It was definitely my mother’s fault, initially at least! Soon after the end of WWII, 1947 or 8, there I was in bed-ridden lockdown for weeks on end, continually poised on the brink of hospitalisation. “Rheumatic fever,” the doctor had said, “keep him very quiet and give him one of these tablets three times a day.” I lay in a drug induced semi-stupor, day after day – with absolutely nothing to occupy my mind, or my imagination. Then, suddenly, and out of the blue, in a last-ditch attempt to jolt me back into some sort of cognizance, my mother presented me with a book called “Biggies Flies South,” by Captain W E Johns. I gobbled up this wonderful tale for boys of British grit and wartime derring-do and I was hooked, forever. From then on, my recovery was swift as I read and re-read every “Biggies” story I could lay my hands on, as well as amassing a vast collection of W E Johns’ works, that I still have today. I imagined myself flying one of those flimsy, WWI aeroplanes and spent a great deal of time assembling and painting model versions of my favourites. My dreams of flying persisted as I grew older and It didn’t help, subsequently, that one of our teachers at my secondary school, Wembley Grammar, was an ex-wartime fighter pilot, whose game-leg was visible evidence of his exploits in the recently embattled Royal Air Force, about which he was more than loquacious, especially when being hero-worshipped by a ” flying mad” kid such as myself.
Throughout my school life, a burning desire to take up flying as a career remained stubbornly unchanged. I wanted to be a pilot and that was the end of the matter. I had already joined the local Air Training Corps because I understood this to be a definite plus in terms of potential acceptability for RAF recruitment. I then approached my headmaster and informed him that I wanted to join the Royal Air Force as soon as I was able. He sighed and blinked a few times but said nothing other than he would look into the possibilities on my behalf. By the age of 16, armed with only three GCE “0” levels to offer, I suddenly found there were forms to fill out, examinations papers to sit (sent by the RAF) and, finally, a three-day selection board at RAF Halton. How I hated the food and that horrible orange-coloured tea, dispensed from a disgusting-looking urn! Nevertheless, after three days of interviews, medicals, written and practical tests, I was wheeled in to see a jovial Squadron Leader (a mere navigator, I noted from his brevet), who informed me I was just the sort of chap they were looking for and that I had been selected to become an administrative apprentice. I was so overjoyed by this news that I could have kissed him. This was the first step in the advertised recruiting progression for all, or so I thought (apprentice to junior technician to Cranwell cadet!) However, once the reality had sorted itself out in my mind, I realised that I had no idea what the term “administrative” meant. I soon found out that it was my dodgy maths which had barred my selection as an “aircraft” apprentice, but this deterred me not a jot. I was still joining the Royal Air Force, wasn’t I?
Apprentice training was like jumping into a cold bath. As a defensive measure, it was advisable to develop a certain amount of immunity towards various training staff, usually corporals or sergeants, standing two inches away from your face and screaming at you about what an ‘orrible little man you were, or advising in the loudest decibels that your trousers looked like “blue tubes”. The somewhat premature but enforced requirement to shave our smooth-skinned faces each day was patently unnecessary in most cases, but it never paid, on parade, to admit to having used a mirror when shaving, because the gleefully roared response was always, “Well, next time use a razor!” However, I regret nothing about the apprentices. It turned me into a junior technician and gave me sufficient backbone to be able to stand up for myself when the occasion demanded. I was as proud as Punch on the passing out parade and delighted that my less than enthusiastic father (“you made yer bed; you lie on it and don’t come crying to me afterwards”) was in attendance. My first posting was to RAF Upwood and then RAF Feltwell.
PART 2 – BITTEN BY THE FLYING BUG BUT REJECTED BY THE FLYING BUFFS
Despite my “admin” job, I became more and more obsessed with flying and I was lucky enough to meet a fellow corporal (Clk Stats) at Feltwell, who had gained his PPL (private pilot’s license) via the ATC and a RAF flying scholarship, no less. The downside for him was that, despite his achievement, he had since been rejected for RAF pilot training on four previous occasions! Unbelievable, I thought at the time. However, it was with this mate, called George D, that I spent a number of joyful flights stooging about in a Tiger Moth, in the vicinity of the Hog’s Back, near Woking. I absolutely loved it despite the one nervous occasion, when we were nearly taken out by a Gloster Javelin that shot across our track at about 50 yards distance, on low level. There was hardly time to gasp or blink, let alone take any evasive action. I don’t think the Javelin pilot even saw us. George also took great delight in initiating sudden and unannounced vicious stalls when we were flying together, that left me scared witless and feeling sick. Undaunted, I enrolled as a trainee pilot at Fairoaks (the flying club George belonged to) and during the early part of 1960 I managed to complete 3.5 hours dual instruction on Tigers: open cockpit, leather helmet and goggles – the only way to fly I thought then, and still do now.
Fired up by these events, I submitted my application for pilot training and duly reported to the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) at RAF Hornchurch for the standard three-day assessment and evaluation. As the selection process advanced, I noticed that various people tended to disappear from the scene and when I found myself still there at the end, I was nervously optimistic. The result, when it came however, was as if a hammer had been smacked down on my head: I was “not selected at this time” but I “could reapply in two years”. Stunned and dejected, I applied instead for an overseas posting and finished up in Malta, where I tried to forget all about flying. However, the sound of those Shackletons taking off and landing at nearby RAF Luqa was constant music to my ears and, although the flying bug retreated a little inside me, I was never able to shake off the desire to become a pilot.
PART 3-THE REALITY KICKS IN
From Malta, I was repatriated to RAF Kenley, where I met the late, great Douglas Bader. Then came my first marriage and the prospect of a third stripe was offered to me, subject to accepting a posting to RAF Upavon, in 1965. In 1966,1 was picked up for special duties and posted to SHAPE in Paris as personal assistant to MRAF Sir Thomas Pike. He was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) at the time, and I was lucky enough to accompany him on all his visits, which involved flying to just about every NATO establishment in existence. I got to know the VIP flight crews by name and felt very envious of their aircrew status, when set against my job which was confined to sitting in the cabin at the back of the aircraft, typing up the Marshal’s dictated thank-you letters to our recent hosts. These he signed before landing so that they could be dispatched immediately on arrival back at SHAPE, which is why I always accompanied him.
There followed tours at Strike Command, AFNORTH (as acting FS) and RAF Coningsby, where my arrival as his personal assistant was rejected by the then Station Commander, who wished to keep his current long-serving p.a. This meant that, even though I had already moved into a married quarter on the base, I was nevertheless uprooted and sent down to RAF Innsworth and, within months, to that great Clk Sec paperwork treadmill, RAF PMC. The fact that the Coningsby station commander was subsequently killed in a flying accident came as a dreadful shock. I had not met him face-to-face, but he had been involved, albeit negatively, in my life and I felt very sad to learn that someone with whom I was almost very closely involved professionally had suddenly been taken away. Again, quite suddenly, I was posted to the British Embassy in Bonn, on the basis that I could speak a little German (my mother was Austrian), and this was followed by a stint at the British Embassy in Cairo, as assistant Air Attache. The actual incumbent there was a wing commander GD/P whose main occupation consisted of playing golf, on the basis that he was taking a rest from operational flying (at least, that is what he told me when I arrived). By this time, having reached the dizzy heights of warrant rank, my thoughts of flying had faded into distant dreams and memories. After Cairo, I volunteered as a Work Study Practitioner at the Central Management Services Unit at RAF Stanmore Park. Although the work was interesting, it was extremely tedious and, in 1983,1 decided to resign from the Royal Air Force and join the Diplomatic Service, of which I had already gained some experience.
PART 4 – OLD, BOLD PILOT?
It was my second appointment that finally enabled me once again to take to the skies. In 1988,1 was posted to the British Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, as Third Secretary Management/ Accounting and the job was such that I was able to fly quite regularly, because I was fortunate in having some very good, locally employed, staff who could be relied upon to keep things ticking over and a golfing boss (yes, another) who was amenable to only he or me actually being present at the Embassy on any particular day. After numerous tentative visits to Wonderboom Airport, near Pretoria, having finally enrolled at the Pretoria Aviation Centre as a trainee pilot, my first dual air experience flight took place on 27 January 1990 in a Piper Cherokee (EEB), which I had chosen in preference to the more usually picked Cessna 100. Surprisingly for South Africa, it was a rainy day and when I asked the instructor whether there were any windscreen wipers on this particular aircraft, a finger pointed to the propeller and in my earphones came the words, “Just that big one in the front”. As we flew around in the vicinity of the airfield, I was allowed to operate the throttle and to gingerly hold the control column. Towards the end of our 20-minute trip, I was asked if I wanted to try a landing (something 1 had never before attempted). Reluctant to appear hesitant, I agreed and, although I lined up quite well with the runway, I was about 100 feet too high on finals and my instructor laconically suggested that we go around again, with him at the controls! I determined that even though I was now nearly 50 years old, I would go through with this course, if it was the last thing I ever did! Although it was possible to undergo intensive training to private pilot standard via a full time 7-day course (jokingly named a “crash course”), despite my undemanding job and understanding boss, I could absent myself for only a very limited number of flying sessions per month and progress was rather more sedate. My usual flight instructor was a South African Airways pilot whom we all called Hanno; a wonderful character, always cheerful and always relaxed (even when I was at the controls!). I went solo on 16 May 1990 after 16 lessons varying in time from 35 minutes to 1 hour. When Hanno stepped out of the cockpit prior to that momentous occasion, he just said, “Now, Ben, do me a nice circuit, I will be watching from the tower”. My knees were shaking, and I promptly forgot all my cockpit drill, pre-take-off checks and even communications with air traffic. I taxied gingerly down to the start and the tower told me to “Line up and wait”. Then I got “Echo, Echo, Bravo, clear take off”. I pushed the throttle forward and gained speed, concentrating fiercely on keeping the aircraft in a straight line. As it left the ground, I realised with a gulp that getting down again was my sole responsibility and there would be no Hanno to say, “Pull up!” or give any other advice. Round I came; height, speed, throttle, flaps all swirling about in my mind. Then, thinking I must call the tower before it was too late: “Wonderboom, this is Echo, Echo, Bravo, runway one- one, full stop landing”. “Echo, Echo, Bravo, clear runway one-one, full stop landing”. Then I touched down smoothly and trundled along the runway – ecstatic – until a voice crackled in my ear, “Echo, Echo, Bravo – expedite, expedite – aircraft on finals behind you”. I shot off the runway at the next turn and taxied over to our hardstanding. There he stood, grinning broadly, dear Hanno. “Well done, Ben. I knew you could do it”.
It is a well-known saying that pride comes before a fall. On 27 August, I set out on a solo flight having foregone my customary dual session with Hanno beforehand. It was a spur of the moment thing and undertaken only because of my eagerness to notch up as much solo flying as possible. I remember, on that day, the chief flying instructor was somewhat reluctant to sign me out, as Hanno was not around that day. Nevertheless, off I went in Echo, Echo, Bravo, and I had not been airborne long when air traffic called me up unexpectedly with a complete change of circuit and, indeed, runway – unhappily, a runway that I had never seen or used before. I managed the reversed circuit OK and made a reasonable approach from downwind before turning onto runway two seven. 1 was anxious to get down on this unfamiliar strip which as I now found out, had a big dip in the tarmac along the first 30 yards, that were best avoided but, of course, I did not know that at the time. I flattened out over the dip but failed to flare sufficiently above the hump and my nose wheel caught the bulge in the tarmac and my aircraft veered sharply to the left. Instead of pulling gently back on the stick and applying a boot full of right rudder, I instinctively shoved the stick to the right, as one might do with the steering wheel in a car. This caused the aircraft to drag along on its right wing and shoot off the runway. Before coming to a standstill, it pitched up onto its nose (which broke the propeller), then tried but failed (luckily for me) to tip over onto its back, before finally settling heavily in an upright position. I was unhurt, but badly shaken. Nevertheless, I was out of that cockpit in record time, having quickly switched everything off, in case of fire. I don’t know what I expected, but there was not a peep from air traffic, just a deathly silence, except for my two inner voices: Biggies would have said, “Well, that’s put the tin hat on the whole caboodle!”; my more caustic father, “You should look what you’re doing!”. I was still hearing these voices when an ambulance turned up, to scrape me off the tarmac. No need, as I could still walk, somewhat shakily and, as we drove off, t looked back at my lovely Echo, Echo, Bravo all crunched and twisted. The whole picture reminded me of the film “Reach for the Sky”, with Douglas Bader, sitting trapped and badly injured, in the cockpit of his broken biplane. My confidence was badly dented, but my main emotion was sheer anger with myself for being an incompetent idiot. The flying club pilots were fantastic, and they all rallied round me. They tried to cheer me up by telling me about their own
crashes (they had all had at least one spectacular mishap), and they reminded me of the pilots’ mantra: any landing you walk away from is a good one! Despite these jollies, I knew that one of their number (they were mostly commercial pilots) never flew again following his crash, because it had involved some passenger fatalities. Nevertheless, they kept repeating how lucky I was to get my crash out of the way so early in my flying career and insisting that I could now go forward secure in that knowledge. I felt like a complete failure, but the creepiest part of this episode occurred when I returned home from the airfield that day. My wife, with that little smile that has always enchanted me, casually asked, as if from the depths of some weird sixth sense, “How many aeroplanes did you crash today?” I replied, equally casually, “Just the one”, which she took as a joke, but I had to tell her what had actually happened eventually, because of the unusual amount of unexplained absences from the office I subsequently racked up, when all that my staff could say to my wife when she telephoned me at the office, was “Oh, he’s at the airfield”. I was, but there were no illicit assignations going on -1 was dealing with the inevitable board of enquiry, the predictable result of which emerged as “pilot error”. My wife never knowingly flew with me at the controls and I like to believe it was because of her concern for our two daughters. One parent had to be sensible; the only sensible thing I could bring myself to do was to ensure that my life assurance policy was up-to-date and easy to find in our belongings.
Nevertheless, my brother-in-law did once come on a flight with me. Unfortunately, it was quite bumpy weather-wise, and he vowed, as he staggered away from the aircraft after landing, that he would never repeat the experience. He took some pride, however, in confirming that he had absorbed the trip as a sound learning experience, during which he had identified a number of cockpit controls and their uses. He remembered the flap selection lever as a sort of airborne handbrake and noticed that the flight trim handle was a device to open the overhead cockpit window! It’s amazing what can be ingested by mere observation.
PART 5 – INTO THE WIDE BLUE YONDER
I didn’t fly again until 19 September 1990, mainly because my aircraft was undergoing major repairs and the only other Cherokee was an old crate with a cracked windscreen and a vicious will of its own. Thanks to the support I received from the other pilots, especially Hanno, and my own determination to qualify, I soon got back in the saddle and started to accumulate flying hours. On 8 May 1991,1 was sent off on my solo cross-country flight, which was always the precursor to PPL examination. It involved planning and executing what was described as a “triangular nav” exercise. Flight plan to be filed, all up weight and fuel requirements calculated, and navigation undertaken by dead reckoning, with the aid of my cockpit compass, a map, a watch, and the inevitable clipboard. I thought I had cunningly worked out a route that would leave me with a number of highly visible landmarks (roads, railways, rivers, etc) to use as verification points. I would normally be required to land at two airfields representing two of the three points of my triangular flight, before finally returning to Wonderboom in completion of the flight triangle. When I presented my proposed route to my instructor, he ordered me not to land at the second destination as it was located inside a deep depression from which, once inside, I would not be able safely to extricate myself or my aircraft. Instead, I was told merely to circle overhead, on arrival there, and then carry on to my end destination. Hanno’s final briefing was a little disconcerting. “Don’t worry Ben. I’m sure you’ll be alright. Sometimes they don’t come back, but we usually get a phone call………” At least he lent
me his personal earphones, which allowed me to hear the engine – something I had always needed,
not so much as a reassurance it was still functioning, rather for the feeling of security it gave me when I could hear some response to my manipulations on the throttle.
On the big day, Hanno came out onto the tarmac to see me off. With a cheery wave and “Good luck, Ben” over his shoulder, he left me to it. Cockpit checks to be done before anything else: I was by this time a stickler for doing these by the book, because a previous failure on my part had nearly cost me my life. I had just taken off solo from Wonderboom and was executing a moderate climb to port when my cockpit seat suddenly rolled right back on its runners and I found myself completely unable to reach the aircraft controls, either with my feet or my hands. My first thought was, “I’ve done it this time!” Then self-preservation kicked in and I found myself flying the aircraft on my hands and knees on the cockpit floor, able only to reach the stick with one hand, eyes glued to the false horizon indicator. Would I have qualified for the Guinness Book of Records as the only pilot ever to fly an aircraft whilst on his knees on the cockpit floor? I don’t know, but I did know that I had to do something – and quick. Grabbing the stick with my left hand and keeping a close eye on the artificial horizon, I struggled with my right hand to return the seat to its original position. It wouldn’t budge and the sweat was pouring down my face as I struggled with my problem. In the end, I had to let go of the stick and heave the seat back into position with both hands, secure it and quickly resume my place and normal control of the aircraft which, I was extremely glad to find, behaved itself so well as to give very little indication that Toulouse-Lautrec was temporarily piloting.
Taking my wondering mind back to the present and having gained permission from the tower, I opened the throttle and powered down good old runway one- one, taking off on a northerly course for the first leg to airfield No 1. Shock, horror, I could not identify a single road, railway line, or river from 3000 feet. All 1 could see was brown scrubland in every direction and I felt like turning back to Wonderboom, rather than risk becoming thoroughly lost. Then I told myself that, provided I kept to my course and checked the elapsed time, given the balmy weather, I should easily make it to my intended destination. At my theoretical ETA, I still could see no sign of the destination airfield and I felt a little stab of concern. Screwing my head round like a Battle of Britain fighter pilot, I saw my airfield suddenly, as it was disappearing underneath my port wing – a tiny little airstrip (whose name I have long forgotten) and I circled to call up the tower, as instructed. There was no response, even though I repeated the call several times. I could not see any other aircraft in the vicinity, so I made my approach towards the tiny little tarmac runway. The wind direction was immaterial because the windsock hung limply like a wet rag and the only movement on the ground came from a workman seated on a tractor, pulling a grass cutting device behind him. I made a fairly decent landing and took a breather in the cockpit. The airfield was deserted, apart from the grass cutter, and I had a decision to make. Did I carry on with this “farce”, or should I call it a day? Again, I had to get a grip on myself. No, I was going to finish this exercise and get back in one piece. I started up and began my take-off run on the very narrow strip. Then the port undercarriage wheel slipped off the edge of the tarmac and, try as I might, I could not nudge it back on. I didn’t want to do anything too drastic, like stamping on right rudder, as, with my speed increasing, this would have gone badly. It was rather like moving along with the left-side brake applied and the right-hand side running free. It also slowed the aircraft down at a particularly critical time, which left me wondering whether to abort the take-off. However, events thus far had made me rather bloody-minded, so I maintained my take-off run and just about struggled into the air with minimum clearance above a local arboretum.
Now for the second leg: I adjusted my compass, checked my watch, and looked at the map. For a few moments, the old priority adage “aviate, navigate, communicate” was somewhat forgotten as I struggled to get my bearings from the myriad whirl of closely packed contours on my map. Giving up on that, I kept a rigid check on my compass, trusting there was insufficient wind to blow me off my course. At what I knew to be a critical point, timewise, I arrived overhead two identical-looking valleys and I was certain my next destination airfield was at the bottom of one of these depressions. Tossing a coin mentally, I plumped for the right-hand option and, hallelujah, there it was right in front of me. As instructed, I circled overhead a couple of times and then set off, delightedly, for home. With the aid of several large lakes (the best navigational aid I ever discovered), I was soon back overhead Wonderboom, reporting myself on finals for a full stop landing. I had achieved better landings, but I didn’t care at all. Hanno appeared from nowhere, all smiles and congratulations. “Now,” he said, “You’re all set for your PPL exam”. Wearily, I handed him back his sound enhanced headphones and drove dreamily home.
PART 6 -1 FOLLOW THE DREAM
It was the 5th of June 1991 and I was feeling as nervous as the day I arrived at OASC Hornchurch in my quest for pilot training. All my teenage and adult life I had wanted to be a pilot and now, at age 51, my opportunity awaited me. My flight examiner was a young commercial pilot called Darby, who had first persuaded me to join the flying club at Wonderboom, soon after my arrival in South Africa. The flight test was scheduled to last about four hours and would combine a triangular navigational exercise, plus an examination of my flying skills and ability to deal with emergency procedures, as required by the examiner. My radio operation would also be closely monitored and assessed as part of the overall test.
Pre-flight and cockpit checks meticulously carried out, we lined up on runway one-one and took off on our first leg to a commercial airport not too far from Johannesburg. I was surprised by the curt and rapid radio communications and found myself directed to Runway 27 left. This was something new and I looked at Darby with quizzical eyes and he just said, “Take the left-hand runway”. As we approached on finals, he told me to just do a touch and go, i.e. power up and away again immediately after touching down. I was relieved that everything had gone well, so far. The second airfield provided grass runways only and try as I might I could not identify the runway on which I was cleared to land. As the examiner, Darby was not allowed to help. He just said, “Land where you think the runway is”. So I did just that and he said, “Well, that’s actually the secondary on this airfield, but it will do.” The grass on this runway was about 12-18 inches high.
After we had answered our respective calls of nature in a nearby copse and had a little chat about what was still to come flight test-wise, it was time to commence our third and final leg to Wonderboom. Everything pre-flight went well and I taxied out on my secondary runway, gradually easing to full power. It was at this point, I realised that the aircraft was not gathering speed very quickly and I could see a line of trees at the far end of the runway. Despite being at full throttle, we were not showing signs of lift off within what I judged to be the required parameters and in approaching a critical point along the runway, I wondered whether to abort. Darby sat there with clenched fists and white knuckles whilst trying to retain his composure. He muttered, “Keep going.” I was sweating buckets as I attempted to coax my machine into the air. After a couple of forlorn bounces, I finally persuaded EEB to free herself from the clinging grass and we staggered over the trees with little or no height to spare. A touch of the Dambusters indeed, as we subsequently found several bits of twig adorning the undercarriage. On the way home. Darby had me demonstrating the drill for forced landings and we ran through the gamut of flight manoeuvres, such as stalling, flapless landings, climbing turns and low flying. When we finally landed at Wonderboom, more than 4 exhausting hours after departure, Darby turned to me and said, “Well done, Ben, you’ve passed”. I was in Seventh Heaven and extremely proud to receive my flying badge and eventually my South African private pilot’s license. Biggies would have said, “Good show, laddie” ; my Dad, however: “When I was called up in 1940, they wanted me to be an air gunner, but I told them I wasn’t interested in becoming a bleeding colander, so I went and joined the Army instead!”. As for me, I will always look upon this event as the proudest achievement of my life.
PART 7 – EPILOGUE
Unfortunately, my tour in South Africa was coming to an end and I was due to be posted back to London. Anxious to gain more and more flying hours, at Hanno’s suggestion, I converted onto the more popular Cessna 100 and had my license endorsed, so that I could fly both the Cherokee and Cessna as pilot in command. This eventually led to further flying opportunities that could never have occurred in Europe or the USA.
After postings back to London (1991-94) and then on to Colombo (1994-96), I was posted to Dar-es- Salaam (Tanzania) as Second-Secretary Management Officer. This was a wonderful chance to see Africa in the wild and my wife and I had splashed out on what we thought would be a “once in a lifetime” safari, which involved flying up to a small airfield on the Kenyan border known as Arusha.
The aircraft being operated on this route was usually a Cessna Caravan, with a single prop but powerful engine, designed to carry around 20 passengers. On the first occasion, the pilot in command – a young New Zealander – asked if anyone would like to join him in the cockpit for the duration of the flight. Needless to say, I was up there like a shot and, when he discovered that I had a PPL, he allowed me to take over the controls after take-off and fly the aircraft until just before
descent, whilst he completed all his routine paperwork. I remember looking out from the cockpit at the snow-topped Kilimanjaro during this flight and thinking I was now in Seventh Heaven. When we disembarked, I asked my wife if she had noticed anything different or strange about our flight and she said no. When I told her I had been doing the bulk of the flying, her jaw dropped, and she drew our children tightly towards herself and away from their reckless father! After that, I became the regular, if unauthorised co-pilot whenever we flew up to Arusha, to the consternation of our many visitors, all of whom had begged for a safari, but were not convinced about the co-pilot for the flight up there.
I was compulsorily retired from the Foreign Office from Tanzania in February 2000, as I was approaching the mandatory retirement age for diplomats at that time (60, but since extended, allowing staff to remain as long as they are able to function “effectively”).I shall refrain from any comments about this, in the interests of retaining my pension. Suffice it to say that my flying days petered out, due to costs, age, and the departure from the scene of my old friend George D.
However, even today, I will fly in anything that can get off the ground but, sadly, although my dearest wish is to fly a Spitfire, the nearest I have come to that is via a realistic Spitfire simulator located in West Sussex. Thanks, Mum and thanks, Biggies – for sowing the dream .