Sometimes an opportunity presents itself to you, one that you really cannot turn down. The chance to participate in an air to air sortie alongside an iconic aircraft, possibly the most beautiful aircraft ever designed.
Over one weekend at the end of June the team at Aerolegends held the Battle of Britain air display at the former wartime advance landing ground outside Headcorn, Kent. RAF Lashenden opened in August 1943 after being requisitioned in 1942. Flying had been taking place from the field since the late 1920’s and, once the military walked in, became home to many USAAF units in preparation for the D-Day landings in June 1944.
The airfeld is now home to an extremely active skydiving school, flight school, small museum and general light aviation. It is also an operating base for Aerolegends, where you can pay to fly in a Spitfire, Tiger Moth or Harvard or fly alongside a Spitfire. The Skydiving school operate a Cessna 208 Caravan, which is seen daily in the skies above the field. It was to become very familiar over the weekend.
I’d been made aware of the opportunity to undertake some photography with a difference by Rich Cooper and his excellent COAP. So with some trepidation I met up with fellow photographers on the Friday and prepared to see if we would get that flight! Nothing was guaranteed.
The weather, it’s fair to say, was pretty awful. Overcast, low cloud. The RAF Red Arrows were due to display. They were briefly seen over the field but conditions prevented them displaying. However that did not prevent the mass of Spitfires gathered for the weekend from performing an excellent balbo at the end of the day. Always a great sight and sound to hear a mass of Merlin engine’s roar.
We’d been over to the Caravan to prep, harnesses fitted, working out where each of us would be during the flight. Safety briefings given, it was a matter of waiting to see if we would be able to commit.
At roughly 6pm we gathered and boarded our camera ship. Within seconds we were in the air, the roller blinds opened and there was a Spitfire metres from us, Merlin purring and the sight and sound just took my breath away. It will live with me forever. TD314 was flown by Flt Lt Anthony ‘Parky” Parkinson. He kept the plane in close formation for around 15 minutes, whilst we got our shots.
Time seemed to slow down. The time we spent in the air felt like an absolute age. The sheer joy of being in formation and close to such an iconic aircraft was overwhelming. I literally felt like I was on cloud 9. The smile still hasn’t left me over a fortnight later.
Thank you to Parky for just doing what he does best, Rich and Steve from COAP for their advice and Aerolegends for letting us get near their beloved aircraft.
Images from my Flickr gallery are below, hope you like them. The weekend would go on to get better. More later!