Spitfire veteran takes to skies again

A SPITFIRE pilot has returned to the skies to meet the new generation of daredevils.

Ken Hurst, of Brigg-swath, hitched a lift in a Tiger Moth to visit RAF Linton-on-Ouse near York where he met other veteran Spitfire pilots and the new generation of aviators from his old unit – 72 Squadron.

It was the first time he had flown in a military plane since he left the RAF in 1973.

He said: "It's thrilling, it's exciting and a privilege to go up there. You feel the air and the Tiger Moth in particular is an easy plane to fly but a difficult one to fly accurately."

Both Mr Hurst and his wife Margot met the new generation of pilots.

They said: "They were marvellous, in a class of their own.

"They were polite and charming in every way and obviously a bit steely."

Following the war, when he was involved in the airlift to Berlin, Mr Hurst's job was to teach former Second World War Spitfire pilots how to fly upgraded versions.

"It was the Cold War by then and things had gone crazy," he said. "There was a panic on for pilots and I'd just qualified as an instructor.

"The new Spitfire was a more powerful aircraft than the one they had flown in the Battle of Britain so it was all a bit different."

Mr Hurst was also involved in the Cold War in a direct way as he could have been called upon to fly missions if the Cuban missile crisis had descended into nuclear war.

He was also in Lebanon helping to establish their air force.

He said: "My job was to train their pilots but one day I was tasked to fly a reconnaissance mission with General Chehab, who later became President of Lebanon. I was given an Italian bomber to fly the mission and because it flew like a Mosquito, my boss thought it a good idea to send me.

"The General must have been pleased with my flying because he sent me and my colleagues an unusual present – turkeys for Christmas dinner."

On his return to the UK, Mr Hurst was made a Knight of the Order of the Cedar, one of Lebanon's highest awards, by the then President, Camille Chamoun.

Mr Hurst retired as a squadron leader and went onto teach maths and other subjects at Whitby School for 15 years.

He thanked Peter Jackson of Egton, the owner of the Tiger Moth, for inviting and taking him to RAF Linton-on-Ouse.