Moving Up by the Wartime Route - Becoming a Spitfire pilot

Moving up

Photo Peta Cook

One of the most legendary and charismatic machines ever to flyOne of the last generation of face-to-face aerial gladiators.  These are some of the superlatives that come to mind when the Supermarine Spitfire is mentioned.  As for having the chance to fly one "Impossible", "out of reach"  are words that are offered up by the flying community.  The Spitfire is arguably the most prized seat in aviation outside of a space shuttle launch. 

Inspiration to a young lad

I have longed to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes from the age of six when I saw “Reach for the Sky”, the story of the legendary and legless fighter ace Douglas Bader.   At primary school in Cambridge I looked up over the playground to see Heinkels and Spitfires battling overhead for the cameras during the filming of The Battle of Britain.  I crawled through the barbed wire at Duxford to get on to the airfield to see lines of Spitfires and 109s (Buchons) parked up together.  At a young age and on a  Cub Scout trip, I saw Spitfire SL721  (now with Vintage Wings of Canada) when it was the “Rose Garden” Spitfire at Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley – honest!).

The “wartime route”

My original “cunning" plan was to go by the “wartime route” i.e Tiger Moth, Harvard and onwards.  I joined the Cambridge Flying Group (CFG), the only group in the world teaching from ab initio on the Tiger Moth.  I trained under the tutelage of Bill Ison, currently the oldest QFI (Qualified Flying Instructor) in the world.  Here I completely underawed my instructors with my flying skill and soon realised that in a Tiger Moth a blind approach is something that happens on every landing. I still fly at the CFG to this day, flying a Tiger Moth in a crosswind always keeps your old aeroplane skills honest!

Tiger moth

Happily, Howard chases his shadow across the Cambridge grass during a formation take-off in the de Havilland Tiger Moth. Photo: Brian Cordell

At the same time I joined the CFG I was invited to join the team operating the genuine (ex JG77) Messerschmitt 109 Black 6 and thus started my work in the world of historic aircraft displays.  Black 6 was the only genuine airworthy Messerschmitt Bf 109 flying in the world at the time and I was very lucky to be with Russ Snadden`s team looking after her and working with and learning from Black 6’s display pilots. 

In readiness to move up from the my "Elementary Flying Training" on the Tiger Moth, I spent hours and hours "hangar-flying" Norman Lees Harvard IIB (now with Russell Group Aviation at Niagara Falls) which was based next to Black 6 at Duxford.  By this method, I was able to practice my drills so that I would know all of the “taps” and the numbers necessary to fly the aeroplane - just like learning a song.   It did however, leave me open to some friendly abuse from my Duxford colleagues such as “Howard’s playing at aeroplanes again”.  However hangar flying and my general preparation held me in good stead then and I use this system and recommend it for any conversion-to-type to this day.

Black 6

Howard at the controls of the Bf 109 Black 6 for an engine run-up at Duxford. Photo: Peta Cook

The opportunity came to convert to the Harvard – more correctly an SNJ-5 - in Florida with Jack Kehoe.  We practically wore out Bartow airfield flying circuits, practising forced landings, emergencies, aerobatics etc.  I made two trips over to fly with Jack (now my honorary uncle) to get the initial core time under my belt.  It was an excellent grounding on the aeroplane.

Renowned Spitfire display pilot and RAF Instructor Charlie Brown joined the Black 6 team to fly the Messerschmitt.   Charlie heard of my Tiger Moth and Harvard flying and from thereon became my mentor.  I sought his advice and he encouraged me to get the “right type of experience” to progress further. "More aerobatic experience next Howard".

Queen of the Hurricanes

Howard poses with "Uncle" Jack Kehoe and the SNJ-5 at Kissimmee, Florida. Photo Peta Cook

I started flying a de Havilland Chipmunk and then went for intensive aerobatic training in the Slingsby Firefly with test pilot Pete Clark and also Tom Cassells (who went on to become National Aerobatic Champion).  This also gave me introductory display sequence experience.

Whilst working at Duxford I would regularly see Tim Routsis who was watching over the latest of the line of “Gate Guardian” Spitfires on test that his company Historic Flying Ltd was restoring at Audley End.  I had trained on Tiger Moths with Tim and he offered me the chance to fly his T6G Harvard “Thumper” - on condition that I trained with Charlie Brown.  Tim’s generosity in allowing me to do this was quite considerable and it gave me a tremendous boost along the way.  

Charlie set about getting rid of my American-style "racetrack" and-straight-in approaches , teaching me to fly curved fighter approaches and introducing fighter handling. This was the greatest single change to my flying and brought my skills to another level.  Tiger Moth flying – wonderful, Black 6 work in the display environment – excellent.  Training with Charlie in the Harvard – priceless.

Harvard 

One step closer now. Howard Cook gets set to take off in the T-6G Harvard at Duxford - on his way up by the wartime route! Photo: Peta Cook

Behind a Merlin – Back to Kissimmee

In the late 90s I could have flown in a 2-seat Spitfire, but from my perspective it had two things against it at the time.  Firstly, my personal target was to solo a Spit first time out as it was done in the 1940s.  Secondly, I would not be allowed to take off or land it – which somewhat defeated the purpose from my point of view.  So where could I take off and land sitting behind a Merlin? Stallion 51 and Lee Lauderback was the answer.  In preparation for this, Mark Hanna advised me and would let me hangar fly his P-51 Big Beautiful Doll.  I was soon flying circuits in my sleep.  I wanted to be well prepared as I had a VERY finite budget and wanted to maximise the value of my flying time with Lee. Take offs and landings - lots of them - emergencies, general handling, aerobatics, unusual attitudes etc.  Lee helped me develop the training profile that I wanted to fly and I completed my front seat checkout.  The experience of looking out over the nose of the Mustang and then flying behind the Merlin, the general handing and instruction from Lee, all were of the very highest quality.  The instruction was so good that my wife Peta also did the eight hours of ground school with me – and then looped and rolled the TF-51 herself.   I felt that I was on my way now with this six hours of Mustang experience.  This is not part of the normal Duxford route but to me it was worth every penny.

Mustang

Howard fires up Crazy Horse, one of two P-51 Mustang two seaters owned by Stallion 51 for dual training and "once in a lifetime" flying experiences.  Instructor Lee Lauderback sits in the back seat. Photo: Peta Cook

Charlie Brown’s Flying Circus

Back at Duxford, I was assisting Charlie Brown to convert Spitfire owners such as Karel Bos and Andrew Torr to their new aeroplanes.  I would help with some of the flying with the prospective convert and assist with the ground school in what was to become known as Charlie Brown’s Flying Circus.  The Spitfire conversion syllabus commenced with flying in the front seat of the Chipmunk before moving into the rear seat to simulate the lack of visibility of the Spitfire.  It was then into the front and then the rear seat of the Harvard before moving on.  The next stage was Charlie’s eight page written test on Spitfire handling before going “live” -  tying the Spitfire down and running the engine to take off boost.  This was followed later by a warm start and taxiing the Spitfire to get used to the lack of visibility and the brakes – more of that later.  If this was completed to Charlie’s satisfaction, he would advise the Spitfire’s insurers that “the candidate is ready for first solo”. Any of the ducks not lined up would halt progression to the Spitfire and additional training would be given.  The Chipmunk-Harvard-Spitfire route is the usual at Duxford.

His next recommendation was for me to start formation training.  I trained every week and then formed and led a Tiger Moth 4-ship display team called “Little Diamond”.   I also became a CAA-approved Air Display Director to gain experience of the organisational side of running displays and did this for 6 years. Poacher turned Gamekeeper!

I continued training with Charlie whenever possible in the Chipmunk or Harvard to develop my display flying skills further and helped in any way required with the operational running of HAC.  I learned a great deal about the practicalities of operating the Spitfire and whenever time permitted, I was "hangar flying" in the Mk.V - learning the numbers and videoing the cockpit for homework.

The Harvard is still the best trainer to get used to the speed and handling of the Spitfire.  The speed for the downwind turn and into finals and the landing are the same for the Harvard as for the Mk.V Spitfire - abeam threshold 100mph reducing speed to 80mph over the numbers for a 3-pointer.  In the Harvard, in a crosswind you must get rid of any drift or it can bite hard - excellent preparation for the narrow undercarriage of the Spitfire. The Chipmunk is also an excellent trainer for landing technique and for the energy management required for an aerobatic display. For me, the Chipmunk is the greatest light aircraft of all time – a real mini-Spit and the "best bang for the buck"  formation trainer there is.  Get out of position in a Chipmunk in a Box 4 (Diamond) at 100 ft in a display and you will never get back in – so you had better stay in position.

Chipmunk

Howard snugs in close the camera ship in the de Havilland Chipmunk - with wife Peta in the rear seat. Photo via Howard Cook:

Training and practice Venue

I am very fortunate to be flying historic types that are based at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The airfield is steeped in an historic aircraft operating culture.  The skilled team in the tower know that a Spitfire will overheat on the ground and will not keep you waiting behind a Cessna as a result – and know that you need to “run and break” (low and over) to keep in tight to the circuit for landing.  Local airspace enables a typical display practice sortie – what most of us are flying for – to consist of an off-circuit practice followed by a practice to our Display Authorisation approval heights in the Duxford overhead that its Rule 5 airspace provides.  This gives excellent maximum value for a comparatively short sortie.  The airfield also has grass runways, and hard ones for when it gets too soggy in winter!  It is a first class training venue as a result of all of the above factors, together with the mentors previously mentioned all being Duxford-based pilots.  A true “Field of Dreams”

Homework

For any conversion-to-type, I will get hold of as much preparatory material as I can.  In the case of the Spitfire V, the Manual (RAF Museum) and the excellent Crecy Publications copies of the original Pilots Notes are priceless.  I also read any flight test reports on the aeroplane and there are a number of them (including mine!)   What you are also looking for is not just the numbers but the FEELING of what they are like to fly.

I will do all of this prep for weeks; read the flight tests and watch any of the many in-cockpit videos that I have; morning and evening.  Not only do these videos “give you the numbers” but they also set you off with a mental visualization of your own flight.  This costs almost nothing but is worth so much to set you towards a safe completion of your goal.  I even have a poster of the Shuttleworth Collection Mk.V cockpit on the door in my toilet!  It is now a pleasure to help advise and encourage those that are moving up themselves with the prep that I go through with each new type.

I will regularly sit in the cockpit of the aeroplane that I am converting to and go through the drills.  It costs nothing but is invaluable practice. 

With as much as is humanly possible done in preparation all you have to do, as one friend quipped, is  “just get in and fly it Howard”

Charlie Bown

Last minute instructions. Mustachioed Charlie Brown offers some final tips and instructions to Howard Cook prior to take-off.  Photo Peta Cook

Spitfire First Solo day

With all of the check marks in the right boxes, the Spit solo day starts with a check flight flown in the rear seat of the Chipmunk. All of the Unusual Attitudes, PFLs, Harvard time and other training and testing prep is completed before the day.  The Chipmunk sortie gives a chance to get a feel for the weather on the day, particularly the wind – and in my case on my Spitfire solo day, the rain and condition of the field.

The Spitfire is taken to a tie down point where it is possible to go through all of the drills; start up, pre-take off  and getting used to the brain-rattling noise of running up to take off power.  This is a first class lead-in to the first flight.  You feel something close to shock when you get out of the cockpit after running to this level of power with the 1,400 hp supercharged Merlin of the Mk Vb. 

After the tie down run, the aeroplane is allowed to cool down while we adjourn for a spot of lunch. The tie downs are then taken off and the next phase gives the opportunity for a warm start in the Spitfire which, if done wrong, can produce flames from the exhaust stacks. 

A taxi run down the runway enables you to get used to the good old British hand- and foot -activated pneumatic differential brakes and the 3 point landing view - or lack of it.  The Spitfire is very nose heavy and great care is necessary.  It is therefore a case of being very light on the brakes – personally I use one finger to activate the brake lever on the famous “spade” grip.  Carelessness will result in an expensive nose over – at the cost of $10,000 per propeller blade.

The typically thorough brief with Charlie for the flight then takes place.  Here we refer to the eight page “Charlie Brown test” that runs through the numbers and relates them to the sortie profile.  I knew them forwards, backwards and sideways.
 
•    Start up, taxi and take off (SUTTO)
•    Climb,
•    medium and steep turns,
•    clean stall,
•    stall in the approach configuration.
•    Simulated circuits - these are flown at medium level
•    Going around - practiced at medium level. 
•    Recovery to join from “initials” for a fighter circuit and landing
If in doubt there is no doubt. Go AROUND. Rejoin and try again.

My wife (and Vintage Wings volunteer) Peta was along with me crewing and also filming video for the post-flight critique. 

I walked out to BM597 – a Mark V Spitfire waiting on the Duxford grass FOR ME.  The magnificently original cockpit of BM597, even complete with a working gunsight, was familiar from hours of hangar-flying but this time it was for real.  I strapped into the seat parachute and no matter how many times you hear it about the Spit, it IS like strapping the wings on.  The strangest part was having Charlie help me strap in after all of the years of me helping him.

Spitfire Cockpit

The cockpit of Spitfire BM597. photo: Howard Cook

Ready to Start

I went through my pre start checks. No checklists here, all in the head working left to right, the only paper in the cockpit was a map.  No checklists is Standard Ops at Duxford as preferred by Charlie and John Romain and is fine if you are not flying a fleet of different types.  Cockpit checks left-to-right then recheck the brakes last thing, Brakes ON Parking catch ON. Throttle already set.  Pointed right finger circling overhead, good look around the nose and "CLEAR PROP".  Right fingers on the start and boost coil buttons, left fingers by the mags, stick back by holding it between the knees.  A whirring sound and a few blades turn and the boost coil pings, smoke out of the left rear exhaust,  catch it on No.1 mag then No. 2, the whole aeroplane shakes and I can feel the power of the Merlin tremble through the airframe. 

Merlin running smoothly. Pitot heat check, Signal to groundrew (Charlie - my groundcrew!) verified. Flaps hissing away DOWN/UP, radiator open all verified and check pneumatic pressures. Get an early start on my pre take off checks with the exception of the throttle friction that I would need looser to taxi.  All OK. Radio call "Duxford Spitfire Golf-Mike-Kilo-Victor-Bravo (appropriate for a Mk.Vb) - Radio check and taxi" Calling up "Spitfire" – how good does that sound?  Approved.  Signal chocks clear and taxi out, a nod to Charlie and Peta.  As I taxied out for my first Spitfire solo I felt as prepared as I could possibly be. Then check brakes, compass and rad temp, keep the stick hard back throughout,  if I could pull it back further through the seat pan I would!  Close the canopy as I can feel drops of rain – again.  Particular attention to radiator temperature as the Mk.V only has one radiator unlike the two of Vintage Wings Mk.XVI. 

Pre-Take Off TTMMPPFFGGHH

At the hold – watch the temps, better get this moving. Stick HARD back. Caution for the potential nose-over and Run up to 1, 800 rpm, Mag check 75 rpm drop each side, Propellor back to 1,400 rpm with Charlie`s words in my head "with mechanical empathy".  Gently, Gently.  All OK. Verify TTMMPPFFGGHH (Trim-Throttle-Mixture-Mags-Primer-Prop-Fuel-Flaps-Gauges-Gyros-Harness-Hatches) making sure that the throttle friction is REALLY tight so that it does not vibrate closed when I change hands to bring up the undercarriage.  Rad temp 100ºC.

"Duxford Spitfire Victor Bravo ready for departure".  Lined up at the end of the runway, I took in the picture that I would have – hopefully - on landing, i.e the ground in relation to the exhaust stacks and the view either side of the very long nose to the horizon for pointers to detect any swing. I put the stick over to the right even though I had a left hand crosswind, this to offset the torque that would try to drive the port undercarriage into the grass.  Quick take off self-brief in case I lost the engine "Stay alive at Ninety Five (mph)" – i.e. the clean glide speed)

"Spitfire Victor Bravo take off".  Last look around.  Let`s go! Deep breath. 

Power - balance it – NOISE, Power - balance it – NOISE, very slightly forward on the stick to get the tail 12-18" off the ground, power + 4, MORE NOISE - not enough, + 8 EVEN MORE NOISE and she flies off beautifully in only a few seconds from a standing start.  Let it settle just to make sure the throttle friction does not vibrate closed.  Passing Duxford`s Land Warfare Hall brakes ON/OFF, change hands - throttle hand to stick, stick hand to undercarriage. Lever Down “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand”, undercarriage lever out of the gate, Lever UP, “one thou....two thou... three thou…” This was the part I was most concerned with. I had seen a Spit on a first solo have its gear stuck half-way and heard of another jamming its gear through too rapid selection.

I was relieved to find the system had good "feel".  Red light on “UP”, IDLE in the gate, mechanical indicators in the wings flush, T`s & P`s , Rad temp, Decrease Manifold Propellor (DMP) Throttle to + 4lbs boost,  Rpm to 2400, speed to 170 mph, right turn to avoid Fowlmere.  Climb away looking back at Duxford.  Oh yes – BREATHE!

It was hectic but as practiced in the cockpit time and time again.  I looked out at the wing, that beautiful famous wing and thought of what Tim Routsis, Founder of Historic Flying had said to me, that at this time no one could take this moment away. Then off to crack on with the job in hand. Immediate reaction - Wow! You can fly this one-handed, very pitch sensitive and any power change has a big effect on trim.

I did a 360 to look for clear areas with the shower activity that was around and levelled off at 4,000 ft and brought the Merlin back to cruise, +1 lbs boost and 2,000 rpm and still stonking along at 210 mph (180 knots).

Harvard 

BM597 in flight, though not with Howard at the controls.  The beautiful lines of the Mk V Spitfire can make a grown man cry and a pilot's heart race. BM597 is painted in the markings it wore during the Second World War with a Polish squadron in the RAF - hence the Polish checkers on its nose. Photo Uwe Glaser

My next reaction was that most of Cambridgeshire was blocked out by the nose. Purring along at 3 miles a minute, one can get lost in a hurry.  I started to do a series of S turns keeping it in balance, 30/45º and 60º S`s keeping a glance on the turn and slip needles which are the same as in the Tiger Moth. Had a bit too much rudder trim on so took this off. I could hear a hissing noise so I checked to see if the pneumatic pressures were OK - then I realised that the noise was the speed of the slipstream around the armoured glass windscreen.

I was heading up-sun around the RAF Henlow area keeping out of any controlled airspace. I pulled a tight 360 and did my HASELL (Height/Airframe/Security/Engine /Location/Lookout) checks before putting the prop back up to 2,400 and started to bring the power back and increase the pitch angle for the clean stall. The nose seemed ridiculously high with clear stick shake before the Spit departed in a very benign fashion. Unload, rudder as required, power and climb away.  

I then set up for a practice circuit at 4,800 ft, join at 210 mph, reduce to 160 mph, gear DOWN one thou...two thou....three thou... I could feel the gear move up off the locks then down.  BUMPFHH (Brakes/Undercarriage/Mixture/Prop/Fuel/Harness/Hatches) – more of that later in the circuit phase. Reduce the speed to 100 mph and abeam the imaginary threshold Flaps DOWN. Retrim 90 mph curved approach down to 80 mph at 4000 ft and then practice the flare – a small cloud is great practice,  keeping VFR of course!  Lots of movement on the stick and it still had plenty of controllability in pitch.  I then took it well past the flare with the nose way high and felt the stall with lots of warning at under 65 mph. Awesome, what a speed range!  405 mph VNE to under 65 mph stall, quite a job designer RJ Mitchell did in 1935/36.

I recovered from the 25º wing drop coming off another benign stall, Standard Stall Recovery and climbed away.  This was unlike my experience in the Mustang which, with its Laminar Flow wing, almost inverts when it stalls in approach configuration.   I tidied up the airframe and said to myself "now I am going to enjoy myself", flying a gentle practice display routine on this first time, putting together some nice high aspect 110º wingovers and some 360`s aiming to hit my slipstream at the entry/exit point. It certainly accelerates downhill in a hurry. I then just looked up and down at the beautiful elliptical wing against the blue sky or over a local village - Excalibur lives!  “[You're SO British Howard - ed] The Mustang can require two hands, but the Spitfire handles beautifully one-handed.  It had so much power yet felt so light. 

Polish pilots

BM597 during the Second World War. Here Polish armourers from 315 Squadron, RAF tinker with her Browning machine guns while another airman gets the "Warsaw Cut" by the tail.  Photo via Howard Cook

Return to base

Look at the watch, Damn! – time to go back to base.  Joining checks - FIRA  Fuel/Instruments/Radio/Altitude plus Rad Flap.  I opened the radiator manually with the handbrake type lever by my left leg to give the engine more of a chance to cool.  Running in for the break, curving around the hangar at the Eastern end of Duxford, not too fast as I have to slow this beauty down to land and I want to give myself a chance.  “Duxford Spitfire Victor Bravo running in”.  Run and break (low and over) at 220 mph pulling up and right into the circuit. 

In the Downwind "Spitfire Victor Bravo RH Downwind to land".  I put the prop up to 2400 rpm to help the undercarriage lowering. BUMPFHH  Brakes ON/OFF - air pressure check – Lever forward Gear off the locks one thou...two thou...three thou...out of the gate Undercarriage DOWN. Green light, “Idle” in the selector gate, red mechanical indicators sticking up out of the top of the wing as they should be. Mixture AUTO, Prop FULLY FINE, Fuel ON (no boost pump on this Vb unlike some), Harness, Hatches. Speed coming back nice and early, trim, 100mph abeam threshold Flaps DOWN turn in , retrim. I say to myself “Down/Idle/in the Gate/Indicators”, as I said earlier it is like learning a song but you cannot pay lip service to these checks.

“Duxford Spitfire Finals with the gear”, check brake pressures again, 90 mph approach at 250 ft key point halfway around the curve approach, keep turning. 85 mph near the threshold, a tad too fast and the Spit will float forever so an early call  (If in doubt there is no doubt) "Spitfire Victor Bravo going round".  Smoothly to +4 lbs boost, climb, stable trimmed gear UP.  I called Charlie in his spot in the Tower. "Spitfire Victor Bravo fast below 250".  Charlie would know what that was from the brief. Safe height Flaps UP.

I called "clearing to the North" as I would have to cool down the single radiator engine for a few minutes, what a shame! A few more minutes in the Spit.  I then called for rejoin.  “Initials” and run and break again. Looking down I could see two Duxford fire trucks on the apron waiting as is modus operandi for Tyro (new) fighter pilots at Duxford.  BUMPFHH in the Downwind again. Gear DOWN Down/Idle/in the Gate/Indicators. I slowed down to 100 mph well in advance of the threshold to keep ahead of the aeroplane.  Abeam Threshold 100 mph Flaps DOWN, look at the indications for the gear "Spitfire Finals with the gear”.  Turning and keeping a little height in hand, trimmed early and with a trickle of power.  85 mph approach speed passing 200ft looks good and feels at this slow speed like the Spit is on rails, turning just before the numbers 80mph and still turning slightly before straightening up the last few degrees at 50 ft - sight picture - gentle flare as she is so pitchy - grass in focus - pitch attitude - edge of the runways keeping in place peripherally - gently - gently - down on 3 points, close the throttle, running straight and staying down, then gradually stick hard back during the roll and keep it there. The feeling reminded me of a child walking with stiff legs from side to side – such is the narrow undercarriage. The Spitfire tracked straight with a slight swing as it hit some of the ruts caused by heavier fighters landing on the grass. Catch it with a nudge of right brake (one finger on the hand brake and right rudder) and then stop.

DCO – Duty Carried Out

"Phew!"  I turned off, called “Vacated” and put the flaps up.  Immediately I was aware of the rad temperature which was climbing now without the airflow surging through it.  Canopy back I taxied back to my slot in front of the tower savouring the Merlin`s noise crackling in my ears - this was wonderful. Relief but it’s not over until I have parked.  Give the fire crews a thumbs up as they flash their headlights at me - great professionals to have around. 

I taxied up and waited for a Tiger Moth to move out of the way, appropriate given how I started on the way to the Spit.  I taxied in, signal clenched fist to the crew Brakes ON and then run for one minute, Rad temp 105º C, quick look round and all OK so I pulled the cut-off ring and the Merlin fell silent. Battery  Master OFF, Ground/Flight - GROUND.  Signal thumbs down and call “All Off”.  Although finished I still had an couple of looks around the cockpit to be sure all was complete.  I rested my head on the cockpit frame in the silence with the sound of pinging in my ears from the Merlin’s hot exhausts.

Charlie came over and appropriately, as the one who kicked me out of the nest, was the first to congratulate.  "Well done - very good decision on the go round... well stabilised on landing, excellent".

HAC Principal Angus Spencer-Nairn had said to me that I would feel a mixture of exhilaration and relief.  My greatest relief was that my instructor, mentor and friend Charlie Brown was pleased with my performance.  I wanted this first solo to be perfect, to reflect our working together – the “Excellent” signed in my log book shows I must have been OK – even if I was Charlie’s 13th trained Spitfire pilot.

I soloed the Spitfire 60 years after they went into combat in the Second World War.  To fly the aeroplane is one thing but to go into combat with it is another.  Victor or vanquished the men that did so have my very greatest respect.

It is not a case of just "Howard Cook flies a Spitfire" as it just does not happen on your own. I have flown with many great instructors and mentors.  It was their ability and encouragement that set me on my way and I am only as good as the help that I got.  It would not have been possible without the support of my wife Peta who made it very much of a team effort all the way.  It was Angus Spencer-Nairn and Guy and Janice Black that made it possible in the end in allowing me to fly their magnificent and rare early Spitfire Mk.V.   Unless you own it, one cannot just walk into a Spit, one has to be invited.  Flying these rare fighters in the 21st century makes you full of appreciation to be one of a very lucky few.

 

Howard Cook

 

Hurrican

Howard Cook flying the Hawker Hurricane near Valleta, Malta during the Merlins Over Malta. Many well known and even unknown Canadians fought in the skies of Malta - including George Beurling, Bob Middlemiss, Wally McLeod, Buck McNair, and David Rouleau.

Queen of the Hurricanes

Howard Cook has gone on to fly vintage aircraft of all types - a testament to his ability and thoroughness is his being invited to fly the Hawker Nimrod. Here he pauses for the camera before climbing into the cockpit. Photo Richard Mallory Allnutt

Nimrod

Howard Cook flying the Hawker Nimrod at Duxford this fall. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Howard

Howard readies himself to fly the Vintage Wings of Canada Harvard at Classic Air Rallye 2008. Photo: Peter Handley

Flying

Cook rips it up at Classic Air Rallye. Photo: George Mayer

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