Our pilots fly some of the most modern and sophisticated machines in the sky. The tightly regulated world of commercial aviation demands levels of professionalism only achieved through years of experience, and only the best need apply. So what were a group of our pilots doing flying around the south of England in some of the smallest and simplest aircraft ever built?
For many pilots, flying isn’t just a job. It runs much deeper than that. It’s almost a calling, their lifelong passion – and it’s often what defines them. But while their day job involves crossing oceans in huge airliners with hundreds of passengers on board, many also enjoy a way of flying which takes them right back to their first days in the military or at their local flying club. That’s why you’ll sometimes find them back where it all began, flying single engine light aircraft for fun. What could be more different to flying a 787 from Heathrow than taking a very basic two-seater off a bumpy grass strip, navigating only by sight and feeling the wind beneath your wings?
The great Virgin Atlantic Fly In
A number of our pilots own, or part own, a private aircraft. Once a year they arrange a ‘fly in’ which is where they all fly in to a chosen airfield for a spot of lunch, a coffee or two and a bit of banter. This year I joined two of our 787 captains, Steve Chambers and David Shaw, as they flew their Piper Arrow Turbo to the fly in. Blessed with great weather, we departed Dunsfold in Surrey and took the 20 minute flight to White Waltham in Berkshire, 2000 feet above the fascinating and beautiful landscape of southern England.
Steve and Dave took the two established routes into flying. Steve, an ex-RAF fighter pilot and instructor had previously flown the Jaguar and Hawk. Dave had taken the civilian route flying for a number of different airlines across several continents. They both settled on a job at Virgin Atlantic where they became great friends, and have now been flying with us for over 20 years, starting on the old 747 Classic aircraft before moving on to our Boeing 787s. Joining Dave and Steve at White Waltham were a number of other pilots and a selection of aircraft that can best be described as eclectic!
White Waltham airfield and flying club
White Waltham has a rich aviation history going back to before the Second World War when it served as a station for the air transport auxiliary. Today, the clubhouse is bedecked with historic photos and sits next to a couple of old war shelters giving it a lovely nostalgic feel. Sitting on the lawn outside, eating ice cream, chatting with pilots and their families while watching light aircraft come and go – it’s about as quintessentially English as it gets. It was also a great chance for some of the people who work in our offices to chat to our pilots and learn about their world.
The fabulous Chippy
The most popular aircraft at the fly in was the DE Havilland Chipmunk The Chippy – or poor man’s Spitfire as it is sometimes called – represents everything this type of flying stands for. Many of the pilots learned to fly in Chipmunks, and they certainly all have fond memories and a great affection for this aircraft. Watching Captains Nick Coley and Bill Perrins do some formation flying in their Chipmunks and giving a few people the opportunity to go along for the ride was a particular highlight. Nick’s Chipmunk, WK514 even has a historical pedigree, having been the personal aircraft of Air Commodore Samuel Charles Elworthy, a senior RAF officer who commanded a squadron of Blenheim bombers during World War II.
In the afternoon we were visited by Phil Maher, our Executive Vice President – Operations, who took the chance to experience the thrill of these aircraft first hand.
“What a terrific day. It was great to spend time chatting to some of our pilots away from work, and I’d like to thank Steve Chambers, Dave Shaw, Bill Perrins and Dave Fry for organising. I’d also like to thank Zane Dunning for taking my family and me for a spin in his aircraft; we all enjoyed that enormously. To cap it all the pilots also used the day to raise an impressive amount for our two supported charities. We all really enjoyed ourselves and I look forward to next year’s event”.
The fly in raised over £500 which will be split between our supported charity WE.org and the aviation charity fly2help, an organisation dedicated to raising the spirits of people both young and old living in difficult personal situations, and inspiring young people as they consider their future lives. Founded by pilots, their Air Smiles Days and Aim High education programmes take everything that is exhilarating about flying and use it to do something extraordinary.
Many thanks to the White Waltham flying club for hosting us