Updated: Aug 2, 2019
QuizAero invites Roy Slim to write about his experience flying the Tiger Moth, Harvard and Spitfire with Aero Legends.
Aero Legends provide once in a lifetime flight experiences in historic aircraft.
The Boring Bit
I was born 1935 (now aged 83) at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, where many of the WW2 Spitfires were built. As a young boy in the early 1940’s, I used to watch them and listen to the Merlin engine, (a sound I will never forget), as they made their maiden, test or delivery flights. Spitfire NH341 (Elizabeth) (GCICK) was ‘born’ there on 28 April 1944, so I probably saw her ‘maiden’ flight. This is when my life long interest in aviation began.
On the nights I was able to sleep in my own bed, I used to dream that one day I would fly one of these wonderful machines. However as the war progressed and most nights were spent in the air raid shelters listening to the drone of German bombers, and the sound of bombs exploding (another sound I will never forget), that dream became a vow.
I joined the RAF in 1953, but unfortunately did not have the qualifications to be a pilot, so I chose my second (but lesser) ambition to be a radio engineer. This has enhanced my aviation experience, because I now have all the equipment needed to listen at airshows, air/sea rescue etc.
The Interesting Bit
Now, thanks to a lot of people, 75+ years later on 17 July 2018 at approx 15.00 (GMT), that dream and vow came true, when I flew NH341 Elizabeth over the White Cliffs of Dover with the legendary ‘Parky’ (ex RAF Flt Lt Antony Parkinson, Red Arrows, BBMF etc.) from Headcorn field in Kent.
Although I have had some previous flying lessons with Lawrence Bell, I chose the Aero Legends ‘Ultimate experience’ package. This involves basic flying in the Tiger Moth, followed by more training in the Harvard, then the ‘ultimate’ flying the Spitfire.
After an extensive briefing, which also included the operation and use of the parachute (?), (There is no 'ejector' seat, If you need to abandon, you jettison the canopy, unbuckle, manually climb out and jump. Luckily, I have done several (tandem) skydives, so I have some experience of parachuting), I was kitted out, strapped in, headgear, intercom etc. We taxied out to (grass) runway, close canopy, given clearance, and off we went. In no time we reached take off speed and we were airborne.
Aero Legends have now introduced the ‘formation’ flight option, and I was thrilled to read I had been paired to fly alongside the brilliant Flt Lt Charlie Brown, and more thrilled that his ‘student’ would be the man himself, the Two Seat Spitfire Page founder Greg Davis, in Spitfire 'St George'. Charlie and Greg soon caught up with us, and we played cat and mouse’ over the Kent countryside, with Charlie and Greg appearing on our left, then on our right, underneath and finally slightly above and in front. I mean, let’s face it , flying a Spitfire with Parky in the front seat, with Charlie Brown and Greg Davis as your ‘wingmen’, what more can a man wish for in life. God not only answered my prayers, he gave me a bonus.
After Charlie and Greg ‘peeled off’, Parky and I continued to Dover harbour and the White Cliffs where we made several passes at low level. We could clearly see the French coast, and the Goodwin Sands. We then went ‘cloud chasing’ which was an experience and a thrill. Soon after that, Parky uttered the three little words I had waited 75 years to hear. They were of course “you have control”. I flew in control for several minutes and although I have only previously flown the C42 (and the Tiger Moth and Harvard earlier) I have to say I certainly found the Spit very responsive and I thought easy to control. Both the stick and rudder were very sensitive and responsive, and really were 'finger tip' control. Maybe the speed (200 + knots) helped. (Don’t know what Parky thought though). After handing control back to Parky we returned to Headcorn, where we did a 360 deg Victory barrel roll over the runway. Next time it will be a full loop. Fabulous. There is an old saying” don’t die with a dream, die with a memory”. When I die, it will certainly be with a ‘memory’ of that day.
The Dedication Bit
I have to thank a lot of people, (but not in any particular order), Aero Legends for the whole experience, my two wonderful pilots, Dave Evans and Parky, the incredible Charlie Brown and our TSSP page owner Greg Davis. ALL the marvelous ground staff and crew of Aero Legends, (too many to name individually) and my wife Diana who has coped with me over the past twelve months I have been waiting. I also thank Lawrence and Chris for their earlier flying lessons.
However, my biggest thanks must go to the brave young men who flew the Spitfire in WW2. Without them, I may never have had the chance to have this experience. I may have followed them into the RAF, and I may have followed them flying a Spitfire, but I could never hope to match their bravery and achievements.
I had the choice of flying my Spitfire, and it cost me a lot of money (well spent). Most of these young men had no choice, and for many it cost them their life. I salute you gentlemen, RIP, and I assure you I certainly do and forever WILL REMEMBER YOU.
Thank you to everyone.
Special thanks to Roy Slim for sharing his story with us.