‘I walked into the hangar at Duxford where we were completing winter maintenance on the Lancaster Bomber and bumped into Ewan McGregor, together with his brother Colin. Actually, I had unwittingly wandered into ‘shot’, but the director forgave me when we arranged a flight in the Spitfire.’ Not something many people get to drop into conversation, but that’s exactly how Dave ‘Rats’ Ratcliffe, one of our pilots, ended up taking part in a landmark BBC documentary celebrating 100 years of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
After this unexpected meeting, there were several phone calls and a detailed briefing before Rats and Ewan took off in the two-seat Spitfire to go barreling through the sky above Duxford. If that wasn’t enough, they then engaged in a mock battle with a Messerschmitt 109 flown by John Romain, owner of the Aircraft Restoration Company.
As one of our Airbus captains, Rats is used to flying the occasional VIP. But this was a very special flight even by his standards. The documentary – which airs this Sunday on BBC One – follows actor Ewan McGregor and his brother Colin, a former RAF bomber pilot, as they take to the skies in a selection of aircraft from the history of the RAF. They experience many different types of flying machine, from the earliest biplanes, large transport aircraft, helicopters and bombers, right up to modern day fast jets. Along the way they meet several heroes of the sky and hear some truly inspiring stories.
Rats began his flying career in the RAF, originally flying Lightning jets before moving on to Wessex and Chinook helicopters. After the RAF he joined another UK airline for five years before applying to work at Virgin Atlantic 13 years ago. Last year he gained his command on our Airbus fleet.
With a distinguished career that has taken him around the world, there was still one aircraft Dave really wanted to fly: The Spitfire. As anyone who has served in the RAF will tell you, this aircraft holds a special place in the history of the service. Rats was drawn to the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford where he volunteered his services, and it took many years of sweeping floors, cleaning, and towing their priceless aircraft around before he was finally allowed to fly the incredibly rare plane. He has since gone on to amass 450 hours on the Spitfire, instructing other pilots, taking people for flights in the two-seater version and flying in air displays.
We’ve always been privileged to have a large number of ex-military people working for us both in the air and on the ground, so we’re incredibly proud to see Rats take part in this wonderful film. Find out more about the history of the RAF on their website and 100th anniversary page.
The Aircraft Restoration Company has a world-class reputation for servicing and repairing rare vintage aircraft including the last flying example of the Lancaster Bomber owned by the RAF. They also offer flights in the two-seat Spitfire at Duxford via www.classic-wings.co.uk
You can catch Rats flying the Spitfire at several UK airshows this summer including the Flying Legends airshow in July and a very special Battle of Britain Airshow in September. The BBC documentary RAF at 100 with Ewan and Colin McGregor will air on Sunday 25 March at 20:30 on BBC1.
Sadly Rats won’t be able to see it; he’ll be in New York! That’s aviation for you.