Friday, 19 June 2015

Duxford :: 19.VI.15 :: A dream fulfilled.

An early start today to get to Duxford for 9am for my Spitfire Flight Experience with Classic Wings. Arriving in plenty of time, due to a congestion free A14 (!?!?), what started out as a nice sunny morning soon started to cloud over.
Checking in with Classic Wings operation in the briefing room in ATC, the morning started for myself and another passenger, with a short introduction about Duxford, completing paperwork and then the SSAC (Safety Standards Acknowledgement and Consent) and flight safety briefings. Flight suit, gloves and helmet issued, then followed a short wait for the arrival of MJ627 from Biggin Hill.

Al Pinner was our pilot for this morning and we had a brief chat about what to expect while MJ627 was refuelled. I was scheduled to fly first, so once the aircraft was ready it was down the stairs and out to my 'ride'.

Once strapped into a very tight rear cockpit and emergency "ARC" drills run through one more time, the canopy was slid shut. Engine fired up and the sound and smell of the Merlin coming to life filled the cockpit. Taxi out and down to the 24 end of the runway where we held briefly for last minute checks then we're off! A smooth takeoff and soon we're at 1500' heading west with Fowlmere passing by on our starboard side. Soon Bassingbourn is below us and a tight turn to the right is carried out over the old wartime hangars and what remains of the airfield. A shallow dive away from Bassingbourn towards Wimpole Hall, almost along the length of the "grand avenue' was followed up with a aileron roll thrown in for good measure - sky, ground, sky and hold onto breakfast!

Then from Wimpole we headed towards the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley where an aileron 'victory' roll was carried out, over the final resting place of many brave young servicemen and women. Something I didn't expect from today, but I hope it was a fitting salute…

On from there to the north of Cambridge with a couple of climbs and steep banking turns left and right en route, turning back south around the eastern side with Cambridge Airport to the starboard, and then a steady return back towards Duxford. A final run in and break along the runway turning to the north, gear down, flaps down and all too soon, the runway comes up to greet us and we are taxiing back to the parking spot outside ATC.

I got some stick time during my flight, with various manoeuvres, though I will have to wait for the video footage to recall exactly what I did!!!

An amazing experience, one I have dreamt about since I built my first Airfix kit, and with the added interest of having watched MJ627 in combat in 1944 and being flown by a former OC BBMF and, of course, this being the 75th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain.

A day on and a couple of thoughts on the experience. 
The type of helmet used (Micro Avionics MM020B?) has a full face visor and might be fine for open cockpits or microlight type flying, but it did feel a tad claustrophobic when in the confines of the rear cockpit of a Spitfire. I can see why this style might be preferred, as it is separate to the headset so means only a range of different size 'shells' are needed thus probably keeping PPE costs down. The visor has to remain down from canopy closing to opening and I found it starting to mist up, as there is little airflow to remove the condensation. If it was a hot day I could imagine it would become quite uncomfortable. A couple of passengers have had to use the supplied barf bags - if you don't get your aim right you could end up having to stare through your last meal for the remainder of the flight!
A far better choice would be a half visor, if such is available for this brand - the visor appears to be only attached with bolts.

No cameras are allowed on the flight for pretty obvious reasons. There is no 'floor' in the aircraft and the risk of a camera dropping down and jamming some controls is very high. 
So a totally understandable restriction. 
In cockpit rearward facing video is an 'optional extra', but unfortunately a big part of the whole experience, that of looking out along that iconic wing shape as you fly over the countryside, is lost. The steep turn over "The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial" at Madingley was a pretty memorable moment, but one that I am unable to share with anyone in any form other than words.  There does appear to be some sort of 'mount' on the seat back…

…a small GoPro or other camera, pointing out along the wing, wouldn't be too hard to include.

Small "criticisms" of what is still an amazing experience and in no way anything that would prevent me from doing it again!!!


  1. Nice one Bob. Gaz and I were only talking last weekend wondering when this was happening.
    So breakfast stayed down which is goos and it sounds like a great experience. My turn to do the 'green with envy' bit. Shame about the no photos but as you say ...
    Look forward to the video.

  2. On the topic of green, the offer of a third loop was declined on the grounds I was determined to retain my dignity and breakfast!!!

    I can totally get the restriction on taking a camera on board. Not sure whether the other operators make up for that by having a video camera pointing out? But I have a photo taken on my Dakota trip looking out the window along the wing as we did a turn - the steep turn we did over Madingley would have made a brilliant image to look back at.
    Never mind, perhaps I will do it again to refresh the memory!...

  3. Fantastic Bob. Thank you for sharing your experience, well written.


  4. Thanks Marcus. Hopefully I will have some more photos from some of the Duxford 'crew' that I can share.
    This is a pretty good representation of what it sounded like!!! -

  5. Well done mate, pleased and proud you got to do what you wanted which is how it should be these days.


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