It may be the ultimate rich pilot’s dream — but a new Spitfire flying and maintenance school has a serious purpose in maintaining a vibrant warbird scene. PAUL BEAVER* FRAeS reports on training a new generation to keep an older generation flying.
This is a full article published in Aerospace International: August 2012
It’s a sad fact, but none of us is getting any younger. In aviation, this is becoming very apparent for the United Kingdom’s vintage and warbird community; fresh pilots and technicians are needed to keep classic aeroplanes in the air.
Classic aeroplanes, particularly rare birds like the iconic Spitfire, Mustang or Kittyhawk, tend to be flown at air shows and displays by former or current military pilots. But increasingly, owner-pilots are flying classic machines and a new generation of pilot is emerging from Sussex in what can be described as an alternative pipeline to the traditional ex-Services route.
Taking a leaf from First Light, Geoffrey Wellum’s classic autobiography on the Battle of Britain, the Academy is holding courses in the art of flying the Spitfire. Squadron Leader Wellum’s best seller is now required reading on the BFA’s introductory course.
“For the first time in over 60 years, pilots, and would-be pilots, can train on the Tiger Moth biplane, gain their private pilots’ wings,” explains Matt Jones, the Academy’s managing director. “After that, the pilots move on to the Harvard for more tail-wheel training and experience with complex aeroplanes — learning the practice of flying with retractable undercarriage and constant speed propeller — and then transition to the back seat of a Spitfire.
“With time — and one has to say, money, it is possible that the Academy will be able to take a student pilot through to the front seat of a Spitfire TR9,” he adds. There are plans to take pilots through to solo which given the right training and dedication may well be possible.
The BFA currently operates Steve Boultbee Brooks’ beautifully restored two-seat Spitfire, known as Gilda, after her registration G-ILDA. This Packard Merlin-powered aeroplane was converted from a single-seat Mk IX a decade ago and is marked for No 3 Squadron, South African Air Force. Steve is co-founder of the Academy and also owns the ‘Harvard’, G-TEXN, which is actually a T-6G and the Academy’s Tiger Moth. There is also a Chipmunk available and, this summer, the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Spitfire TR9, G-CCCA, marked as No 19 Squadron machine, is also being operated from the Academy, as well as another Harvard. Quite a hangar full.
“Students will often fly as a two-ship, adding to the experience and the pleasure,” says Matt Jones, who also manages to keep current on business jets and helicopters.
For several decades, the great training machines of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, particularly in the days of National Service, created some of the best-trained technicians and engineers in the world. Boultbee’s director of Engineering is a case in point. Mark ‘Bing’ Crosby’s training included a stint at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and he is reckoned to be one of the country’s leading authorities on the Merlin engine.
Now that these traditional training routes are drying up, a small team is working to create an Engineering Technical Academy along the lines of the Flight Academy at Goodwood. This innovative idea will allow a new generation of technicians and engineers to be trained on historic aeroplane airframes and engines. The Boultbee aspirations are shared by former aeronautical engineer turned business man, Alfie Southwell, and the author of this article, who are both part of the team.
Part of the BFA’s rapid progress has been the close working relationship with the UK Civil Aviation Authority which has welcomed the professional approach and continues to support the aspirations of both flying training and maintenance training.
Key to developing the Engineering Technical Academy concept will be to bring in other key players of high repute and high technical competence.
The Academy plans have attracted Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge , and other interested professional bodies, to take an interest in the development of the technical support side of historic flying. “This development should take much of the mystique from supporting historic aeroplanes — and ensure that a sustainable regulator process is developed”, according to Alfie Southwell.
Robert Marshall, ceo of the Marshall Group says “we have a commitment to training technicians and craftsmen in all aspects of maintenance and modification of many different aeroplane types. This commitment has been unbroken since before the Second World War and I believe it is very important that we continue training each new generation of aerospace engineers in traditional engineering skills.
“I am keen to work towards a technical training academy in Cambridge to ensure that these skills are not lost,” he says.
At nearby Duxford, the Aircraft Restoration Company is a world leader in the restoration and rebuilding of Spitfires. Last year, it re-created the ‘Cazenove Spitfire’ from a relic from the Dunkirk beaches and has been rebuilding Rolls-Royce’s Spitfire Mk XIX.
The later company still cares about the Griffon engine heritage and trusted as the restorers of Spitfires with its own apprenticeship scheme.
Two other important markets for historic aeroplanes and their support will have to be engaged in due course: New Zealand and the US. “It makes perfect sense,” says Alfie Southwell, “to harness the skills in New Zealand and economic power in America. It is early days yet, but I can see the model developing at Goodwood and Cambridge having real resonance elsewhere.”
Such moves in flight training and apprenticeship potential for aerospace are welcomed by Gerald Howarth MP, president of British Air Display Association and a pilot for 45 years.
“If we can harness the enthusiasm and interest in vintage aeroplanes, from the Vulcan to the Spitfire, it will be good for Britain and good for the Big Society,” he said. “I hope all our aviation institutions which have been so powerful in the past, will be working together to bring about the training of a new generation.”
*Paul Beaver has been a Fellow since 2005 and a pilot since 1970. He is a member of the Historic Aircraft Society and Chairman of the Army Flying Association. With his wife, Cate, he is developing a business around an historic Miles Messenger, marked as Field Marshal Montgomery’s D-Day personal transport aeroplane. He is also a student at BFA and, earlier this year, flew Gilda from Norway to UK with Matt Jones.
Aerospace International Contents - August 2012
News Roundup – p4
Boeing’s X-Planes return to flight p 11
Faster, longer and with new configurations
First news from Farnborough p 13
Highlights from air show first two days
Aviation’s 21st Century Tower of Babel - p 14
Is is time for a fresh push to achieve ICAO’s Aviation English goals?
Air systems back in the frame - p 18
Will Taranis, Telemos and F-35 secure BAE’s future?
Space access revolution - p 22
Report of RAes Space Tourism conference
Maintaining connectivity – p26
Options for airport capacity in SE England
Born again DHC – p29
Profile of the Viking Twin Otter
Spitifire academy - p32
Training the next generation of warbird pilots and engineers
The last word – p 34
Keith Hayward on future economic prospects for international airlines
This is a full article published in Aerospace International: August 2012. As a member, you recieve two new Royal Aeronautical Society publications each month – find out more about membership.