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Fly with a Spitfire!

As the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Britain approaches, wartime pilot ace, Warrant Officer Neville Croucher, talks exclusively to insideKENT about his latest thrilling encounter with an iconic Spitfire over the White Cliffs of Dover.

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From the moment he stepped into the luxury helicopter to fly alongside an iconic Spitfire, former wartime pilot ace, Neville Croucher, knew he’d be in for an authentic and heart-rending experience.

As an RAF Warrant Officer from 1941 to 1946, Neville had seen the legendary Spitfire in action many times and knew full well just why she became known as the most famous aircraft in the world.

“It was always amazing to watch her during the war and just to hear those Merlin engines roaring across the skies of Kent; I knew the enemy would be in for a fright!” recalled Neville, 89, from his home in east Kent.

So when he was invited by Action Stations!’ originator Steve Burt to fly with a Spitfire in honour of the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Britain last September, Neville was delighted.

“I had always wanted to see the Spitfire in action today, and with RAF Flt Lt Charlie Brown at the controls of Spitfire Mk V BM597, my flight in the helicopter alongside couldn’t have been more real.

“Charlie flew her with brilliance all around the helicopter, and I got some cracking photographs. He’s a splendid pilot and handles the Spit beautifully. I had a wonderful day with Charlie and the Action Stations! crew.”

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, a young Neville had watched spectacular dogfights between Spitfires and the German Messerschmitts 109s taking place over the Channel, and there were many occasions he watched the enemy’s Dornier bombers head for RAF Manston airfield near Ramsgate.

He said, “When I flew next to the Spitfire with Action Stations!, we took off from Lydd Airport, and within seconds it was wonderful to see the Battle of Britain Memorial site at Capel-le-Ferne from the air.

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“Flying along the coast along the White Cliffs of Dover, and over the South Foreland lighthouse, Dover Castle, and other landmarks, brought back so many memories to me. It’s an incredible experience for enthusiasts of today, and I should know. I was up there 68 years ago!”

Neville became, what in the war was known as ‘air minded’, in 1939.

He explained, “I was working for a baker and carrying bread in the basket of my bike in 1939 when a German Dornier pilot dropped a bomb nearby and blew me right over the handlebars. He was – I hasten to add – being chased by a Spitfire, so I thought, ‘Right, that’s it, I want to be a pilot and stop this happening once and for all!’”

Neville was 21 when he was sent to Canada to learn to fly and gained his wings as a Sgt Pilot after training in aircraft like the Fairchild Cornell, the Miles Magister, and the Airspeed Oxford.

As a leading member of 289 Squadron, Neville returned to Scotland and was based at RAF Turnhouse defending our coast, and then towards the end of the war he was stationed at West Malling, Kent.

“There were often Spitfires around at base but my orders were to stick with my Hurricane, and as she always managed to get me out of some tight spots and skirmishes with the enemy I was happy to continue flying her, but I never stopped wanting to see just what a Spitfire was like to handle in the air,” explained Neville.

From the control room in Littlebourne, near Canterbury, Kent, Action Stations!’ Steve Burt told insideKENT he had been honoured to meet Neville and offer him a classic Fly with a Spitfire experience.

“Fly with a Spitfire, and indeed our Fly with a Hurricane experience, is a wonderful tribute to ‘The Few’ –those gallant young heroes of the Battle of Britain who risked their lives defending the skies of Kent.

“We provide enthusiasts with the opportunity to take part in our unique flying memorial to ‘The Few’, and for every flight booked we donate £5 to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust Wing Appeal to build an educational centre at the Capel-le-Ferne site.

“To fly next to a Spitfire over Battle of Britain country is a unique experience which attracts visitors and enthusiasts to Kent from all over the world.”

If you’d like to know more about the Fly with a Spitfire and/or Fly with a Hurricane 2013 Events Programme which runs from March to October then call Action Stations! on 01227 721929 or visit www.goactionstations.co.uk

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