Hawker Hurricane Mk XIIa G-HURI has been one of the most widely travelled examples of its type, such is the desire and commitment of the Historic Aircraft Collection (HAC) to commemorate and share the history of its aircraft. Piloting many of the Hurricane’s flights is Flt Lt (Rtd) Dave ‘Harvs’ Harvey, fulfilling a longstanding passion for Second World War aircraft. Theirs is a unique pilot and aircraft bond, and together man and machine have been on some true adventures.
Dave has had the pleasure of flying the majority of HAC’s Duxford-based fleet since joining the historic aviation scene over a decade ago, including Spitfire Mk Vb BM597 and Hawkers Nimrod and Fury, but his most numerous mount by far has been the Hurricane, with over 250 hours logged on type since 2007. As with many pilots of his generation, it was the 1969 Battle of Britain film that captured Dave’s imagination and the Hurricane has remained a constant throughout his aviation career.
“My father took me to London to see the film and from that day I was hooked, always pestering him to go to museums and airshows”, he remembers. The following summer, Dave’s family visited the idyllic grass aerodrome at Old Warden, and he still has a photograph of he and his brother in front of The Shuttleworth Collection’s Sea Hurricane, an aircraft utilised in the Battle of Britain filming and maintained as a static airframe at the time. This exposure to aviation sealed it in his mind: Dave wanted to get into flying, preferably with the Royal Air Force (RAF). Joining the Air Cadets and rising quickly through the ranks, a flying scholarship came his way in 1979. “My parents also stumped up the extra cash to do five extra hours in order to get a licence,” he adds, “so I had a pilot’s licence before I could even drive a car!”
Dave joined the RAF as a direct entrant in 1981 and following training was posted to No. 111 Squadron at RAF Leuchars. There he joined a Phantom unit right at the sharp end of the Cold War, sat, he recalls, “on alert and scrambling to chase Russians around!” Though he only completed one tour on type, Dave amassed 850 hours on the Phantom, a lack of commitments at the time and a sheer love of flying allowing him to spend more time in the cockpit. As an air defender by trade, Germany was the coveted “place to be” for fighter pilots during the Cold War, but a lack of available places on the resident squadrons pointed him towards RAF Chivenor and No. 151 Squadron, which he joined as an instructor on the BAe Hawk T1. “The Hawk was just such a great aeroplane to fly”, he remembers. “I’d flown it in training obviously but revisiting it as an instructor was just great. The flying we did was quite simple, but we did lots and lots of it with the constant throughput of students. I think most people in the air force in those days were doing 200-250 hours a year, 300 if they were pushing it, but I did over 400 hours in my first year as an instructor down there!”
Nos 111 and 151 Squadrons happened to be former Battle of Britain Hurricane units. “Both had loads of scrapbooks around and photographs on the walls, and the association was quite active. Every year we’d have a reunion that I’d go to with lots of veterans in attendance. I remember going down to the RAF Club in London one year and just chatting for ages with Eric Lord, who would have been in his mid-60s by then, who had flown Spitfire Mk IXs out in Italy in 1943 to ’44. He was lovely to talk to. You’d never have guessed he’d been a Spitfire pilot in the war, he was so humble. He was more interested in talking and learning about Phantoms and what we got up to.
“It was with 151 Squadron when I really began making an effort to get in touch with all these old veterans”, Dave reminisces. “I was sat up in the ATC tower late one Friday afternoon as a duty pilot waiting for a Hawk to return from a land-away and there was nothing to do, but I had to be there. We had a copy of the local phone directory and I was so bored I was sat there reading that! I came across this name, Group Captain A. R. Wright DFC AFC, and thought ‘I recognise that name, that’s Alan Wright from 92 Squadron in 1940’. In those days people would put their entry into the telephone book and would still use their rank and decorations, which really made those names stand out. He only lived down the road, so I made a note of his number and ‘phoned him up, got chatting, then went and paid him a visit”.
1989 saw the publication of the book Men of the Battle of Britain to mark the impending 50th anniversary of the conflict. In it, author Kenneth Wynn records in considerable detail the service details of more than 3,000 airmen who participated in the battle and therefore qualify for classification as one of ‘The Few’. Dave bought a copy and set about collecting the signatures of the pilots he was meeting. “I spent a lot of time going through the ‘phone book and cross-referencing. I found four or five former pilots in the book who were living within about 30 miles of RAF Chivenor, and the Squadron Association had details of others who were living nearby. I got to know a couple of the chaps through that – Dave Blomeley fought with 1 Squadron in France in 1939 and then joined 151 for the Battle of Britain, ending up on Meteors and Victors postwar. I used to go down and see him and his wife Joy, and we’d go to the pub for lunch. We spent ages just chatting away and listening to his stories – he had a fantastic sense of humour! He introduced me to Johnny Kilmartin, who was also on 1 Squadron in France, and he signed the book in his local pub in Devon. Just down the road lived Brian Kingcombe from 92 Squadron, who signed it in his fittingly named local, the Tally Ho Inn. Unfortunately, Dave Blomeley died a couple of years after I first started going to see him. It was always great to go and chat with them.”
Many Battle of Britain veterans were still alive in the big anniversary year. On 15 September 1990, Dave flew a No. 151 Squadron aircraft down the Mall in a diamond formation of 16 Hawks, just one element of a massed flypast consisting of 168 aircraft. That year Dave broadened his efforts to meet the remaining ‘Few’, corresponding with large numbers of veterans in the UK, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and South Africa. “It always helped break the ice when I mentioned that I had flown one of the Hawks down the Mall in the big flypast on Battle of Britain Day,” he says, “as most of them were either there or watching on TV. I think I must have sent about 300 letters and I received replies from pretty much everyone who was still alive. Some had sadly died, but their relatives sometimes responded”.
Meeting and corresponding with the veterans only crystallised the lingering aspiration to fly warbirds. At the time it seemed the most likely path to this would be through the RAF. As a fighter pilot by trade, should a posting to the Tornado F3 at RAF Coningsby be forthcoming, the opportunity to apply for a slot on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight may have been possible. It was not to be, and a move to No. 100 Squadron at RAF Wyton and then to RAF Finningley followed, allowing Dave to continue his Hawk flying for several more years. A posting to the Tornado F3, initially as a simulator instructor at RAF Leeming and then to No. 25 Squadron with the real deal, came thereafter. In the late 90s he was transferred back to No. 100 Squadron, again flying the Hawk, precipitating his move into the air display fraternity.
Dave continues: “In the early 2000s we were keen to have a display aircraft. Historically there had always been two display Hawks – one from RAF Valley and one from either of the Tactical Weapons Units, and there were plenty of displays to do between them. 100 Squadron had been asking to do this for several years but there was never any kind of desire to make it happen until 2003, when we finally got the nod to get another Hawk on the display circuit to coincide with the 100th anniversary of powered flight. I was very lucky to be chosen out of the five people who put their names forward.” Originally intended to be a one-year stint, given the considerable time and effort to work up a display sequence, the decision was taken to extend 100 Squadron’s tenure as the secondary Hawk display. “It’s always harder to start things off than to shut them down!” jokes Dave, who was asked back for a third season after attempts to rotate display pilots failed to yield a suitable replacement. “I protested loudly with my arm behind my back and said, ‘of course I will!’.
“All the time I was displaying I would try and get down to Duxford if I could”, continues Dave. “I’d speak to the guy who allocated the displays and would always volunteer to do the smaller shows in the UK rather than the big ones. The pilot at Valley inevitably wanted to do the big shows, and I was much happier doing the smaller ones because they could be quite challenging.” Visits to Duxford saw Dave introduced to other display pilots in the historic aircraft scene, some of whom he already knew through the RAF, such as the Aircraft Restoration Company’s (ARCo) Cliff Spink, and Golden Apple’s Chief Pilot Mark Linney, who had been on the same course as Dave at RAF Valley. At the end of 2005, Mark extended an invitation to Dave to join Golden Apple’s pilot roster. Flights in the T-33 Silver Star and then the F-86A Sabre were forthcoming, both of which he enjoyed immensely. With the Golden Apple jets being operated by ARCo, Dave naturally spent more time at Duxford and was introduced to many of the major operators and owners.
“I was always told you never ask to fly someone’s warbird, you wait to get invited, and unless you can afford to buy and operate your own, that’s the only way you can get into warbird flying – you make yourself attractive by doing what you can”, he says. That approach paid dividends, and in 2007 Dave received an unexpected telephone call from one of the HAC’s three directors, Janice Black. “We had never met before, but of course I knew very well who she was and all about HAC”, he continues. At that time, HAC’s fleet of historic types included a Cub, Chipmunk and Morane Criquet, as well as Hawkers Nimrod and Hurricane, and the Spitfire Mk V. “Janice said they were looking for another pilot that year and asked if I would be interested. My immediate thought was, ‘Great, I might get to fly the Cub and Chipmunk and maybe even the Criquet!’ She then elaborated and said they were looking for someone to fly the Hurricane”. Understandably, Dave was rather taken aback by this. “I actually remember saying, ‘I think you must have me confused with someone else because I’ve never flown anything like that before,’ but Janice said they were aware! They had obviously done their research”.
At the end of June 2007, Dave visited ARCo to build up some Chipmunk and then Harvard time with Cliff Spink and John Romain, culminating in a checkout on type, and then weeks later on 3 August he went solo in the Hurricane. The following day a second sortie saw him flying circuits, and the next week he carried out his first display practice and display evaluation.
The first few seasons of Hurricane flying followed a similar profile; currency flights in the spring preceded a handful of airshow flights at the likes of Duxford, Dunsfold and Old Warden. 2009 ended with a trip to North Weald to join the one-off Gathering of Hurricanes event, with four of the type lined up on the ground – most of the UK’s airworthy Hurricane population at the time – and several veterans in attendance. 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, with which came Dave’s busiest year in the Hurricane up to then and his first overseas trip, adding more chapters to the airframe’s well-travelled history.
At the time its restoration culminated in 1989, G-HURI was one of the only civilian operated Hurricanes on the circuit, flown extensively under The Fighter Collection’s ownership at UK and European airshows until 2002, when HAC acquired the aircraft and it made the short hop from Duxford’s Hangar 2 to Hangar 3. An 18-month period of deep maintenance followed, the Hurricane emerging in 2004 wearing the markings of Hurricane Z5140 (HA-C) of No. 126 Squadron during the Siege of Malta. The following year the Merlins over Malta project saw the Hurricane flown to the Mediterranean island with Clive Denney at the controls, alongside Charlie Brown in stablemate Spitfire BM597. With Dave entering the fold in 2007, the Hurricane would embark on yet more ambitious long-distance flights.
June 2010 yielded the first of such expeditions. At the request of the HAC directors, Dave would fly the Hurricane to the Czech Republic and Poland for a series of displays. “I learned very early on in my air force days that he who plans early, plans twice, so when it comes to planning for a Hurricane trip, I simply go to my flight planning software, put in some legs, bend the lines where we cross the English Channel and calculate roughly how much flying time it would take to get there.” That allows Dave to offer an estimate of the cost of the trip to the directors for them to decide on a course of action. When the trip was confirmed, overflight permissions were applied for and purchased in each country Dave would transit through or over on his proposed route.
The first destination was the Aviatická pout’ airshow in Pardubice, Czech Republic, achievable in two legs flown over a single day. Dave prefers to cross the English Channel at its shortest stretch, heading south-east over the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne as high as the airspace allows, normally around 4,000ft, as a means of risk mitigation. “I don’t like flying over water full-stop, especially in a single-engine aeroplane. I spent a lot of my RAF career flying over the sea in a Hawk, which is better as you have an ejection seat, a dinghy, and a rescue helicopter on the end of the radio that’ll come and pick you out of the water. In an old aeroplane with an old engine, it’s not comfortable, and they don’t ditch well. If you lose the engine, you’re committed to jumping out, really, and that’s one of the risks that the HAC directors must assess whenever they take on these flights.
“Once you get into Belgium and Holland the airspace is very congested and you generally can’t fly much above 1,000ft – you’re just flying along under all the airliners which are in controlled airspace just above you, not necessarily talking to ATC but just free navigating your way through”, he continues. As someone with a keen interest in history, crossing Benelux and parts of Germany at low-level gave Dave the opportunity to see some key historical sites from the Second World War from a fighter of the era. Squeezing between two areas of controlled airspace in Holland took him past Arnhem and Nijmegen, and on the way to Paderborn, the first stop en-route, are the Mohne and Eder dams. “They are fantastic things to see from the air, especially from the Hurricane. It puts things into perspective – when I flew there I flew in broad daylight, under clear blue skies and with GPS navigation kit. Quite how the Dambusters did it in the dark with charts and maps, flying down in the weeds at 100ft, I cannot fathom!” On the second leg, from Paderborn to Pardubice, Colditz Castle also passed under the wing of the Hurricane.
The flight from Duxford to Paderborn was Dave’s longest in the Hurricane, at two hours and 40 minutes chock-to-chock, followed by the second leg to Pardubice in two hours and five minutes. That can put considerable strain on a pilot, as Dave explains: “The thing about the Hurricane is that it is designed to be manoeuvrable as a fighter, so it’s unstable. You can trim it out but if you take your hands off the stick it will go one way or the other, so you’ve got to fly it all the time. That’s why these two-and-a-half hour transits are quite tiring. Not only have you got to deal with constantly flying the old aeroplane, but you’re also navigating in a foreign country; then when you get to where you’re going you have more to deal with, as you’ve got various recovery charts and airport charts to review.”
G-HURI is well equipped for such long-distance flights, with additional 30 gallon overload tanks in place of the guns giving the aircraft a total fuel capacity of 154 gallons. At cruise power the Hurricane will sit at c. 170kts and can fly for around three hours, with a standard reserve of 20 gallons. Regardless, fuel management is key on a long-distance flight. “For long transits I tend to just fully fuel it”, Dave continues. “It’s a bit like making sure you don’t go past the last petrol station on the motorway.” He explains that there is no method of gauging the fuel in the overload tanks, either manually (due to baffle foam in the tanks that prevents fuel movement in-flight) or in-cockpit, with only a low fuel warning light to indicate that the tanks are running dry. “If the fuel warning light is off it means there’s fuel in the overload tanks, but you don’t know how much, you only know how much fuel you filled them with”, he says. This can prove troublesome in the air display environment as the Hurricane cannot be displayed with fuel in the overload tanks, and so consideration must be given to running these dry during a transit flight to an airshow. Dave explains: “The overload tanks transfer fuel into the wing tanks using electric transfer pumps, so if those pumps fail you can’t access the fuel. Before transferring you must first make room in the main tank, so I get airborne on the main tanks as normal, wait until they’ve burned down 10 gallons or so and then turn the pumps on, which will feed fuel from the overloads into the wing tanks”. Fuel management is just another piece of the jigsaw involved in flying warbirds into Europe.
The day before the Pardubice airshow a very special flight occurred, with an air-to-air photoshoot seeing Dave in the Hurricane leading a Slovakian MiG-29 Fulcrum and a Czech SAAB Gripen. “In the photos it looks like we were all flying nicely together in formation but the Hurricane was going almost as fast as it can and the two jets were sat there almost as slow as they can go, begging me to go faster! Even though it looks good, the jet pilots were working very hard and there was a lot of movement going on.”
The next airshow on the schedule was Gorazka, a little grass airstrip outside Warsaw, however the deluge that had swept across eastern Europe in the weeks preceding the trip had left the airfield waterlogged. A two-hour transit saw Dave head instead to Modlin, where he reconvened with Charlie Brown and HAC’s Spitfire, the two warbirds finding shelter in an old Luftwaffe He 111 hangar. With two days to go to the airshow at Gorazka, Dave and Charlie chose to inspect the runway to assess its serviceability after the flooding. “We drove to the airstrip and had a look at the runway, walked up and down it, and found it had dried out quite nicely so we decided we would fly over the next day”, Dave says. On the Friday evening prior to the weekend’s airshow, he and Charlie fired up the warbirds and took them down to Gorazka. “The airfield is basically right on the edge of Warsaw,” Dave continues, “and to go from Modlin, on one side of the city, to Gorazka on the other, you basically have to fly up the edge of the controlled airspace over the city, along the Vistula River. It’s like flying down the Thames in London and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to get arrested when I land, I must have missed something, there’s no way I can possibly be flying along here legally!’ It was a bit touchy as to what you would do if the engine stopped, but every now and then you’d see a place where you could put the aeroplane down.
“At Gorazka itself there are some obstructions on the approach to the northern end of the runway, some trees and buildings, which mean you can’t really drop the aeroplane onto the immediate threshold and you have to land about a quarter of the way into the runway, which isn’t ideal as it’s fairly short. As usual I was at the front in the Hurricane; I drew the short straw to land first.” Having landed without issue, Dave turned the Hurricane around and began taxying to the parking area. “Everything kind of just ground to a halt, and I was putting more and more power on and the aircraft suddenly wasn’t moving”. With the risk of putting the aircraft on its nose by opening the throttle, and the fact that the 30°C ambient temperature meant that the engine was heading towards overheating, Dave had no option but to shut down and get out.
“I’m stuck on the grass on the runway and Charlie’s overhead in the Spitfire floating around wondering what’s going on – I was in a pretty bad position! It’s 6.30pm on the Friday night before the airshow, there are aeroplanes that need to arrive, aeroplanes wanting to take off, the owners of the Hurricane were just landing at Warsaw, and at the time the Hurricane was up for sale – it was all looking pretty bleak!” The problem, they found, was that whilst the ground had indeed dried, it was just an upper crust of dry earth, and Dave happened to find a slightly thinner or damper patch that led to the Hurricane sinking into the mud up to the rims of the tyres.
“Of course, I didn’t speak any Polish and most of the Polish people there didn’t speak any English, which was a bit of a problem. It wasn’t long before lots of people came out to help”, he continues. The assembled volunteers gathered runway markers and concrete slabs to place under the wheels, which they did by lifting each wing in turn. “Someone had the bright idea of bringing the metal drainage grills from the apron area to use as runners, and they rolled the Hurricane forward on those, picking up and re-laying the grills as they went to roll it forward continuously. I was quite concerned at this point as I was convinced there would be fingers going through the fabric and suchlike, but it all worked out. My intention was to start back up and taxi once we reached drier ground, but they wouldn’t let me, and insisted they push it all the way, which was amazing! The Poles are fantastic people.
“I was happy to take-off from the northern end of the runway the following day for the display, but I didn’t want to land back again due to the softer ground at the southern end,” Dave remembers, “however one other thing that really sticks in my memory is that on Saturday morning before I took off, I was stood by the aeroplane in my flying suit and this chap came up to me and started talking to me in Polish. I didn’t understand a word he was saying, but he thrust a pair of metal Polish Air Force pilot wings into my hand. I just assumed he wanted me to take them flying with me and give them back to him once I’d landed and I was trying to explain to him that I wasn’t landing back again, but he was getting quite insistent. Then a young Polish chap came over to offer his assistance as he could speak English, and he said this fellow is aware that you’re not coming back; he wants these wings to fly in the aeroplane and he understands he isn’t going to get them back, but he wants you to have them. That was quite moving”.
The HAC pair operated out of Babice for the second day of the Gorazka airshow and went on to display at the Polish Air Force Academy at Deblin, as well as another small show at Plock the following weekend. “That was a beautiful site at which to display, on the banks of the Vistula River, but the little airfield was in a similar state to Gorazka. Charlie took the Spitfire in there and got stuck too!” Dave returned to Duxford via Berlin Schoenhagen and Niederrhein, with the Spitfire following about a week later after experiencing a technical snag. “The good thing about that trip is that it involved lots of flying in one short period of time”, Dave says. He logged 18 hours during the expedition. “All the flying I had done in the Hurricane up until then had been in dribs and drabs, and fairly short sorties, so that was a really good grounding in operating the aeroplane.”
With 2010 marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Hurricanes were a prominent fixture at British airshows. HAC’s aeroplane was involved in several events, Dave flying in a segment with eight Spitfires and a Buchón at Flying Legends and then participating in the Royal International Air Tattoo’s commemorative formation alongside other UK-based warbirds and the EADS operated Messerschmitt Bf 109G-4 ‘Red 7’.
They were merely a precursor to one of Dave’s landmark sorties in the Hurricane. On August 18th, the infamous ‘hardest day’, the Battle of Britain Historical Society had arranged to charter a British Airways Airbus for a very special commemorative flight, taking veterans along the south coast with a Spitfire and Hurricane off their wing. The initial approach to the airline went all the way to Willie Walsh’s desk. “At the time, no BA commercial flight had ever flown in formation with anything. So, Charlie Brown, Janice Black and I had to go to BA HQ at Heathrow to run through the proposal in minute detail.” There the HAC team met with the proposed Airbus flight crew to agree a workable plan and produce a document which would then go to Willie Walsh for sign-off. “Apparently, when he received it, he took one look at the front cover of the document, a convincingly Photoshopped image of the three aircraft in formation, and just said, “Make it happen!”, so we did!”
“The original plan was for the sortie to last an hour, but I knew this had the potential to be longer than anticipated so I made sure the aeroplane was completely full of fuel.” Departing Duxford to rendezvous with Charlie in BM597 (who staged out of Rochester owing to the Spitfire’s shorter range), the pair flew to the meeting point near Manston, though the Airbus was 20 minutes late getting airborne. 14 veterans were on board the flight, and once together the three aircraft flew down the Kent and Sussex coastlines, past the white chalk cliffs, Dave escorting some of his heroes in a Hurricane. A camera ship joined and captured the event, with the photos appearing in practically every newspaper that bank holiday weekend.
2012 brought the immense challenge of flying the Hurricane to Moscow for the Russian Air Force’s centenary airshow at Zhukovsky. Dave jokes, “Every time I hear ‘Moscow’ it brings me out in a cold sweat!” Hurricanes were the first lend-lease types to be delivered to Russia and became the most numerous British type in the Soviet inventory, with 2,952 on charge. The trip was a huge undertaking, covering well over 3,500 miles, and Dave would find himself entering the wonderful bureaucratic bubble that is Russia. “I remember the day Janice [Black] mentioned it for the first time. ‘Dave, I’d like you to go to Moscow.’ I thought, there must be some place in France or Belgium by the name of Moscow – I didn’t for one second think she was talking about Moscow, the capital of Russia!”
Official confirmation of the event came in late June; it would be staged on the second weekend in August. “That’s when everything started happening. We couldn’t do any detailed planning that was going to involve expense until that point.” Information from Russia wasn’t very forthcoming and HAC weren’t even sure where they would be required to fly to. Dave continues: “Because I had been into Europe with the Hurricane in 2010 I knew it was no trouble to get through Europe to eastern Poland. I ended up planning to go to the capital of Lithuania, Kaunas, as a stepping stone into Russia. From here I was expecting to go east through or around Belarus, but we were told only about a week before departure that we had to go and land in Russia to clear immigration and customs again, and for this we had to go further north up to Pskov just inside the Russian border.”
This late confirmation meant that Dave had to quickly seek overflight permissions for Latvia and Estonia. “I had to go onto their national aviation websites, find what they needed – a particular form, in both cases – and of course, they want things like your route plan, dates, times. You then need to forward it with copies of certain documents like the aircraft’s permit to fly, permit validity, registration document, insurance and so on, so there’s tons of information they want – quite often things I didn’t have. I would always send these things off with a photograph of the aeroplane so they could see that it isn’t a passenger carrying type. All I got in reply from Estonia was a simple email: ‘Thank you for your request. Estonia CAA approves light aircraft G-HURI flight in Estonian airspace’” The Russian legs of the trip offered their own challenges. “From Kaunas, flight planning software goes a bit blank and there’s absolutely no information on flying into Russia. You can go on the Russian aeronautical information system but the fee for that was about $250. The only maps I could get my hands on were one that was about 30 years old, and an American topographical chart of the Moscow area from the 1970s, so I knew at least roughly where I was going.”
To complicate matters further, only original technical documents would be accepted by the Russians. “The tech log we keep with the aircraft is full of copies,” Dave says, “as in the UK we don’t need to keep originals. The originals all sit with Angus Spencer-Nairn [one of the HAC directors] in Jersey, and to that end we decided I would land at Lydd en route and receive the original document pack in-person there!” Following a re-familiarisation flight and practice display in the Hurricane on 3 August, Dave cast out from Duxford on the 5th. Stopping at Lydd as planned, he flew onwards to Paderborn and carried on to Schoenhagen and then Kaunas the following day. “I had been in touch with George Perez, who was flying a Mustang from Melun near Paris alongside a P-40. They chose to go to a smaller grass airfield near Kaunas as it was cheaper, whereas I went to the international airport as I had read that if you want to do an international flight into Russia, flight plans will only be accepted from larger airports.”
A vast storm curtailed the next leg of the transit, keeping Dave and the French fighters grounded on 7 August. “The Russians had given us a piece of paper which allowed us to enter Russian airspace, but that was only valid on that one day!” Further permission had to be granted to allow the warbirds to enter Russian airspace the next day: “It was at that point that George and the P-40 pilot put a flight plan in and it was rejected, and they eventually found out it was because they were at such a minor airfield – they couldn’t depart into Russian airspace from that small strip. We had a frantic phone call and I had to get all the P-51 and P-40 details to file a flight plan for them whilst they flew over to meet me at the international airport.” The trio ended up departing together, with Dave leading, at 12.15am local time (10.15am UK time).
The three fighters reached Pskov at 2.45pm local time, joining a Swedish Harvard, and all of the aircraft were due to be led by a Russian chaperone aircraft to a further staging post at Tver, where accommodation had been arranged for the night. “Pskov was a desolate, run-down place”, Dave recalls. “There was an old passenger terminal that had not been used for donkey’s years and there was no way of refuelling the aeroplanes properly! They had a little truck with a tank of avgas in the back and a tiny little pump operating on a car battery, almost like a beer pump, and that’s how fast it was at pumping fuel. It took an awfully long time to fill the Hurricane up and of course, they had to fill up the P-40, P-51 and Harvard too!”. After several hours the group prepared to depart and sat in the aeroplanes awaiting confirmation of their departure slot time. By 7.30pm local time there was still no clearance, and with a two hour flight ahead the group would be landing in the dark. “In the end the Swedish pilot got out of the Harvard and walked along the line talking to me and the Melun guys saying, ‘This is mad, we’re not going’. We collectively agreed and breathed a sigh of relief at that point. We all got out and walked across to the Piper Malibu chaperone aircraft and told the Russians, who were not best pleased!
“They had not booked accommodation for us at Pskov and I think we ended up getting to some place at about 10.30pm. We had to find something to eat first, and I think I got to bed just before midnight to then be up at 5.30am (3.30am UK time) for breakfast. We were back in the aeroplanes by 7.20am local.” Finally the group were on their way: “I don’t think the chaperone aircraft pilot had ever led a formation in his life! His idea of leading a formation of warbirds was to take off, fly straight to 180 knots and turn onto the heading and let everyone catch up. The Hurricane will do about 190 knots flat out in level flight and it took me half an hour to catch up the first time!” The group arrived at Tver, refuelled and awaited a departure slot, with two French Yaks joining them before the now sizeable gaggle pushed on to Zhukovsky International Airport on the eastern outskirts of Moscow.
On arrival the pilots were hustled into an operations building to go through the arrival procedures. “First port of call was a little old lady with this enormous ledger, a beautiful bound leather book with Cyrillic writing in, and she took my documents and went through and found my page which already had all the details on. She just put a tick next to each of them! Originally, we were supposed to get there a day earlier and I couldn’t validate my display until about 7pm that night! Having finished the validation, we had a two hour drive to the hotel through the Moscow traffic and as soon as we got there we had a briefing for the next day given by Mikael Carlson, who was heading up the historic portion of the show. Dinner was laid on for us, but that wasn’t until nearly 10pm. We then had to be up at 6am ready for the 7am transport for the two hour drive in for the morning briefing – I was absolutely knackered!
“The airshow itself was absolutely awesome, with no expense spared – they had all their aircraft there – ‘100’ spelled out in Russian jets, a few formation teams, and big formations of three aircraft such as Blackjacks, great use of flares, helicopters, the lot! The vintage aircraft had a one hour slot in the flying display with ten aircraft put up each day, so we each had just a six minute slot including take-off and landing. All that way just to do that!”
The plan following the airshow weekend was for the European warbird pilots to have a rest day on the Monday and depart Moscow for Lithuania on the Tuesday. The weather had other ideas. “The forecast was so bad for the Tuesday we had to depart on Monday, and I think the Russians just wanted to get rid of us and didn’t want us getting stuck there. I never did get to see Red Square or get one of those big woolly hats!” Their early transit back westward threw up issues as fuel reserves weren’t scheduled to reach Tver until the following day, and the gaggle of warbirds sat on the ground for about three hours waiting for the fuel truck to arrive before setting off for Pskov. Dave picks up the story: “After refuelling (slowly!) again at Pskov we were set to leave at 7.45pm for the flight back into Lithuania and because we were leaving the country, all of our passports had been stamped. Once you have received an exit stamp in Russia, that’s it! You’re no longer allowed in their country and if you didn’t fly out that day there are all sorts of issues. I got in the Hurricane, fully aware that we were running out of time, and it wouldn’t start!” Worried glances came Dave’s way from George Perez in the P-51 beside him. “He came over the radio saying, ‘Don’t worry Dave, we’re not going without you!’ – I think because I’d helped them big time getting into Russia.” On the third attempt the Hurricane fired up and the aircraft made their escape from Russia. “That was the biggest sense of relief I felt, landing back at Kaunas. I just went to the hotel I had booked and stayed there for 24 hours and didn’t get out of bed! Crossing time zones going east, and then getting up early without having time to acclimatise does take it out of you; and I always thought jetlag was something you got flying in jets!
“Russia was a strange experience. The bureaucracy there was just incredible. I’m convinced that had the aeroplane broken while it was out there it would probably still be there! That’s one of the things the directors always need to balance when they take on these commitments. What are the benefits? What are the risks? What are the potential pitfalls?” On the way home, Dave stopped at Zoersel for the Photoflying Days and Air-to-Air Academy. “During one of the photoflights behind the Skyvan I glanced down at the oil gauge and saw it sink down to 0. Fortunately we were right in the overhead above the airfield at about 3,000ft, and although the pressure rose again, I still put it on the ground sharpish. Thankfully it turned out to just be an indicator issue!” All told the epic trip to Moscow had covered 10 countries, with 23 hours 30 minutes flying time logged over 17 sorties.
September of the same year saw another trip to Europe, this time a relatively short hop to a little airshow at Rennes in France. On his way back to England, Dave once again enjoyed some significant historical sites from the air as he overflew Normandy and the landing beaches, Colleville American Cemetery and Pegasus Bridge. Whilst nearing the Channel, Dave encountered Spitfire MH434, piloted by Paul Bonhomme, heading south to Malta: “We passed each other at a beacon not far inland from the coast over France and had a quick hello!”
Dave’s lengthiest flight in the Hurricane to date was, surprisingly, a domestic flight the following year. “I had operated out of North Coates for the Cleethorpes airshow and a few weeks later had to take the Hurricane up to Scotland, so I arranged to hangar the Hurricane at Woodvale nearer to my home in Lancashire for a few weeks”. The display was at Struy near Inverness in Scotland. “That’s the longest single flight I’ve ever done in the Hurricane. Flying all the way up there from Woodvale, doing the display, and flying back down to Prestwick to refuel – two hours and 50 minutes.”
HAC’s Hurricane received a new paint scheme in 2015, depicting No. 303 (Polish) Squadron Hurricane P3700 RF-E and in 2016 some in-depth maintenance of the aeroplane’s tail surfaces concluded in time for the Hurricane to join the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary commemorations – Dave had the privilege of flying the aircraft at the major aerial tributes staged at Biggin Hill, Goodwood (where he flew with his book of Fighter Command pilot signatures on board after Tom Neil had signed his entry) and Duxford. Earlier that summer the Hurricane’s 303 Squadron markings had caught the eye of a Polish film producer, setting in motion plans to return the aeroplane to Poland later that year. “They showed us some early stage CGI of a dogfight and we were really quite impressed,” says Dave, “and they were put in touch with the HAC directors to see about using the Hurricane for the film. Jacek Samojłowicz, the producer, is very much a larger than life character. He’s got this air of enthusiasm about him which kind of carries you along!”
The production was a depiction of Arkady Fiedler’s book of the same name, Dywizjon 303 (Squadron 303). “Plans for the filming were up in the air for quite a while following the initial discussions as they searched for somewhere to film; at one point they were looking to film in the UK [and were in discussions with Old Warden], then they decided to film in Poland. For about a month I would get random phone calls from a Polish number while I was pushing a trolley around Morrisons or something, and it would be one of the guys asking whether I could operate out of a particular airfield, usually some little place in the middle of Poland! I’d have to go onto Sky Demon and find the airfield and come back to them saying either it’s too small or it’s inside controlled airspace. The first one they asked about was Krakow, so I thought sure, there’s a big airport there and a big grass airfield, but they were talking about the disused airfield on the outskirts of Krakow city, which is now the Polish Air Force Museum. This happened several times.”
After numerous failed attempts, the film company identified a small grass strip at Konstancin-Jeziorna, just outside Warsaw. In late August they confirmed filming would begin on 12 September – just three weeks away – the tight timescale compounded by the HAC directors being out of the country. “It was all a bit last minute and the Claire, the PA in the office down at Retrotec in Sussex, did a sterling job of organising the various overflight permissions.”
The IWM Duxford September Air Show over the weekend of 10/11 September pushed Dave’s departure to Monday 12th. The flight was further delayed when the Hurricane suffered a snag that kept it grounded overnight at Paderborn, Germany. “Having landed there for fuel, it just would not start. It was a really, really hot day and it got to the point where I was almost draining the battery. I made the decision to get out, leave the aircraft overnight, let it cool down, and try to go again the following day. I got some valuable assistance from Mark Richards, who is an ex-RAF ‘techie’, and Sven Janzen at the local ‘Quax Flieger’ hangar. They were very helpful and charged the battery up overnight for me. The next day the Hurricane started fine and I was able to get to Poland.
“Konstancin airfield was under the Warsaw airport approach and was surrounded by controlled airspace, which meant that in the vicinity of the airfield you couldn’t go above 750ft AGL and likewise, you couldn’t fly more than about a mile and a half north-west – not exactly an ideal location to operate a Hurricane from!” The 800m grass runway was thankfully, bone dry, and Dave arrived to find the set complete with a dispersal hut, bell tents, and two Hurricane facsimiles. “When I arrived I had a chat with the producer and director about what we wanted to achieve, what was possible and what wasn’t”, Dave explains. Initially the crews wanted to use the real Hurricane for a series of close-up shots of ground crew working on the aircraft and airmen scrambling. “The thing that amazed me was that they shot some of these scenes a dozen times. We’d be sat to one side watching what was happening and wondering what’s next, and they’d start shooting the same scene all over again, and again, and again. Some of it was quite tedious in that respect.”
Dave was soon involved with the shooting, piloting the Hurricane in the close-up start-up shots: “They were using cameras mounted on big booms and I was briefed by the director not to look at the camera. Unfortunately, they kept moving positions without warning as I was starting the engine so I ruined a couple of takes by looking up straight into the lens.” Dave filmed several start-up, taxying and aborted take-off sequences. The crew wanted to film the Hurricane powering up for take-off from several angles, including from a golf cart racing parallel to the runway. “They also wanted to mount some cameras on the aircraft,” Dave adds, “but they’d asked to mount GoPros on places like the propeller blades and the exhaust stacks, which was obviously not going to happen! The only place we could put one, where I was satisfied that it was safe and they could actually get some decent shots, was the undercarriage bay”.
Dave only flew two sorties during the filming, one of which consisted of two circuits and landings to facilitate some landing shots. The other involved low approaches with the wheels up, for a scene where a pilot forgets to lower the undercarriage. “The biggest concern when doing something like that is the film producers or directors, who don’t understand how these aeroplanes are operated, asking you to do something which is downright stupid or dangerous. It’s always a bit of a battle in that sense. They’re the paying customer, and are paying a lot of money for the use of the aeroplane, and the job is to try and facilitate what they want to achieve the desired end result but without risk to yourself, the aircraft or anyone else”. Following a comprehensive brief that established the parameters for filming, and with the aerodrome bathed in some wonderful illuminating evening light, Dave flew by as requested and the film crew captured some beautiful shots.
“It’s always good to see the response to the Hurricane. One thing I’ve remembered quite clearly about that trip was the number of people, not just the actors and crew, but the general public who were just passing – news crews coming and going, people just so in awe of this aeroplane, because it was a real one, an original one in 303 Sqn markings and they could see it flying. The enthusiasm and interest that the Polish people have for that part of their history, our shared history, is quite remarkable.”
More recently, Dave led a sextet of Hurricanes at the IWM Duxford’s Battle of Britain Air Show in September 2017, marking the first time in decades that so many of the type had flown together. This was surpassed in July 2019 when the Shuttleworth Collection hosted seven of the type to headline its Military Airshow, with Dave flying HAC’s example alongside the Sea Hurricane he had posed with for a photograph at the same aerodrome as a child. Previously Dave had delivered Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane R4118 to Old Warden from its previous home for a new owner, completing a nice circle in his life.
In the same ilk, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Battle of Britain. At Duxford’s September airshow Dave flew the Hurricane in the dramatic show-opening sequence, paying homage to the film largely responsible for inspiring his aviation career. “I find life often moves in circles like that, and especially so in aviation!”. Four Hispano Buchóns, all 1969 film veterans, attacked the airfield as pyrotechnics exploded south of the runway and William Walton’s Battle in the Air played over the loudspeakers. In turn, they were set upon by a trio of early Spitfires before the quartet of Hurricanes entered the fray, flying through the melee in box formation before splitting into a tailchase. With 11 warbirds sweeping across the airfield on different display axes, set perfectly to music from the film, the sequence was a fitting tribute to a film so revered within aviation circles.
Dave’s dedication to flying warbirds is evident not only in the substantial hours he has put into flying vintage aeroplanes but also the simple fact that he lives so far away from Duxford and every flight requires a significant commute. A round trip of 500 miles is required to fly any of the HAC fleet; whenever possible he flies down from Lancashire in his Vans RV, but road trips are not uncommon. “It has been a big commitment, especially as I live quite far north, but it is a passion – a labour of love. Even after 13 years I still regard myself as just being on the fringes of the warbird scene because I’m committed very much to HAC and the aeroplanes we fly”. Dave’s very special and often unique flying exploits, particularly in the Hurricane, suggest otherwise. The longstanding association between pilot and aeroplane may be one small story in the rich tapestry of the historic aviation scene, but it is one which perfectly illustrates Dave’s appreciation for the history behind the aircraft and encapsulates the ethos of the Historic Aircraft Collection. As the number of wartime pilots dwindles and the generation gap broadens, his part in telling the Hawker Hurricane’s story becomes ever more profound.
“I was fascinated by the history surrounding these aeroplanes when I was younger, and I was corresponding with wartime pilots during my RAF career long before I got anywhere near a Hurricane,” Dave reflects, “so to be able to fly one now is just incredible. It is something I had always aspired to do”. Dave’s RAF career forged his path into the historic scene, his military experience informing his perspective. “From my point of view too, as someone who’s been a fighter pilot and has scrambled and known what it’s like to have that adrenaline rush – albeit in a very different era – and seeing the bad guys up close in the days when it was actually quite serious, it brings it all home. I can fly the Hurricane or Spitfire and visualise somewhat what it would have been like to go into a situation where you were firing the guns and fighting other aircraft. It’s very humbling.”
Dave leafs through his cherished Men of the Battle of Britain book, which at last count had reached an incredible 434 signatures. “I always really liked talking to those guys…” he says wistfully. Sadly, the men who signed their names have almost all now passed, and as the veterans dwindle it highlights the need to continue their legacy. Dave’s flying with HAC is a tangible part of the movement to do just that: “When I look back on some of the things we’ve done with the Hurricane, the places we’ve been… Taking it to Poland when no one could remember seeing a real Hurricane there, nearly getting stuck at Gorazka, all of the displays, crossing the continent – it’s just the icing on the cake really. I think back to that real lump in the throat moment with the old chap who gave me the set of wings in Poland, and to all of the veterans I’ve met”. Dave considers the thought. “It’s all in honour of the history, the aeroplanes and the men who flew them, every bit of it.”
As 2019 ended, the thoughts of the HAC team turned to 2020 and the forthcoming anniversaries of significant wartime events – the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It was quite fitting therefore, that on 11 November 2019, Polish National Independence Day, HAC announced the formation of the Polish Heritage Flight. The flight would operate G-HURI and the HAC Spitfire Mk Vb, itself a genuine 1942 aircraft with Polish provenance, throughout the 2020 display season and beyond. In association with Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy, the aim of the Polish Heritage Flight is to raise awareness of the Polish pilots who risked their lives in defence of England in 1940 and subsequently fought for the freedom of Poland. At the time of writing in April 2020, plans are well underway to take both aircraft back to Poland in the future. The story continues.