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By Paul Jansen at Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex, Britain
When the bill came several months ago for my upcoming flight in a World War II Supermarine Spitfire, I rationalised the 6,000 Pounds Sterling ($12,000 Singapore) cost as a fair price to pay for the unique experience.
Then, just 10 days ago, on June 22, 2012, Boultbee Flight Academy, the school which is conducting the Spitfire flight training course, sent me notice of an option. I could now not only fly its Spitfire, but could do it in formation with another Spitfire.
This was totally unexpected. It would practically double the quality of the experience. I could enjoy the physical sensation of flying a Spitfire aircraft and also have the visual memories of watching one in flight right beside me.
The option for the trainees consists of additional theory work to acquaint us with the rudiments of formation flying, 15 minutes more on the Tiger Moth during which we would practise manouevring into and maintaining a formation with another aircraft, culminating in a 3 to 5 minute formation between two Spitfires.
The price? Another 1,200 Pounds Sterling inclusive of VAT. The school explained that the fee for the “bolt on” had to cover such costs as bringing the second two-seater TR9 Spitfire in from elsewhere. It added that while I was being offered the formation experience as an option, it would be an intrinsic part of the 2013 courses.
I took up the option. I have flown formations in a variety of aircraft. It is not an easy thing to do if you want to do it well. Trying to stick to another plane looks like a piece of cake from the ground and to a non-pilot. But in the sky, there are three axis to contend with, and rough air can bounce the leader a fair bit, making it hard for his wingman to keep locked onto him.
In my early days of formation flying, I would be so knackered that I would head straight for the couch and immediately fall asleep for a couple of hours. But when you have had a good leader and managed to stay tight on him, the sight of another aircraft right next to you can be awesome. Breathtaking, even.
Boultbee cautioned us that the formation would only take place if two course participants took up the option. There are four of us in my session, IC05, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that someone else has said yes too. Tomorrow, when I present myself at the Goodwood Aerodrome down the road, where the Boultbee Flight Academy is located, I will know for sure.