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/


World War Two

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