Fly with Spitfires at Goodwood Aerodrome
Up in the air, the Spitfire appears out of nowhere from underneath our helicopter and coasts alongside.
We’re travelling at 110 knots above Pagham harbour, with another chopper up ahead and a Hurricane approaching from the right.
The Battle of Britain experience at Goodwood Aerodrome is majestic and rather peaceful.
During the helicopter flight over the Chichester countryside, we’re treated to fly-bys and manoeuvres from both the Spitfire and the Hurricane while airborne and hover just feet from the ground to watch them land.
Before taking to the air, there’s a chance to see the planes up close in Hangar 8.
A proud Martin Phillips tells me he spent 14 years putting together the Supermarine Spitfire from parts found as far away as Israel, Russia and Egypt but the original body was bought in Sussex.
“She’s all made in Britain and it’s all the bits put together into an aeroplane,” he said.
“When she took off, you can imagine, I was welling up.”
A former digger driver, Mr Philips said he started the project after a friend gave him a single rivet and challenge and the finished plane comprises 90 per cent original parts.
The best view, he told me, was from the inside, and to my amazement, an engineer duly pitched up with a screwdriver and took off a small side panel so I could have a look.
It’s a proper mechanical monocoque, with levers to the tailplanes and other complicated looking things – not a typical part of the experience day but intriguing.
No aviation knowledge is needed however to feel the weight of history behind the planes.
The accompanying Hurricane is the only airworthy model to have seen active service in the Second World War. It shot down five planes before ending up in India in 1943.
After more than 50 years and much negotiation with foreign authorities, the plane was returned to Britain and lovingly restored.
With the initial chat over, each passenger gets a red airside pass and a video briefing in the ‘Crew Room’ explaining the technical side of the aircraft and the route we’re going to take.
With an allowed top speed of 400mph, the war birds have to slow right down to hold steady near the slower choppers.
We board the helicopter with the blades running and everyone is escorted by staff for safety reasons, but take-off is smooth and I’m soon high above the airfield.
The pilot points out the nearby former RAF base at Tangmere, which is itself a slice of history as a key flight training centre in its day.
We hover over it to get a good look at the site while waiting for the war birds to appear.
Then it’s over to Pagham habour, the Solent and back along Chichester’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty before touching down 20 minutes later.
It’s at this point I find myself disagreeing with Mr Phillips.
The Spirtfire is beautiful in flight and watching the veteran Hurricane soar over Chichester’s stunning countryside is oddly surreal.
In all, the experience is, as promised, a piece of history brought to life.
The Battle of Britain experience is available approximately once per month until October.
For details visit www.flyingwithspitfires.com or call 01243 539005