Flying home to Goodwood

PUBLISHED: 12:46 17 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013

Flying home to Goodwood

Flying home to Goodwood

Before the motor racing, Goodwood had an airfield which became RAF Westhampnett, home to Spitfire squadrons in the Second World War. Here Paul Beaver recounts flying one of these iconic aircraft back to Sussex

The patchwork of fields in northern Jutland flash by the elliptical wing of the Spitfire in an almost mesmerising fashion. The incredible feeling of flying this iconic aeroplane sends a pilot into reverie.

We were flying one of Britains classic fighter aeroplanes, in this case the Boultbee Flight Academys two-seat Spitfire TR9, known as Gilda because of its call-sign Golf India Lima Delta Alpha.

The radio cut into my thoughts. In the front, Matt Jones had been speaking to Aalborg Approach for a clearance to refuel in the northern Danish city airport.

Golf Delta Alpha, please confirm that you are a Spitfire.a real Spitfireone of those old ones? said the controller. Then you are doubly welcome.

And that attitude and kindness summed up the ferry flight from Kjevik, the airport for Kristiansand to Gildas new home at the almost as iconic grass airfield of Goodwood, that gem in the Sussex countryside.

Goodwood airfield started life as RAF Westhampnett, the home of Spitfire squadrons during the Second World War and the place from which the legendary Douglas Bader left on his fateful last operational flight in August 1941. It is fitting then to have a Spitfire there.

Gilda is an unusual Spitfire. She is a two-seat trainer which although she didnt see war service in Europe, was used to train South African pilots going to fight in Korea in the early 1950s.

Today, she is marked in honour of the South African Air Force pilots who flew with the Allies against the Axis Powers in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and she carries her military serial number of SM520.

After Aalborg, we flew south across the open country of Denmark, skirting the major towns and being kept informed of glider and balloon activity by the ever-helpful Danish air traffic controllers.

Then, after another hour in the sky, Gilda flew into German airspace and approached the port city of Bremerhaven for a suck of fuel. The Germans welcomed us with open arms and within minutes of our departure, photographs appeared on the airports Facebook site.

Gilda takes aviation gasoline at 100 octanes low-lead and this is becoming a rare commodity across Europe. She carries 93 Imperial gallons of avgas in five tanks in the wings and forward fuselage. She also has a capacious appetite for oil for her 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. From Bremerhaven, the flying becomes even more interesting. The route to the Dutch airfield at Texel took us down the Friesland islands. It was one of those rare days of blissful sunshine and soft winds and we made the most of the unrestricted flying: tourists walking their dogs on a beach may well have seen a victory roll.

Texel is one of the gems of European aviation; a huge grass airfield which beckons private pilots from Denmark in the North to France in the south. It doesnt often get a Spitfire but the long runways made it perfect for another refuelling stop for Gilda and the crew Dutch apple pie!

One of the pleasures of flying this iconic machine in the airspace of
those liberated by its stablemates seven decades ago is that everyone wants to see it. De Kooy naval air station was no exception:

Spitfire, you are cleared to transit military airspace but a fly-by would also be appreciated, said the controller who could hardly keep the glee out of his voice.

From Texel to the Belgian border, the ferry pilot has two choices; to skirt the Amsterdam-Schiphol terminal manoeuvring area (known as the TMA) go east across the polders and miss the spectacular golden beaches, or, yes, thats right, down the beaches, avoiding the TMA by flying under it.

Late afternoon walkers on the beach waved and we waggled Gildas wings. What a day to be flying and what a machine to be doing it in!

Belgium has a number of small airfields and a thriving aero club circuit. For the next refuelling stop, we had been recommended to Kortrijk. We found it easier to explain to air traffic that we wanted clearance to EBKT as I am not sure our non-existent Flemish accents would get the inflection right!

Departing Kortrijk on the final leg to Goodwood, the control tower signed off with thank goodness that somebody invented the Spitfire you are welcome back anytime.

The final leg would take us through French airspace and the need to avoid the nuclear power station at Gravelines before turning north towards the White Cliffs. The crossing just under a quarter of an hour and then it was left and down the coast. Can there be any way better to see the White Cliffs, the Seven Sisters including Beachy Head and the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust site at Capel le Ferne? A long circuit of the latter should be mandatory for any Spitfire flying over.

Finally, with just 25 miles to run, we climbed up into the evening sky and called Goodwood. The tower team had stayed to ensure we were welcomed in style and in style we arrived.

With the sun low in the sky, an iconic grass airfield and the thought of cool beer, Gilda arrived at her new home after nearly six hours of elapsed air time with two tired but completely wired pilots.

Thank you, Gilda for bringing us home safely the big Merlin engine never missed a beat.

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