On Christmas Day 45 years ago, Santa left my presents at my Grandfather’s house in Manila. My Dad watched with sparkling interest as I unwrapped my first airplane scale models, a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt. I was 12 years old.
We had no colour TV, DVDs, internet, or computer games. No computers, even. The model airplanes filled my world.
It took me 45 years to fully unwrap that gift.
My Dad’s delicious stories of World War II dogfights kindled my childhood interest in airplanes. My son Carlo, of the TOP GUN generation, had his imagination fired up by his own Dad’s airplane stories. Now we were in this amazing adventure together.
Our airplanes taxied line astern, canopies open, weaving side-to-side.
We held short of the runway with three Cessnas. Ardmore Tower re-sequenced all of us. Carlo and I would take off together. Just like the movies.
Airborne and in formation, it was Christmas, Fathers Day and birthdays all in one. We took photos of each other laughing out loud, tears in our eyes. That unmistakable elliptical wing bridged us, less than one wingspan apart.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Everything was perfect. Blazing blue sky, creamy clouds edged in white gold sunlight. Ecstatic pilots vaulting skyward in classic warbirds, streaming contrails of laughter. Father and son.
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there…
I flung my craft through footless halls of air….
I slipped below Carlo, echelon left. The sun slashed our canopies. Overhead, towering cumulus raced us to altitude.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
We rolled in tight formation. Our hearts filled to bursting. Our faces ached from grinning like schoolboys.
We were having way too much fun. Suddenly we were over England, and it was the summer of 1940. Bandits, break right!
In the video you can hear Carlo whooping into a barrel roll. No stiff upper lip now. “Whoo-hoo!” Then a loop, aileron roll and steep wingovers left and right.
Mickey Mouse stretched his arms. Time stilled.
Miles away, Gavin and I pulled hard Gs. Loop, barrel roll, aileron roll, a full Cuban Eight. We were doing 300 miles per hour, 4,000 feet per minute in vertical up-lines. Remember, this is a 72-year old airframe that survived 89 combat missions in World War II.
We levelled out, snarling low over the Firth of Thames, rocketing past the North Island coast. I jinked away from flak. Just like the Spitfire model in my childhood bedroom.
Then we spotted the Harvard, the Hun in the sun! Hard climb to his 5 o’clock, bit of left rudder, and a bit of Robert Shaw in the movie ‘Battle of Britain’…
We snapped into a vertical bank, our wings straight up and down as Carlo and JK spiralled low, dropping far below us. “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”
We took these last two photos of each other at almost exactly the same time.
It was time to return to base, ‘pancake’ in RAF slang. In less than an hour we had flown almost 80 nautical miles.
As a final treat we shut down at the NZ Warbirds Association ramp.
I thought of Santa and my Dad, who started it all. As the memories streamed past, a fellow from NZ Warbirds took my photo.
A very Happy Christmas to all our readers,
Make a bucketful of dreams come true in the New Year!
Posted from Manila, Philippines
December 24, 2014
Warbird Adventure Rides
New Zealand Warbirds Association
Lines from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Spitfire pilot, killed in December 1941 at the age of 19
Twenty Five Years of Top Gunning
My Dad and his Delicious Airplane Tales