Battle of Britain ace from South Cambridgeshire flies in Spitfire once again - aged 99!
Biggin Hill heritage hangar helps Archie McInnes take to the skies over Kent once more
A Battle of Britain ace was given the chance to take to the skies once more thanks to the generosity of a former commercial pilot who rebuilds fighter planes at Biggin Hill in Kent.
Archie McInnes, from Great Eversden, who lost his left arm during the Second World War and flew Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, is now 99.
But, helped by aviation enthusiast Jonny Cracknell, and Peter Monk, owner of the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and who runs Flyaspitfire.com, Mr McInnes enjoyed the opportunity to get back into the skies over Kent.
Mr McInnes, who was visibly moved by his experience and the generosity of Mr Monk, said: “It was wonderful and my flight in the Spitfire brought back many, many memories from the past, particularly seeing the Hurricane formatting alongside. My very real thanks to Jonny and Peter and all those that made it happen.”
Mr McInnes was joined in the air by Sqn Ldr ‘Smithy’ Smith (OC, BBMF 2009-2012) now RAF Typhoon Display Team supervisor and as a special treat Mr Monk also sent up his Hurricane to fly in formation so Archie could see his favourite aircraft alongside.
Mr McInnes was a Hurricane pilot with 601 (for two weeks) and 238 Squadrons during the Battle of Britain. He stayed with 238 after the battle when the squadron was then posted to the Middle East – until he was shot down and lost his arm. He went back to flying his old faithful Hurricane once he designed his own prosthetic arm.
Although a Hurricane pilot, Mr McInnes has a few hours on Spitfires logged in 1941 and was happy to perform a few Victory rolls during his trip.
Mr Monk paid all the costs associated with getting Mr McInnes into one of BHHH’s two seater spitfires, MJ627, and allowing their hurricane to fly alongside.
He said: “I was contacted by Sqn Ldr Ian Smith, ex-Battle of Britain Memorial Flight pilot based at RAF Coningsby, who had recently met Archie on a visit to the BBMF hangar. Ian was surprised at how fit Archie was and contacted us to see if it would be possible for him to visit our Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill. We always welcome veterans from the land, sea or air services of any nation. After an internet search I could see Archie was very fit and agile for someone in their late 90s and suggested to Ian that we offer him a ride in our two seat Spitfire at Biggin Hill.
“We have given many veterans the opportunity to fly over the last four years of operating the two seat Spitfire. All the veterans we have met are humble about their achievements and the sacrifices that they have made and are very appreciative of being given the opportunity of a flight.
“I’m in the very fortunate position of operating such an iconic aircraft and believe it should be the very least we can do for them and the cost should be of no consideration.
“We will continue to reach out to our veterans to thank them by offering them the chance to come and see our Spitfire restoration projects and fly in a Spitfire from historic Biggin Hill. The Spitfire is a worldwide icon created by British ingenuity and reinforced by the efforts and sacrifices made by the people involved in the manufacture and operation of these aircraft.”
The trip was part of the 78th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, much of which took place in the skies above Kent and out at sea over the Channel.
The battle was the first major campaign to be fought entirely in the skies and 544 RAF pilots and aircrew lost their lives defending the nation from the beginnings of what was meant to be a German invasion of the British Isles.
The fighting ran from July 10 until October 31, 1940, but its climax was September 15. Subsequently known in the UK as ‘Battle of Britain Day’, this was when the RAF effectively hammered the last nails into the Luftwaffe coffin, ending any realistic prospect of Operation Sealion winning.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously spoke of those who fought, saying: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”