After flying Harrier and Typhoons for the Royal Air Force, fighter pilot Paul Godfrey took the equally enviable task of flying Spitfires for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. We spoke to him to find out more.
Of the Spitfire variants you have flown which is your favourite and why?
“An easy answer. The BBMF Mk V, AB910. I guess this is because this was the first Spitfire that I flew that really felt like a Spitfire. It sounds strange, but MK356, the Mk IX, was the first I flew (AB was the second), but MK, although amazing (she was painted silver at the time and you really never get over seeing the classic elliptical wing out of the window) she didn’t feel overly different to the Hurricane. However, I got into AB and you could immediately feel the difference in balance on the controls – they were so light! As soon as I throttled up, the tail lifted (she is light) and we shot off. Unbelievably manoeuvrable, I displayed at 500 feet and then 100 feet and she flew like a dream.
However, as I came into land on the short cross-runway at Coningsby, I forced the tail down to try and get her slowing down and this caused an unexpected leap to the right (apparently, she went right on landing anyway). Before I knew it, the left wing had lifted and I arced majestically off the runway and almost hit the windsock! I eventually got her under control and made it back to the runway.
We had an understanding after that and I always gave her a kiss before we went flying. She never treated me badly again.
There was also a personal connection with a good friend of the flight and mine, Tony Cooper. Tony had flown Spitfires in WWII and had actually flown AB when she was at Hibbaldstow at the end of the war. I have never seen anything like it, when Tony came into the hangar and was reunited with her for the first time in 70 years.”
How would you rate the cockpit for the following:
“I like the cockpit. Lots of room and a fantastic view with that canopy around you – much better than the Hurricane which feels like you are sat inside a greenhouse! The sitting position is comfortable and it is easy to reach the stick and pedals (the pedals are adjustable).”
“Very good. It feels like you have strapped the aircraft to yourself (rather than sat inside it). The bubble canopy on the BBMF Mk XVI TE311 reminded me of the view in the F-16!”
“Very comfortable. Although it does get warm in the cockpit (clearly you can open the canopy for max air-con). The sitting position is good and the stick sits naturally in your hand. The spade grip is very comfortable and the controls are balanced differently depending on the mark and the individual aircraft!”
“Standard instrumentation you would expect in a warbird. A large Altimeter, Attitude Indicator, Turn and Slip and Airspeed Indicator as the main instruments, with smaller engine, fuel and oxygen gauges. The BBMF aircraft are relatively authentic, although none have working gunsights. They do all have modern radio and IFF fits, with a small GPS built into the radio. They also carry FLARM for collision avoidance.”
You have flown both the Typhoon and Spitfire: Imagining a situation where a guns-only fighter between a Eurofighter Typhoon and a cannon-armed Spitfire took place — which aircraft would have the advantage and why?
“Unsurprisingly the Typhoon – by a country mile. The context is important, but everything in the Typhoon is geared to give you situational awareness. Your radar and various sensors tell you what is around you (imagine how much they would have wanted a datalink with the air picture transmitted to them in WWII) and you have vital information and weapons solutions displayed in the visor in front of your eyes. WWII pilots were reliant on fighter controllers (over the UK) and their own eyes – Typhoon has a huge advantage in finding the enemy. This gives you a huge advantage.
The Typhoon pilot would know exactly where to find the Spitfire in our imaginary flight to ‘the merge’ (where the two come together and start fighting). I will assume that the ‘guns only’ point means that Typhoon would not shoot the Spitfire down at range, but it would have the advantage entering the fight. The pilot could fly the intercept to make use of environmental conditions to arrive behind the Spitfire unseen.
The radar on the Typhoon gives a highly accurate gun sight (it is constantly updating range aspect closure etc), so the pilot would just have to put ‘the pipper’ on and pull the trigger. No deflection shooting – aiming off as the pilots had to in WWII because their gunsights were fixed and the cannon ‘zeroed’ at a point about 150 yards away where the bullets would converge.
If the Spitfire did manage to get into a turning fight, the Typhoon would likely make the most of its enormous power advantage and use the vertical rather than turn. The Typhoon pilot would point straight up, light the burners, keep an eye on the Spitfire (probably the hardest thing so far given that the radar won’t be pointing at it) and look to come back down in a position of advantage (hopefully out of the sun to avoid a visual pick up).
If I was in the Spitfire, I would try and point at the Typhoon to close the range as quickly as possibly, but would be aware of the fact that if I pulled hard to turn, I would bleed a lot of my speed off and would probably have to point downhill to get it back…the Typhoon could roll in behind easily.”
Which set-ups and altitudes would the Spitfire favour?
“If I was flying the Spitfire, I would take this down to ground level (at least treetop) and try to force the Typhoon pilot into a mistake or fool the radar. If I was ‘bounced’ at medium altitude, I would try and use clouds (although note that the radar is still going to see me).”
How would the Spitfire pilot fight?
“Turning towards the Typhoon and then using altitude below me to get speed back up (to allow me to turn).”
Who would you put your money on?
— which qualities do the Typhoon and Spitfire share?
“A great view out of the cockpit. Very nice handling. A responsive engine(s).”
What is the best thing about the Spitfire?
“Compared to the other fighters of the day, it was the turn performance and its ability to climb to altitude relatively quickly. The advantage of altitude (view, potential energy, fuel efficiency) cannot be overstated.”
.…and the worst?
” Aircon. The cockpits would have been roasting in the summer and freezing in the winter.”
Which of the Spitfire variants you have flown is the best in the following categories:
Instantaneous turn rates
“The Mk II and V because they were lighter.”
Sustained turn rates
“The Mk XIX because it Is so powerful.”
Weapons platform (informed guess)
“Later marks because they engines had more power, therefore they could carry more/better calibres.”
“Early mark Spitfires, although the MkXIX is ridiculously powerful (but heavier). ”
“Mk IX – not too powerful (where you need a large rudder to counter the gyro effect) and not too light which can be ‘skittish’.”
“Mk IX. Certainly the BBMF Mk IX (MK356) was very docile on landing.”
“Mk XIX – the 1945 equivalent of the Typhoon.”
“Mk XIX. Designed for long range high altitude flight.”
What’s the biggest myth about flying the Spitfire?
“That you need to be a very experienced pilot to do it. It is just like flying any other aircraft. In 1939 and through the war, 18-20 year olds would fly it. The issue today is the cost of repairing should something go wrong…so it is better to use more experienced pilots. It was a war of national survival in 1939 and you could replace a pilot or aircraft.”
What should I have asked you?
“Have I ever said ‘dagga dagga dagga’ whilst pretending to shoot down another aircraft? Clearly the answer is yes!”
Describe your most memorable flight in a Spitfire?
“A tricky question as so many spring to mind. You never forget the first time you take off and see the legendary elliptical wing through the canopy, however I think the one that I talk about the most (and have mentioned on @pilotepisodepod) is flying from Goodwood on 16 Sep 2012. I’d been at Goodwood for the weekend, the first time I had visited the Revival. I had flown MK356 (the BBMF Mk IX) in on the Friday evening. I had last landed at Goodwood in 1989 on a solo cross country in a Cessna whilst 17 and doing my PPL) and so to land there in a Spitfire on a Friday evening, where you could see the blue flames in the exhaust stacks was a dream come true. On the Sunday I was tasked with a flypast of Westminster Abbey for the annual Battle of Britain Service and I was also flying my favourite aircraft AB910.
I took off out of Goodwood and the weather was amazing (the visibility was so good you could see the back of your head!) and headed up to the east end of London where I was due to meet Andy Millikin in the Hurricane. Unfortunately, he had a brake issue and so it was just me on my own. I could see the London eye and set off on time. Flypasts can be tricky to get the route and timing right and even Westminster Abbey is difficult to spot, but I knew if I could make it to the Eye, then I wold be ok. As I approached central London, I was ‘on track on time’ and began to relax and really take in the sights. I could actually see the people in the London Eye as I flew past clearly wondering what on earth a Spitfire was doing there. I found the Abbey and did a large wingover to change direction (a flypast wasn’t allowed) and could see the assembled masses, including many of the surviving Battle of Britain veterans down there watching. It honestly brought a lump to my throat.”
I departed London to the South West, overflying Wimbledon Centre Court and then down to Goodwood and landed during a gap in the motor racing. As I taxied the Spitfire to a halt in the replica Battle of Britain dispersal, at a Battle of Britain airfield having flown over central London and seen Battle of Britain veterans looking up at me, I realised what a special trip that had been. I joined the RAF because I saw a Spitfire and Hurricane at the Kenley Airshow in 1978 as a 6 year old and became fascinated by the aircraft and pilots. To be able to honour them in that way 34 years later was truly amazing and made me realise how lucky I am.”
Hear more from Paul here.
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