At the Spitfire school: museum-worthy fleet of flying World War II aircraft available to students

Boultbee Flight Academy Spitfire course students receive a rundown on the legendary WWII aircraft from ex-RAF fighter pilot David Ratcliffe.

Boultbee Flight Academy Spitfire course students receive a rundown on the legendary WWII aircraft from ex-RAF fighter pilot David Ratcliffe.


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By Paul Jansen at the world’s only school for Spitfire pilots

Boultbee Flight Academy director of operations Brian Jones gives us a quick tour of Goodwood Aerodrome’s Hangar 8, and its jaw-dropping contents.

He begins with a vintage World War II British double decker bus which has been converted into a modern mobile Operations Centre. In the background, Vera Lynn sings the plaintive White Cliffs of Dover.

Jones then hands us over to David (Rats) Ratcliffe, a former RAF pilot who was in the Gulf War. Ratcliffe has flown English Electric Lightning Mach 2 fighters, Wessex and Chinook helicopters, and is now a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 pilot.

A Harvard, Chipmunk and Tiger Moth aircraft are the lead-ins to flights on the World War II Spitfire at the Boultbee Flight Academy.

A Harvard, Chipmunk and Tiger Moth aircraft are the lead-ins to flights on the World War II Spitfire at the Boultbee Flight Academy.

Ratcliffe briefs us on the four aircraft types in the hangar and available to the school’s students: the de Havilland DH84 Tiger Moth, the de Havilland Chipmunk DHC1, the North American Aviation Harvard T-6, and the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire TR-9.

Other than the Chipmunk which made its appearance after the War, these were the same types which the RAF used to turn teenaged earthbound dreamers into frontline aerial warriors within months before sending them into battle.

Boultbee’s Introductory Course (IC) aims to give us an abbreviated experience of those days.

We will receive safety and technical briefings and then fly a primary trainer, either the Tiger moth or the Chipmunk, in aerobatic formation and then individually. This will be followed by a flight on the more powerful Harvard.

Finally, we will fly the Spitfire, in formation and then alone.

This 2 million pound Sterling fighter aircraft is the centrepiece of the only  Spitfire training school in the world today.

This 2 million pound Sterling fighter aircraft is the centrepiece of the only Spitfire training school in the world today.

Youngsters like Geoffrey Wellum, who wrote in his autobiography “First Light” about walking out the gates of his school aged 17 and then going into combat with veteran German pilots just 10 months later in 1940, would feel at home in Hangar 8, having trained in the same types.

Our course, Kevin Brewin, Mike Williams, Jeremy Paxton and I, will go through the same sequence of aircraft as Wellum but within the space of only two days. We will not get a rating for any of them but the hours we clock can be used should we decide to take a full rating for any of these aircraft.

Each of us is given a flight suit and flying boots. Then a Spitfire patch with our names embroidered on them. Momentos for the memories.

It is time for lunch. Sandwiches at the Goodwood Aero Club a few metres away. It has a fleet of brand new Cessna 172SP Skyhawk aircraft. I have no doubt that the members taking up flying lessons must be dreaming of the day when they will be in the old Spitfire taxiing right in front of their flight line.

At the Boultbee Flight Academy for Spitfire pilots, students have ample opportunity to get acquainted with the World War II icon.

Students at Boultbee Flight Academy have ample opportunity to get close to a Spitfire. Here they are pushing one into position for the day’s flights.

The weather is still iffy after lunch but we help to push Boultbee’s Spitfire G-ILDA out the hangar so that we can position the Tiger Moth and Chipmunk for flight. My fingers tingle.

Spitfire sun quoteI have woken up sometimes with a dream ebbing from my consciousness like a fast receding tide. Often, I am left with a feeling of frustration as the evaporating residue of those night-time sensations holds just long enough to make think I am departing a better world for a lesser one.

Today, the opposite is true. With each touch of the Spitfire as I help heave it into the sun, I am solidifying contact with a world I thought had ceased to exist, or lay far beyond my reach.

G-ILDA is no scale model created by enthusiasts.

It is not a gutted shell good only for static display in a museum.

It is an airworthy Supermarine Spitfire built for the War.

And I will fly it.

Copyright: Paul Jansen 2013. All rights reserved.
Pictures are copyrighted by Paul Jansen or others. Permission is required for their use. To purchase, contact Marketing

BACK: Pursuing a dream at the world’s only school for Spitfire pilots
NEXTTiger Moth is a light introduction to the Spitfire

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