Learning to fly didn’t come easily to me. I was not a quick learner and took more than the average amount of hours to reach each milestone. I consoled myself with the thought that people who take longer to learn things learn them more deeply.
I wasn’t particularly confident either. Many were the times that I enjoyed the guilty relief when the cloud base was too low or the visibility too poor for my next lesson. Sometimes it felt like being told you’d got an unexpected day of school, which in effect it was.
When I was in the air there were times when I sat, tense and nervous, wondering what I was going to do wrong next and how could I keep control long enough to avoid some kind of disaster or the shame of screwing things up in front of instructors and spectators.
Money was always tight too. Lessons were delayed because I ran out of cash so progress was delayed while I earned more or found some way to borrow enough to continue.
The lack of continuity made learning to fly a longer process than it needed to be. It took seven long years, not seven weeks, or even seven months.
And having finally taken delivery of my Private Pilots Licence from the CAA in 1991 I asked myself, “Was it all worth it? Was it all worth the sleepless nights, money worries, nerves, and anxiety?”
The answer is of course yes, it was all worth it. Nothing can take away the feeling after the first solo, or the times I drove away from the airfield in my beaten up old car (or one I’d borrowed for the day) feeling ten foot tall, with a big stupid grin on my face because I’d just returned from a solo flight, there and back, with map and stopwatch.
Practice would have made perfect. For a number of reasons I didn’t get the chance to fill my logbook with PIC entries, building on these foundations. Repetition nurtures confidence and develops skills. I wanted to be the kind of pilot you see side-slipping an aircraft in to drop the wheels gently down on the numbers having flown a relaxed flight over hundreds of miles.
Driving a car eventually became effortless, and I made some progress driving lorries but there weren’t enough opportunities to practice reversing 40′ trailers onto loading bays to get it down to a fine art.
Navigation for truckers in the 1980s wasn’t easy either, without the ubiquitous apps and satnavs of today. If your map book didn’t pinpoint your destination you had to muddle through with frequent stops to ask for directions, which wasn’t convenient for the drivers in the queue that had built up behind you.
People who fly a lot or fly for a living become such experts, possessing skills that I have no chance of mastering myself, but goals such as this are personal and relative. Once that licence has your name on it nothing can take away the achievement and what it means to you personally.
I passed the exams, I passed the navigation test, and I passed the general flight test (GFT, as it was then known). If I never fly solo again at least I know I climbed one mountain and was rewarded with the view on the summit.
For many pilots and aviation enthusiasts the idea of being able to fly in a Spitfire is probably on their bucket list if not at the top of it. With the restoration of these thoroughbred warbirds at an all time high Spitfire flights are more easily obtained than at any other time since World War II.
Scroll down if you want to go straight to the list of experiences and prices.
Spitfire Flights – What are the options?
There are three main ways in which you can enjoy this ultimate aviation experience:
Flying lesson in a Spitfire. You are the pilot under training and you log the time as PU/T in your logbook.
Pleasure flight in a Spitfire. You enjoy a flight as a passenger with all that it involves.
Fly alongside a Spitfire. You are in another aircraft and you and the other passengers get to film and photograph the Spitfire as it flies in formation.
Learning to fly a Spitfire
This is now possible thanks to training schemes offered by the Boultbee Academy who are based at Goodwood Airfield in West Sussex.
Boultbee offer all kinds of instruction; starting with the appreciation of flying other vintage aircraft like the Chipmunk, Tiger Moth, and Harvard. Then moving on to lessons to in Spitfire and conversion courses for experienced pilots.
The prerequisites are that you already have a current SEP PPL and at least 1,000 hours of time logged.
They also teach formation and display flying. Prices are what you would expect for being taught by talented instructors in rare and expensive vintage aircraft. If you want to know the price then you probably can’t afford it but if money is plentiful then pop along and have a chat with them.
Pleasure Flights in a Spitfire
If you’re not looking to be taught how to fly the aircraft and simply want to enjoy the experience then there are two main options.
The aforementioned Boultbee Academy offer several Spitfire flights packages; 30 minute or longer flights and flights for two people during which the aircraft fly in formation with each other. Flights are available from Goodwood and from Exeter and start at £2,750 for 30 minutes.
Another option is the two seat Spitfire ML407 which is based at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire. Email the owners for details. You may have a long wait but the sooner you get on the waiting list the sooner your name will reach the top.
If you’re based in London or the south east you could visit the historic airfield Biggin Hill in Kent. ‘Biggin on the Bump’ (because it’s on a hill) has a long history that dates back to the dawn of aviation. It was a strategically important and very busy fighter base during the Battle of Britain.
The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar provides all kinds of experiences including Spitfire pleasure flights. Other options are in the list at the end of this post.
Fly alongside a Spitfire
There are plenty more opportunities for those who would like to fly alongside a Spitfire in another aircraft. There is a higher demand and therefore several companies offer this service. It is a very popular gift idea for special birthdays and other anniversaries, or just a treat for no other reason that it’s on your bucket list.
One of the more affordable options is to buy a seat on another aircraft. The Spitfire then flies alongside and in formation with your aircraft so that you can film and photography to your heart’s content.
This is an excellent opportunity to see a Spitfire in close formation and the footage and images you capture are unforgettable. They will form a lasting memory of an event that will delight you and friends for years to come.
Flights in formation with a Spitfire are available in Goodwood, Biggin Hill, Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent, and at Duxford Airfield near Cambridge, where some packages include a visit to the vast Imperial War Museum of aircraft.
Ultimate List of Spitfire Experiences in the UK
The flights and experiences are listed in descending order of price, from £22,000 to £20.
Exclusive group package that includes up to 8 Spitfire flights and tours of the Heritage Hangars at Biggin Hill in Kent for up to 25 people. £22,000.00