In Battle of Britain, Captain Tom Moore, Spitfire Fly Past

All eyes to the skies for Captain Tom Moore!

Following a good effort from the people at Biggin Hill, the go ahead for a fly past for Captain Tom Moore was in the end granted for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The green light needed to come from both the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and the DoT (Department of Transport).

If you have ever had the privilege of seeing a fly past by any of our outstanding military aircraft you were probably at an airshow or perhaps in London celebrating a national event. Outside of these major events fly pasts may occur for our war heroes or serving members of the military who have lost their lives during service.

It is quite rare for a flypast to take place for one person and at such a dramatic time in our nation’s history. All credit to Captain Tom Moore for his sterling work raising funds for our NHS, and all done with such dignity.

“He embodies the sense of service and duty embedded in our armed forces” General Nick Carter

In the flying seat!

As firm fans of the Supermarine Spitfire we are delighted to bring you the words of some of the RAF’s finest. From those honouring the memory of the fallen and bringing joy to aviation fans across the country. We speak to pilots from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, based at RAF Coningsby and find out what it’s really like to fly a Spitfire as well as hearing about some of their own professional highlights.

Ian Smith had a long and distinguished career in the Royal Air Force, joining at the age of 18. His flying hours included time as a Red Arrows pilot and as OC Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Silver Spitfire Leader!

Ian was part of the group that embarked on a record breaking flight with a restored Spitfire last year. The Silver Spitfire flew around the world departing from Goodwood Aerodrome and visited many countries that owed their freedom, at least in part, to this iconic aircraft. You can read more about this journey here. 

Duncan Mason MBE recently left the RAF as a Squadron Leader and is now a QFI on 57 Squadron flying Prefect TP120s. Duncan succeeded Ian as OC BBMF.

duncan mason bbmf spitfire flying description

Duncan served in the Royal Air Force for the past 29 years and flew and instructed on many varied aircraft from the diminutive Chipmunk to the Harrier Jump Jet. Seven years of his career were spent flying and displaying Spitfires and Hurricanes on the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).

Prince william duncan mason raf coningsby

How would you describe the feeling of flying a Spitfire?

“Before answering it is worth considering the Spitfire. In 1939 it was the state-of-the-art fighter with cutting edge technology – the modern-day Typhoon of its time. It has a 27 litre V12 Merlin engine that produces 1500 horsepower and juts skyward when on the ground, preventing the pilot from any forward vision on take-off and landing. The power of the engine and torque from the propellor can make the aircraft swing wildly on the ground, particularly in blustery conditions, and its power and momentum gave it a reputation for being difficult to take off and land. Take-off and landing accidents in Spitfires have claimed the lives of countless pilots over the decades.

The Spitfire can be equated to a thoroughbred horse; she is potentially skittish and hard to handle on the ground and a lot of training is required before mounting. She occasionally had mind to try and take you somewhere you didn’t want to go, like off the side of the runway!! But the power, torque and lack of visibility is not the only thing to contend with when flying a Spitfire.

The aircraft is a legend; it saved Britain from invasion in the dark days of 1940. It exemplifies everything that is British and the sight of it and the sound of its Merlin engine invoke pride and patriotism wherever it goes.

So, with the above in mind, flying a Spitfire evoked many emotions for me. No matter how often I flew it, it always commanded respect; for me there was always an awe in climbing into it and starting the massive engine.

The smell of the oil and leather in the cockpit, the deep guttural growl of the Merlin roaring to life with a blast of smoke and then purring smoothly at idle.

She needed careful attention on the ground, concentration needed constantly, particularly on the take-off roll. The engine at full power became a crescendo of beautiful deep reverberation, but once she had eased into the air and the wheels had thumped into their recesses, she became the most docile, beautifully balanced and magical aircraft to fly. The controls were light and responsive and it seemed that one simply had to think about putting an input into them and the Spitfire had already responded. She accelerated quickly and was wonderfully manoeuvrable.

When flying a Spitfire you couldn’t help but have a smile on your face, it never became normal, but there was also a responsibility that underlies the joy. You are constantly aware that it is a legend that you are flying. It represents the men and women that gave their lives all those years ago and must be treated with care, not to be taken to the edge of its envelope anymore!

What is your most memorable moment in a Spitfire?

We often think about the experience of flying a Spitfire, how would describe the landing experience?

I was lucky enough to meet Mary Ellis, and Air Transport Auxiliary Pilot that flew Spitfires, delivering them to front line units during WWII. She gave the most wonderful description of landing a Spitfire so I shall finish with her words. When I met her, she had her hand on the tail plane of the Spitfire I had flown into Goodwood Aerodrome. I said that she must have flown a few of them (over 400 to be exact) I said her landings must have been better than mine. She simply replied

‘Well, you don’t really land a Spitfire do you. It lands you…’. Mary Ellis

What is your most memorable flight in a Spitfire?

My most memorable flight is very difficult to pick out. My first flight in a BBMF Spitfire in 2009 was, of course, very special; leading large formations of WWII fighters over London for commemorations linger in the mind; but I think the most memorable flight is one undertaken on the 15 September 2015 – Battle of Britain Day on the 75th anniversary of the Battle.

I led 32 WWII Spitfires and Hurricanes in an event that flew over a huge swathe of the South of England to commemorate the Battle. Taking off from Goodwood Aerodrome, a grass airfield that was RAF Westhampnett during the Battle of Britain, the first leg flew down the white cliffs of the Isle of White and over the Supermarine Spitfire Factory in Southampton. Alongside me on my left was a 2 seat Spitfire carrying WWII Spitfire veteran  Tom Neil. It was an unbelievable privilege to lead such an event alongside one of the heroes from the Battle itself and incredible to see the huge crowds of people gathered at the various locations that we flew. A British Airways airliner even asked if he could deviate from his route to see the spectacle! On landing back at Goodwood we met with Tom Neil and Prince Harry. Quite a trip!

About the RAF BBMF

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is based at the Typhoon base, RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

The Flight, who’s Patron is Prince William, operates six Spitfires, two Hurricane Mk 2Cs, a Lancaster as well as a C47 Dakota and two Chipmunk aircraft (primarily used for training).

The mission of the RAF BBMF is to maintain the priceless artefacts of our national heritage in airworthy condition in order to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of this country, to promote the modern day Air Force and to inspire the future generations.

Love Aviation? Love ASALI.

Find out more about how we started, who loves ASALI and the charities we support through every sale here.

We are delighted to support the BBMF through donations to their members ballot, attending their annual event and donating to both the RAF Association and the RAF Benevolent Fund with every sale we make.

Thanks to our contributors, Ian, Duncan and photographer Craig Sluman.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Judith Maloney

    Great article and insight! I need to get stuck into my Spitfire Haynes Manual again today on my day off 😃

    • mindy

      Thank you Jude!

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  • […] the Lancaster and Spitfire are part of the history of Bomber County and both can be visited at the Battle of Britain Memorial flight in Lincolnshire. The glorious Petwood Hotel was home to 617 Squadron (the Dambusters) and its grounds are packed […]

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