A flight in a Hawker Hunter

A personal story about a wonderful flying experience.

This is a tale about my cousin Richard.  He has never been a pilot but has always been fascinated in flying.  He was reminiscing the other day about an event in a lifetime, flying in a military jet.  But this was no ordinary jet, this was the iconic Hawker Hunter.

These are Richard’s words.

It all started early in 2003. Lynne and I decided to take her son Henry and his friend to Tangmere Air Museum.

We were looking around, and were particularly taken by the bright red Hawker Hunter (WB188), in which Neville Duke had broken the world speed record on 7th September 1953, between Littlehampton and Worthing piers.

The curator of the museum was listening to us, and said – ‘Sad, isn’t it, we were hoping to have a 50th anniversary re-run of the flight. We have the aeroplane and the pilot, but nobody will sponsor us the fuel‘.

In the way that Lynne does, she just said ‘That’s alright, Richard will sponsor you the fuel!’

Well, that was all very well, but how much would it cost?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a cheque for £1,600 ($2,400) was sent to the Hunter Flying Club at Exeter, which was followed by a telephone call from them. Basically, they said they were going to use a 2 seat Hunter, and as I had paid for the fuel, would I like the left hand seat!!!

On the morning of 7th September, I drove to Exeter Airport, and was introduced to the ground crew, and to the pilot Jonathan Whaley, who has his own multi-coloured Hunter ‘Miss Demeanor’, which I am sure you will have seen on the air display circuits.

WV322 looked stunning with newly painted top, tail and fuel tanks in gleaming red to remind us of WB188, which was painted bright red so that it could be easily seen by the timekeepers.

Settling into the LH seat!

After an hours tuition on the use of the ejector seat, the time came to be shoe-horned into the cockpit, and we taxied out. Special permission had been given for us to take-off towards the East, even though the pattern for the day was to the West. This was to save as much fuel as possible, as we had a long way to go!

A very smooth take-off, and a cruise at approx 3000 feet along the south coast to Chichester, followed by a sudden turn to the left and a dive into Goodwood, where the Revival Meeting was taking place. After nearly taking the roof off the Grandstand, a climbing turn and a low pass over Tangmere (where Neville Duke was watching), and on towards Selsea Bill.

Hunter and me!

A sharp left turn, and we were on our way past Littlehampton, and on towards Worthing Pier, where family and friends were waiting.

Well! We passed Worthing Pier at about 400 knots and at 400 feet, immediately going up into a Derry turn and pulling 4G!

It was unbelievable. I remember seeing the sea a few feet above my head, followed by the pebbles on the beach, at which point I thought ‘He’s never going to get round to the end of the pier – he’s going straight across the town!’

Of course, I was wrong, and we made a slower run back past the pier, and Jonathan gave a nice little ‘Wing Waggle’ for the people watching.

Back to Selsea Bill, and Jonathan said to me that he had heard that Neville Duke had actually done three Victory rolls across Tangmere to celebrate. ‘O.K., we’ll do the same

Three very sharp rolls later, and he realised he had ‘rolled’ over the wrong greenhouses!. (Tangmere these days is covered in greenhouses). So, three more very tight rolls – this time in the correct place – before a fast run back into Goodwood before a sharp climb and three more rolls – wow! Nine rolls in a matter of seconds!

A turn towards the Solent, and we formated with a Russion Yak, with rear cockpit open, and a photographer giving Jonathan instructions so that he could get a good variety of shots.

YAK - photo platform!

Then, with limited fuel, it was time to go. Imagine how I felt when Jonathan handed me the controls! All my birthdays had come at once!

As we approached Exeter, the weather was closing in. We just had time for Jonathan to play his favourite game – Up over a big cumulus cloud, down the other side, banking hard through a small gap between the clouds.

At this point, I confess that the negative ‘G’ had the cold sweat appearing on my forehead. Then it was back into Exeter and a smooth landing, braking hard before the end of the runway.

That’s fine‘ said Jonathan, ‘We’ve still got 7 minutes fuel left‘. Sensing my concern, he added, ‘Don’t worry – You can go a long way in 7 minutes in one of these!!

Taxiing back to our stand, followed by being told to keep still while the ‘seat’ was disarmed, and a shaky me made my way down the ladder onto the ground, where I was offered a cup of tea – it was wonderful. The grin on my face stretched from ear to ear.

The total flight was 70 minutes, and it is 70 minutes of my life that I will never forget

Rather than dilute Richard’s account here, I will add another article with some general background information on the Hunter in the next few days.

By Bob Derham

7 thoughts on “A flight in a Hawker Hunter

  1. I was one of the “family & friends” on Worthing pier, and I swear we could see his grin from the ground!!


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