hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Gilze-Rijen Air Base. Netherlands. 4 June.  Spitfire.  The hum turns into a choral roar.  Over the tree-top an iconic shape makes it entry soaring for a moment and then bearing down upon me in majesty and triumph.  She roars over my head no more than eighty metres above the unforgiving runway next to which I am standing, the symphonic scream of her Rolls Royce Merlin engine for a brief moment drowning out the twenty-first century with a sound that belongs ever so far away but which still means so much to so many. 
It is hard to believe what this eighty-year old technology can do but a Spitfire in the right hands remains a honed thoroughbred of the sky.  She pitches, rolls and climbs and swallow dives as though this is the day she first joined her RAF squadron back in 1943.  For those of us of a certain age and provenance even the sound is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.  This is a mystical old 'bird' the wings of which beat with history. 
Today I had the very distinct privilege of attending my own exclusive Spitfire air show.  The Royal Netherlands Historical Flight are a small, well-respected and utterly committed group of heritage professionals who devote much of their time and a lot of their money to keeping this beautiful aircraft aloft.  As one of them said to me, "you can start a billionaire in this business and soon end up a millionaire".  I am lucky enough to have Air Commodore Chris Lorraine, the 'other' Spitfire pilot explain every move but in truth the old girl does all the speaking for herself.     
Spitfire may be a weapon of war and this one certainly had her fair share of 'kills', including two over the D-Day beaches.  However, not only was she a decisive weapon at a critical moment for freedom she is just one hell of an aeroplane - a joy in peacetime to behold. 
Having rolled back the years Spitfire climbs triumphantly into a victory roll and the moment is just long enough to savour before the twenty-first century rolls back upon me.
At the end of the show I thank the pilot for the experience. Lt Colonel Koos de Rooy of the Royal Netherlands Air Force pauses; "do not thank me, thank the Spitfire".  How right he is. 
Thank you for the privilege gentlemen.

Julian Lindley-French  

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