Mighty Spitfires roar back into life above Portsmouth and Gosport

MK IX Spitfire G-ILDA SM520 over Solent Airport
MK IX Spitfire G-ILDA SM520 over Solent Airport
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From air shows to nostalgia displays and wartime commemorations, there is always one piece of iconic British engineering that steals the show.

Almost everyone in Britain is familiar with the instantly recognisable sight and sound of a Spitfire – a key component in the outcome of the Second World War.

The Spitfire certainly lives up to its name!

The Spitfire certainly lives up to its name!

Now, ordinary folk like you and I have the chance to take to the skies in one of the most famous planes of all time – with hundreds of flights taking place just around the corner.

Solent Airport in Lee-on-the-Solent is home to Boultbee Flight Academy – a company that offers Spitfire flights throughout the year. 

With five Spitfires in its fleet, more than 500 flights are expected to take place in 2019 alone.

Solent Airport is the company’s primary training airfield, not only teaching some of the best pilots in the country how to fly this magnificent aircraft, but also taking people on sightseeing flights across the Solent region.

Jenny Ive readies herself for a Spitfire flight over the Solent

Jenny Ive readies herself for a Spitfire flight over the Solent

One of those lucky passengers was 57-year-old Jenny Ive. Instead of giving her a pay rise Jenny’s boss put the money aside until there was enough to pay for the flight.

Jenny, from Gosport, said: ‘My father had a part share in a Cessna when I was younger so I’ve always been interested in planes.

‘And I fell in love with Spitfires and the Battle of Britain. 

‘I didn’t tell anyone that I was taking the flight – just in case I was too nervous.

‘I didn’t for a moment think I’d be brave enough to do any aerobatics but we did victory rolls and loop-the-loops over The Needles. It was simply amazing. 

‘I kept having to pinch myself while I was up there.’

Formerly the HMS Daedalus site, the airfield would have contained a number of Spitfire planes during the Second World War – and was one of the take-off points for D-Day.

Boultbee’s marketing manager Charles Osborne says that the Spitfire has proven incredibly popular.

‘There are about 50 Spitfires left across the world’, Charles explains, ‘so it’s a real privilege to have so many in our possession.

'At the moment we have two Spitfires in operation at Solent Airport – a single-seater and a two-seater – but have more planes ready for formation flights and the like.

‘That way if we end up with a group of people wanting to fly together, we can take them all up at once, which is quite an incredible experience for both the passengers and the pilots.

‘There’s something particularly special about the Spitfire that captures the hearts and minds of practically anyone who sees them; it’s a symbol of our national freedom as it marks the sacrifices made for the future of the western world by those brave RAF pilots back in the Second World War.

‘You feel yourself being constantly reminded of the incredible history of this aircraft, and the significance that it still holds today.

‘It’s a timeless piece of engineering with a beautifully unique shape and a magnificent sound.’

While staying faithful to the original design, the Spitfires all original wartime aircraft, have been modified to comply with modern safety regulations.

They all undergo frequent maintenance to keep them in the skies.

The seasonal running of Spitfires in Lee-on-the-Solent is from April to November, with around eight flights taking place each day.

Each flight will cost a passenger a minimum of £2,750, which would pay for a 30 minute flight to The Needles which makes the trips a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. 

Some people save for the experience, while others are gifted the opportunity by family and friends. 

Recently pub regulars clubbed together to buy a trip for a delighted landlady’s 50th birthday. 

Each flight is also recorded with a 360-degree camera, giving passengers an immersive digital memory of the experience. ‘We’re looking at between 500 and 600 flights in Lee-on-the-Solent this year’ says Mr Osborne, ‘and we strive to make the flights totally unique for each passenger.

‘There is a quick briefing before the flight to see exactly what someone wants to get out of them; it can range to gentle flights across the Solent, sightseeing as you go, to taking on victory rolls, barrel rolls and other stunts.

‘Our pilots really do enjoy doing those – these planes were well-known during their time in operations for being both fast and agile.

‘All of our passengers even get the chance to take control of the Spitfire themselves, which is an incredible experience for people.

‘It’s a remarkable taste of what it would have been like to fly them in the Battle of Britain.’

When it comes to flying the planes themselves, Boultbee has some of the best pilots in the business behind the joysticks of the planes.

Mr Osborne explains: ‘We have around 15 pilots, many of whom also have top jobs elsewhere in the world of aviation.

‘Some of them are test pilots in the RAF and Rolls Royce – others are some of the most experienced pilots in the world of commercial aviation, working for companies like Virgin and British Airways.

‘These guys are at the forefront of their profession and that is something we consider really important to us.

‘But to them, this isn’t really a second job – it’s a side-hobby, something they enjoy doing to get away from the hustle and bustle of standard aviation.’

For more information go to boultbeeflightacademy.co.uk.

n All these amazing pictures were taken by Mark Rutley at Markrutleyphotography.co.uk.