I was talking to Nigel Fisher from our London depot recently and asked him what his plans were for the weekend. “I’m going to go fly a 2nd World War Spitfire, what about you?”
I knew that he had been looking to do this for some time, but on the death of his close friend from his battle with cancer, Nigel had decided to bring this whole experience forward while he still felt able to do it. I asked him to tell us all about it…and this is what he had to say…
The day arrived for my flight and my partner and I drove to Sywell Airfield in Northamptonshire and was met by the owner’s son, along with 3 others who were flying that day. We all attended a flight briefing which lasted about an hour. They stressed that this is an old aircraft which has seen action in the 2nd World War (destroying 3 enemy aircraft). Everything that could go wrong from a crash landing to the plane catching fire either on the ground or in the air, loss of power, and how to bail out on the pilot’s command, and how to operate the parachute was covered in the briefing. With the final saying “Hopefully none of this will happen, as old aircraft are inspected very thoroughly, they cannot afford to lose a member of the public, not to mention a very expensive historical aircraft – enjoy your flight!”
Also at this point they stated that if you are concerned about the flight or its safety, you could cancel at any time until you are strapped in and the engines have been fired up, with a full refund. Needless to say, none of us backed down as this is a flight of a lifetime. Now they wanted a volunteer to be the first to fly. As I have experience in flying vintage aircraft – I was to be the first. They suited me appropriately in a fireproof flying suit, the essential important parachute, and a modern day flying helmet (this was so the pilot and I could communicate in the air). I helped push the Spitfire to a safe starting point. I then had a briefing with the pilot of what the flight would consist of. I requested “NO ACROBATICS!” as I had been very ill twice before in other vintage war planes doing acrobatics. Although I wanted the pilot to bank 45 degrees as per the films when they attack from the sky, he agreed, but also said “You must do a Victory Roll that the Spitfire is famous for”. I agreed, so long as it was at the end of my flight.
I was then strapped into the cockpit, with a few photographs taken, and then the Merlin engines burst into action (by the way my pilot also flies Thompson Holiday flights, but prefers the Spitfire). We taxied to the take-off position, and finally the Merlin engine was taken to full power. The brakes were released and in a short time we were in the air, gently roaming around the clouds. This was great with the roar of that famous Merlin engine. Unfortunately this pleasant experience was not to last. The pilot spoke to me saying he was going to perform the attack move as requested by myself. I waited for the wings to tip 45 degrees, but to my horror they tipped 90 degrees. I was looking straight to the ground out of my right side, and blue sky to my left (nobody told me a Spitfire was not the same as other aircraft of that age). The pilot dropped the plane sharply towards the ground, and then pulled up by rolling the Spitfire in a full loop, spinning around as they would normally do. By this point I was changing colour. The next thing was that he was diving towards the ground and I remember him saying “We are now doing 340mph”. He then span the Spitfire 360 degrees (the Victory Roll). I thought it was only going to be waving of the wings over the runway. Now I was definitely a different colour and using my free gift (white bags!!!!!).
We landed and my partner, Viv, rushed over to take photographs to remind me why I should not do this again. I was lifted out of the Spitfire and walked like an “old man”……no comments please! I was feeling very ill. The problem did not stop there. I could not drive! Viv refused to drive my car. Viv then called Hayley (her daughter-in-law who was very heavily pregnant at the time) to take us home (a 2 hour drive away). Viv then ‘phoned Bishopsgate stating that I was in no fit state to work on the Friday (I spent 2 days in bed, not able to eat or move easily). On the Sunday Viv and I had to drive all the way back to Sywell airfield to collect my car.
Would I do it again? Yes! Definitely! BUT NO ACROBATICS!
Just to rub it in…Viv and a close friend of mine, Dave, played a practical joke on me while on a group holiday in Devon. His niece, Louise, made a splendid cake in the shape of a Spitfire that was presented to me over an evening meal with a couple of hundred people watching…..and some of them humming the Dambusters tune. The note accompanying the cake said “Aircraft 3 – Nigel 0” relating to the 3 flights in vintage war planes with the acrobatics experience (ill on all 3 occasions).