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Alan (89) lives his Spitfire dream - and next on the list is wing walking



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Alan gets settled into the MJ627. Photo by Damian Chattell.
Alan gets settled into the MJ627. Photo by Damian Chattell.

Moulton great-grandad Alan Gilbert lived his long-term dream when he took to the skies in a Spitfire to celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday.

We reported in August how Alan had booked the £2,750 experience at RAF Biggin Hill in London as he had wanted to join the Royal Air Force when he was a lad.

But due to the circumstances of war, he never got the chance.

“It was 1945 and I went round all the recruitment offices,” he told us.

“But because of reserve operations they would not have me. I was a tractor driver for John Cope in Gosberton Risegate and in those days it was just at the end of the war and there was a shortage of land workers.

“Who knows what would have happened if they had accepted me? I would have tried for a pilot’s licence.”

Watching him make his 30-minute flight at Biggin Hill was step-daughter Vanessa, his grandson Damian and Damian’s wife Julie.

And he said his trip in the iconic aircraft was everything he had wished for and more.

“I did two victory rolls,” he said. “It felt wonderful to be up there.”

Getting a briefing before the flight. Photo by Damian Chattell.
Getting a briefing before the flight. Photo by Damian Chattell.

The MJ627 he flew in was built at Castle Bromwich in 1943 as an LF MK IXc and entered service with 441 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) serving with the RAF.

It made its first operational sortie on September 25, 1944, from advanced landing ground B70 in Belgium.

Two days later, it destroyed a Messerschmitt Me 109 over Arnhem whilst being flown by Pilot Officer Sidney Bregman.

Its history includes numerous ground attacks, bomber escort and patrol missions and aerial combat.

"I felt sadness and admiration for those brave men. Some of them were only 18 and had not made a choice."

When thinking about the men who flew the plane in wartime, Alan added: “I felt sadness and admiration for those brave men. Some of them were only 18 and had not made a choice.

“It was quite tight inside the plane and you felt like you were welded to the seat. When we rolled I thought I would feel as if I was falling out but you did not.

“I got to fly it myself for ten minutes and it felt lovely. It felt out of this world. I’d heard stories about the Spitfire being very adaptable and responsive to the touch.

“You could handle it with a matchstick and the matchstick would not break. You just needed your finger and thumb on the control.”

In December 1944, 441 Squadron was posted to the Orkneys and on March 9, 1945, the plane was involved in an off airfield forced landing following engine problems.

After the war it passed through various ownerships and uses until being purchased by Maurice Bayliss in 1976.

The plane underwent extensive restoration, with the first post restoration flight at Coventry Airport in November 1993. That was exactly 50 years after its first flight from Castle Bromwich, less than 20 miles away.

Following his Spitfire dream, Alan has already booked his next challenge.

“I’ve always wanted to wing walk,” he said. “I called Utterly Butterly three years ago and they said they have their own wing walking team. But when I asked at Biggin Hill they said they could book it for me - so that’s booked for next year.”

And after having zip-wired last year over the Eden Project in Cornwall - England’s longest and fastest zip wire, he now plans to take on the world’s fastest zip wire in Snowdonia in Wales.

Kitted up and ready for action. Photo by Damian Chattell.
Kitted up and ready for action. Photo by Damian Chattell.


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