Here at the Boultbee Flight Academy we not only offer Spitfire flight experiences to the general public from an ever-increasing number of locations, we train Spitfire pilots. The cold winter months have seen our Spitfire TR9 fly a busy programme of pilot training up at IWM Duxford, kindly hosted by our friends at The Aircraft Restoration Company. (Remember that you can book a Spitfire flight at Duxford here).
We believe we're the only flight academy in the world that trains Spitfire pilots today, and couldn't be prouder to announce that one of our very own team has just soloed a Spitfire for the very first time!
Many dream of taking control of a Spitfire for themselves (and we allow most of our passengers this opportunity during their flight, even non-pilots), but it's a privileged and talented few that can record a Spitfire flight in their logbook as 'pilot-in-command'. Not only are you taking control of one of history's most beautiful aircraft and a slice of British wartime history, but these days you're being entrusted with an iconic aircraft of not inconsiderable value (in the range of £1-4m depending on type and condition).
Our Operations Manager Tim Granshaw set his sights on becoming a Spitfire pilot more than 15 years ago. It's taken a combination of dogged determination, raw flying talent and an awful lot of hard work to get Tim into the front cockpit of our TR9 Spitfire 'G-ILDA' on his own. You've only got to look at that 'Spitfire smile' in the picture above to know how much this means to him!
TIM'S ROUTE TO THE SPITFIRE
It would be fair to say that Tim is obsessed with flying, and has been for some time. But whilst most of us were glueing our fingers to Airfix Spitfires and dreaming of what it might have been like to fly them, Tim was setting his life on a course that would lead him to take hold of that famous Spade grip with his right hand.
Having left school at 16 with dreams of one day becoming a Spitfire pilot Tim would start his flying career in something rather more modest (and manageable) - a Piper PA-28 Cherokee.
Having worked three jobs on the Isle of Wight where he grew up, Tim came over to 'the mainland' to train for his PPL at Goodwood Aerodrome. This box ticked he was back over the Solent for a few years at Sandown Aerodrome. He started out as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18 before moving on to his first paid position in aviation.
A job in airfield operations at Goodwood came next, followed by a new qualification as a Flight Information Service Officer (FISO) at the age of 22, which saw him graduate to the tower and get that little bit closer to the aerial action and spend less time stuck behind his desk.
Tim's Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL) was the next goal on his list, as it is for many an aspiring pilot, and with this achieved at 25 Tim would go on to become a flying instructor on Chipmunks with us at the Boultbee Flight Academy.
As Spitfire pilots and historians will attest the next step on your way to a Spitfire, then as now, would be the North American T6 Texan / Harvard, which Tim converted on to at 31. The advanced trainer introduced him to retractable undercarriage, a variable pitch propeller and crucially an increase in speed.
It was in December 2017 that Tim's time had finally come and he started his Spitfire training under the steely eyes of John Dodd (pictured above with Tim), a pilot and flying instructor with an extraordinary breadth of experience, and true passion for vintage aviation. Tim would need 10 hours in order to attain his type conversion, but the British winter weather was going to tease Tim for a few weeks yet.
Christmas 2017 saw Tim tantalisingly close to achieving his dream, but he'd have to wait until a few days after his 33rd birthday in January to strap himself back in. His training was going well, the weather was cold, and windy. And of course on the afternoon that John told Tim he was ready to solo the Spitfire, the weather gods had other ideas. The winds picked up and Tim resigned himself to an afternoon of pacing around hangars.
Until that is John and Tim wandered up to the control tower at Duxford to thank the controllers for their help, and noticed that the wind had defied all forecasts and dropped considerably, and for a little while. John turned to Tim and gave him the go ahead for a moment more than 15 years in the making - it was time for Tim to solo the Spitfire at last!
Below Tim can be seen on the upwind leg of a run-in and break, by far the easiest way to bleed off speed and bring a Spitfire into land. In Tim's own words:
Time spent in the backseat of a Chipmunk prepared me well for landing an aircraft on a runway you can't actually see! But the biggest difference is the speed. It took me some time to be comfortable with just how fast everything happens in the Spitfire
Below you see Tim overflying the runway for a run-in and break, heading towards the setting sun of a cold British January afternoon at an airbase from where many hundreds of these fighters were flown in anger, by men for the most part many years his junior.
At around 250mph there's still quite some work for Tim to do in order to land this warbird. A sharp climbing turn to the right will help him bleed about another 100mph off as he pulls around 2.5G. That's getting him close to the much lowers speeds he'll need to configure the aircraft for landing.
And now some of the numbers that Tim will have been re-reading (and probably dreaming of) endlessly for the last few months. Gear and flap limiting speed: 157mph, below that and the hydraulics can be put into action, green lights indicating all is well as the undercarriage clunks and locks into place.
Bring the power right back and prepare to deploy the flaps at the end of the downwind leg, just before completing a curved approach through base and on to final approach. 90mph is the target now as you bring the old girl ever closer to landing, with the aim being to hit 85 mph on the numbers as you land a Spitfire, gently as you can, on that notoriously narrow track undercarriage.
You're not done yet! As any pilot will tell you an aircraft needs to be flown until she's stopped and shutdown, and that's especially true with a taildragger - there's lots of rudder work to do, differential braking to use as you weave your way back (with terrible visibility) across the airfield. And assuming all has gone well, you'll have a smile on your face like the one above, because you've just become a bona fid Spitfire pilot!
SO YOU WANT TO BECOME A SPITFIRE PILOT?
Take a look at our range of Spitfire training programmes here, or call the team at our Goodwood HQ on +44(0)1243 531147 (Monday to Friday 09:00 - 18:00 UK)