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Flying Spitfire for charity ‘delightful’, says former RAF pilot, 102

A 102-year-old former RAF man who took to the sky in a Spitfire described the experience being back behind the controls as “absolutely delightful”.

Jack Hemmings, a former RAF squadron leader, is believed to be the oldest pilot to fly the Second World War aircraft in a bid to raise money for a charity he co-founded nearly 80 years ago.

The flight on Monday was the first time he flew a Spitfire.

Speaking at the Biggin Hill airfield before his flight, Mr Hemmings said when offered a flight he “seized it with both hands” and was looking forward to “just enjoying the feeling of the controls in this famous aeroplane”.

“It’s a nice feeling swooping around in the air which you can do in this,” he said.

After the journey, the grandfather-of-three described the experience as “very bumpy”, adding: “To be honest (it was) slightly heavier than I expected but we were flying about 210 knots faster than I normally used to fly at in my air force days.

“To be honest it felt a bit rusty. Not surprising I am rusty.”

Mr Hemmings, who was supported by his son Adrian at the heritage site, hopes to celebrate the occasion with “a bit of a beverage of sorts”.

Deputy chief pilot at Biggin Hill, Barry Hughes, who accompanied Mr Hemmings in the jet, said he had a “natural touch”.

He said: “With Jack’s history of aviation he’s a remarkable gentleman and it’s an honour to be able to fly.

102-year-old flies Spitfire
Jack Hemmings, 102, prepares to fly the Spitfire (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“I think he really enjoyed every single moment of the flight.”

On Mr Hemmings taking over the controls, Mr Hughes added: “He didn’t need any instruction really, he just took control, flown us around, made some turnings and basic manoeuvres.”

Mr Hemmings is raising money for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), a humanitarian air service he launched in the aftermath of the Second World War alongside D-day veteran Stuart King.

The flight marks the 80th anniversary year of the D-day landings as well as paying tribute to Mr King, a former RAF engineer who died in 2020.

The pair took on the first British mission to survey the humanitarian needs of isolated communities across Central Africa in 1948, visiting more than 100 aid and mission outposts.

102-year-old flies Spitfire
Jack Hemmings flew the Spitfire plane to mark 80th anniversary of the military charity Mission Aviation Fellowship (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Hemmings, who became an accountant after the RAF, recalled the survey was “full of interest, every day we flew was somewhere new”.

MAF grew into a Christian organisation that uses planes to deliver relief, medicine and emergency cargo to more than 25 low-income countries.

Mr Hemmings was awarded the Air Force Cross for exemplary gallantry while flying for when he was stationed in India during the Second World War.

With the 353 Squadron, he flew the Lockheed Hudson aircraft to protect the Bay of Bengal from a Japanese invasion.

Mr Hemming, who lives in Horam, east Sussex, previously performed aerobatics on his 100th birthday and raised more than £40,000 for MAF.

He has set up a Justgiving page to raise at least £2,000 from Monday’s flight.