be the last major anniversary they will be able to take part in.

Even the most stoic among them are getting on, and Wing Commander Neil, who during the dogfights 75 years ago brought down 14 enemy planes, admitted that when he approached the Spitfire cockpit he did have some reservations about actually getting in.

“I’m not a young man anymore and not very good at bending in the middle, so I didn’t think I was going to do it,” he said. “But after a couple of minutes or so inside it felt absolutely normal, if a bit lumpy.

“I kept a careful eye on the instruments and made sure they didn’t get out of control. I also kept looking among the clouds for any Germans.”

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

Wing Commander Neil, who flew a Hurricane during the Battle of Britain but has also flown 22 different marks of Spitfire, claims during wartime the pilots rarely experienced any issues with their planes. “Of course back then we were dealing with brand new engines,” he said.

As for the Prince’s willingness to offer up his seat, he says he deserves a medal.

“He is a lovely boy. I don’t think he ever expected me to come back alive but when we landed he gave me my stick back and congratulated me. I said, ‘there is nothing to congratulate me about’.”

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

At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, just 640 RAF Fighter Command planes were pitched into battle against 2,600 of their Luftwaffe counterparts. September 15 is seen as the pivotal day of the war within a war, when the Germans launched their largest and most concentrated assault on London, and British Spitfires and Hurricanes repelled waves of attacks.

In total between July and October, 544 personnel from Fighter Command were killed. Their heroic efforts were enough to prompt Hitler to abandon Operation Sealion, his plan to invade Britain.

On the day itself 75 years ago, the planes zipped through blue skies, but yesterday’s looming cloud banks led to the flypast being delayed for two hours.

The poor weather, and the grounded Spitfire, were not the only hitches. Prior to the display, Prince Harry was also stopped by a security vehicle as he attempted to cross the runway because of an incoming small aircraft. Security staff at the airfield raced up to the Prince and asked him and his group to stop. He duly moved aside and waited for the plane, which landed a couple of minutes later.

The Prince, however, grinned his way through such minor tribulations, meeting numerous veterans who had attended. A Royal spokesman yesterday described him as being “incredibly honoured” to be part of the event, not least because it coincided with his birthday.

The other two veterans invited to take part in the flypast had both won places on a Spitfire scholarship programme which trains wounded servicemen to fly vintage aircraft.

The scholarship was established by the Boultbee Flight Academy and is supported by the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s Endeavour Fund – which donates money and offers practical help to sporting and adventure challenges for wounded ex-service personnel.

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

The training programme the pair followed was similar to that of their WWII predecessors, undertaking their first flights in a Tiger Moth and Harvard, before finally getting into the cockpit of a Spitfire itself

The Spitfire PV202 that Forster took Prince Harry’s place in was piloted by John Romain, managing director of the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. It has carried out 20 operational sorties with 10 pilots during the Second World War.

Back in April, Forster said that flying a Spitfire through the programme would be the culmination of a dream come true.

World War Two

Comments are closed.