Following on from the prgramme earlier this year where Channel 4 trained a group of modern RAF fliers to re-enact the spectacular Dambusters raid – going from a supersonic, swing-wing Tornado with laser range finder, infra-red, radar and computer guidance to a Lancaster bomber aiming using some string and a nail on a small target while flying at night over water at 60 feet – they’ve taken a group of four RAF pilots and let them comepte for a chance to fly one of the few remaining airworthy Supermarine Spitfires.
Non Brits reading this probably won’t quite get the veneration in which we hold the Spitfire and what she stands for. It was somewhat sobering however when the trainers on the programme informed the pilots that after 9 hours on the Spit they would be as experienced as most of the young pilots would have been when they were sent to front line squadrons in 1940 to await the vast air armada of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Imagine going into battle, totally outnumbered, facing a force which had over-run every ally you had in mere weeks and you had a whole 9 hours experience on your aircraft. And still they did it. A combination of engineering skill, design, technological know-how, sheer, unadulerated bravery and a healthy dollop of the luck which always seems to protect our islands when they really needed it.
Scary, scary stuff – there was even some fragments left from one pilot’s camera gun (attached to his machine guns) recording a deadly duel in the sky from his point of view. One of the surviving pilots did remark that he couldn’t quite believe what they were doing; that in the 20th century two countries would resort to this bloodshed. 60 years on and still our ‘civilized’ nations resort to these tactics all to easily.
Pacifist that I generally am, I have to admit that there’s still a bit of the schoolboy in me that looks on in jealousy and wishes he was getting to fly this elegant machine. Come on, hands up – how many of you wanted to fly one when you were kids? Yep, I thought so.