The air around Headcorn aerodrome in Kent is set to reverberate to the sound of Rolls Royce Merlin engines again, with the establishment of Aero Legends, an organisation set up to offer World War Two Battle of Britain air experience flights in a variety of aircraft from that era. Chris Wood reports.
The man behind Aero Legends is Keith Perkins, the owner of Spitfire HF.IX TD314, which has recently been restored by Peter Monk’s team at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. It had long been an ambition of Keith’s to own a Spitfire, and whilst many of us may aspire to that, not many of us actually achieve it!
He is keen to share that experience so, not content with just owning a Spitfire, he has recently been on a shopping spree, and bought a trio of Tiger Moths, two of which are airworthy with the third one being restored. He has also purchased a Spitfire restoration project in the shape of LF.IX NH341, which is being rebuilt as a two seat variant, but is not expected to be ready to fly for a few years yet.
In the interim, Aero Legends have an arrangement with John Romain’s Duxford-based Historic Flying Limited (HFL), to use their T-6 Harvard and their two-seat Spitfire PV202.
Keith’s aim is to help keep these historic aircraft alive as a tribute to those who flew them in anger, whilst also providing an opportunity for people to fully experience them by flying in them.
Options start with a short flight in a Tiger Moth, through to a package of Tiger Moth, Harvard and Spitfire.
He has plans for further acquisitions, with a C-47 Dakota already lined up; he’s looking for a P-51 Mustang too, and would like to add other aircraft such as a Hurricane.
Aero Legends have a few well-known and highly experienced warbird pilots signed up to fly their aircraft, all present or former members of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, whilst HFL have a number of highly experienced pilots on their roster.
Headcorn is an appropriate location for this type of operation, being a former World War Two fighter base, home to Royal Canadian Air Force Spitfires and United States Army Air Force P-51B Mustangs. In its favour is its grass runway, which is the type of surface that these aircraft were designed to be operated from. It’s also a very friendly place and a great place to watch the action, with a large car park alongside the runway. The only problem can be finding room to park on a sunny summer Sunday!
The Tiger Moths are based at Headcorn and the current plan is that the other aircraft will be flown in as required to cater with the demand for flights.
Aero Legends held a press day at Headcorn on Sunday 22 June to showcase their plans. In attendance were both their Tiger Moths and Spitfire TD314, plus HFL’s Harvard, Spitfire PV202 and, as a bonus, their Hispano HA-1112 Buchon.
The plan was for TD314, flown by Cliff Spink, and the Buchon, flown by John Romain, to get airborne for a bit of dog fighting whilst Dave ‘Rats’ Ratcliffe took PV202 aloft with a surprise guest – 90 year old Neville Croucher. Neville, a regular at the Wings Restaurant and Bar at the airfield, had flown Hurricanes during the later years of World War Two. However, he’d never got his hands on a Spitfire, and after the war he’d gone back to his pre-war job working at a bakers. Unbeknownst to Neville, arrangements had been made for him to fly with “Rats” in the two seat Spitfire!
Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite to plan. All three aircraft got airborne and then John Romain performed a couple of passes in the Buchon. On his third pass, the engine failed, spewing oil and parts. The airfield sirens went off which, perhaps not surprisingly, some people thought was all part of the act! The fire engines manning up and the thin trail of smoke from the aircraft were clues that something was actually amiss. John had enough energy to pull up, gain some height, execute a turn towards the runway and get the aircraft safely back on the ground.
After that bit of drama Cliff Spink performed a few passes over the field in TD314 before joining up with ‘Rats’ and Neville in PV202.
Once they’d had their picture taken it was back to the airfield for a low pass and a pull up for a victory roll to complete Neville’s flight of a lifetime, that he’d waited almost a lifetime for. When asked afterwards what he thought about the flight, Neville’s answer was “Bloody marvellous”! When asked how Nevillle had performed ‘Rats’ replied (jokingly!) that his landings needed a little practice!
When ‘Rats’ asked Neville how he ended up flying Hurricanes he replied “Well, I was only a baker’s boy and one day I was pedalling my bicycle to work. A Jerry dropped a bomb and it blew me off, I was late for work, so I thought “Right, that’s it”. I joined up straight away and two years later I shot three of them down!”
As for Keith, he is still in the process of getting his pilots licence, so it will be a little while yet before he gets his hands on his very own Spitfire. GAR thanks him for his time and wishes him well with his venture.
For anyone interested in booking a flight, Aero Legends website is up and running and the booking section is expected to be available from July 1st.