Former Spitfire pilot Brian Bird, now 90, has been reunited with one of the iconic planes he flew over Italy at the end of WW2.
The Mais House resident was thrilled to take to the skies in a Spitfire once more and had “the great honour” of being piloted by Air Marshall Sir Cliff Spink.
Brian was driven up to Duxford by manager Chris Turnbull and suddenly spotted the amazing plane “gracefully” sitting on the airfield.
“No reader will ever experience the degree of thrill I felt inside me at that moment and it boosted my resolve to overcome my disabilities and get airborne,” he said.
Brian was then introduced to a number of visitors, including Gulf war pilot John Nichol, and enjoyed telling them stories.
He continued: “At the conclusion of my long question and answer session some airmen appeared with a flying suit and helmet. Of course I knew what that meant...This was followed by three hefty pilots bodily lifting me to the platform at the top of the ladder and guiding first one foot into the cockpit and then my other. At this point I lowered myself onto the parachute which was already in position on the seat and the pilot leant into the cockpit and helped to do up first my parachute harness and then my seat harness. What I didn’t realise at that moment was that the pilot was none other than Air Marshall Sir Cliff Spink and of course when I later learnt this I felt unimaginable pride. Not knowing that I was talking to such a high powered officer on the aircraft radio I might have been less forward in demonstrating to him that I was quickly becoming re-acquainted with the instrument panel by pointing out that the oil gauge on my panel was showing only 20° whereas it should have been 50° before engine warming-up had been completed. He replied “Not bad for a 90 year old memory!” I was later alleged to have said, in front of everybody, after landing, “I didn’t find the landing of especially high quality” which brought gales of laughter, including from Sir Cliff.
Now a few words about my emotions as Sir Cliff opened the throttle and the wonderful sound of the merlin engine filled my ears. As I watched all the instruments my thoughts went back 70 years to the early morning when I took off on my first operation over the German lines and like that far off morning when I had no nerves so it was as I gazed down at the Cambridgeshire countryside. When we returned to the ground I did summon up sufficient courage to point out to Sir Cliff that on one particular turn he did he skidded... Fortunately he was highly impressed that I had remembered so much about the instrument panel and I must admit it added a lot of pleasure to the trip that I found all the instruments so familiar.
When the engine was shut down I wound back the hood and undid my safety straps just as I used to do in wartime. In a sense I was very disappointed that the trip had only been for twenty minutes but nonetheless I was grateful to the authorities for having such an opportunity at my age.” Brian added that he was “very reassured” to discover his was “an unerring appetite” for flying which had not diminished.