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Aero Legends interview visit - Headcorn Aerodrome, Kent, May 12th 2018

Aero Legends Headcorn May 2018 generated by VisualLightBox.com
01 Flt Lt Anthony Parky Parkinson with Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 02 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 03 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 04 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 05 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 06 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 07 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 08 Flt Lt Charlie Brown in  Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 09 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 10 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 11 Tiger Moth G-ANMO  K4259 Headcorn May 2018 12 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 13 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 14 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 15 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 16 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 17 Tiger Moth G-ANMO  K4259 Headcorn May 2018 18 Tiger Moth G-ANMO  K4259 Headcorn May 2018 19 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 20 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 21 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 22 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 23 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 23 Tiger Moth G-ANMO  K4259 Headcorn May 2018 24 Aerolegends Delivery Managers and Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 25 Aerolegends Delivery Managers and Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 27 Photo briefing Headcorn May 2018 29 de Havilland Devon G-DHDV  VP981 Headcorn May 2018 30 de Havilland Devon G-DHDV  VP981 Headcorn May 2018 31 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 32 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 33 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 34 Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 35 Stu Goldspink in Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 36 Photographers and de Havilland Devon G-DHDV  VP981 Headcorn May 2018 37 Flt Lt Anthony Parky Parkinson in  Spitfire IX TD314 Headcorn May 2018 38 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 39 de Havilland Devon G-DHDV  VP981 Headcorn May 2018 40 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 41 Hurricane MkI P3717 G-HITT Headcorn May 2018 42 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 43 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 44 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 45 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 46 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 47 Aerolegends Hurricane and Spitfires Headcorn May 2018 48 Aerolegends Hurricane and Spitfires Headcorn May 2018 49 Spitfire IXT NH341 Headcorn May 18 lightbox gallery scriptby VisualLightBox.com v6.1

Comment: After my air to air sortie in October 2017 I returned to Headcorn in May 2018 to conduct interviews and get more images for an article on Aero Legends. One of my interviewees was Flight Lieutenant Antony 'Parky' Parkinson and I was very lucky to spend twenty minutes with him before his flying duties took over in the morning. The text of this interview follows, the same being published in the November 2018 issue of Pilot Magazine alongside several of my air to air and ground to air images. Thanks to Ben Perkins for facilitating this, Parky for his time and Philip Whiteman for publishing the article. The full article on Aero Legends is in the current (August 2019) issue of Flightpath Magazine.At the time of the interview Parky had around 650 hours in Spitfires and in August 2019 he achieved 1,000 hours in the Spitfire, the fifth type in which he has reached this milestone.

An interview with Fl Lt Antony ĎParkyí Parkinson MBE

Parky was 18 when he joined the RAF as an aspiring fast jet pilot in 1983. The main phase of his training was undertaken in the US, firstly on the T-37 Tweet primary jet trainer and then the supersonic T-38 Talon. Returning to the UK, Parky continued his weapons training on the Hawk T1. Tours on the F-4 Phantom and Tornado F3 followed before Parky embarked on a three-year exchange posting to the Royal Netherlands Air Force to fly the F-16. Another stint on the Tornado F3 came next, Parky flying as an instructor on the Operational Conversion Unit and also being the display pilot for the 1999 and 2000 airshow seasons. Parky next achieved a position with the Red Arrows flying with the team for four years, before joining the Typhoon force at RAF Coningsby. While at Coningsby, Parky also became involved with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as Operations Officer, a post he held for eleven years.  Most recently Parky took the decision to leave the RAF and join Aerolegends at Headcorn, Kent as chief pilot. Founded by Keith Perkins, Aerolegends offers a range of historic flight experiences to the general public, including flying alongside single-seat Spitfire IX TD314, and flying in two-seat Spitfire IXT NH341 ĎElizabeth.í Pilot spoke to Parky at Headcorn earlier this year as he embarked on his first full-time season.

AC - You have had 1,000 hours on the Phantom, Tornado, Hawk and Typhoon, being the first pilot to achieve that milestone on that type, and are now the first full-time civilian Spitfire pilot. Do you see yourself achieving 1,000 hours in Spitfires?

Parky - Well yes, I mean, five would be greedy, that would be wonderful! I have 650 Spitfire hours at the moment so maybe in three years. We fly a lot at the moment, about 100 hours a year so far, so that would probably be the best badge of all I think. 1,000 hours Spitfire, it is pretty special.  I remember I got 500 hours in the Spitfire probably about two years ago.  If you collect badges that was always the one that was great to have. Thereís a few guys with 1,000 hours on Spitfires, itís probably quite a select club, but itís an honour to be honest. Anytime you fly a Spitfire it never loses the magic and to say youíve got 1000 hours in it is pretty special.

AC - Having experience of several different marks of Spitfire, do you have a favourite?

Parky - Itís almost like picking between your children! I would definitely quantify this by saying the MkIXs that Aerolegends fly are ridiculously good Spitfires. They are just so fast, they run and they handle absolutely beautifully, but it has to be the MkIIa Spitfire I flew in the BBMF with its incredible history. She also starred in the film The Battle of Britain and sheís got a known history.  The first Spit I flew was actually MK356 [the BBMFís LFIXe - AC] but that afternoon I flew P7350, and sheís brown and sheís in the battle colours.  I flew her when she was QJ-J and also on the left side QJ-G, which was Geoffrey Wellumís 92 Squadron Spitfire. I read First Light and I met Geoff so many times and I called him my friend, and there is so much about that Spitfire that connects me with the history of the RAF and the history of this country, and it is just the most wonderful Spitfire to fly. She is so absolutely perfect in everything. My last trip in the RAF was in P7. I flew with the Lancaster then did a solo display and landed, and that was my 180th flight in P7, so I definitely hogged her as much as I could for the eleven years I was on the Flight. I loved all those Spitfires and it is wrong, but I do have a favourite and she will always be special.  Sheís there and when P7 flies it is an extraordinary aircraft and itís such an important part of this countryís history, but itís the people that are coming today that will enable TD314 and NH341 to fly and that is wonderful that any Spitfires are flying. Headcorn will hopefully have the busy sound of Merlins all day and that is great, and at Aerolegends weíre so lucky to have two absolutely fabulous bits of machinery out there.

AC - How did you first become involved with Aerolegends?

It was probably about 2013/14 when Keith Perkins, who had bought single-seater TD314, was really just looking around, gaining experience about how would you operate a Spitfire, and he came over to the BBMF. Although itís Royal Air Force, we do work quite closely with the civilian world and weíre more than happy to offer advice and guidance and say Ďthis is how we operate Spitfires.í It might not be the right way, but this is how we do it, how we teach the ground school, how we convert pilots, how we fly, everything, so I met Keith. I remember showing him around the hangar at Coningsby and we were talking about stuff and at one stage he said would I like to come down and fly TD314. You never turn down an opportunity to fly a Spitfire and that is absolutely my first motto so I went down and flew TD314 at Duxford. I remember thinking Ďwhat a fabulous spitfire.í I mean weíve got great Spitfires with the BBMF but I thought that TD314ís gorgeous, a lovely Mark IX, so original with the gunsight and some touches. Iíd never flown with a gunsight before. We actually donít fly with them with the BBMF even.  

I would take days off from the RAF and do Ďfly-withsí with the single-seater and then Keith bought the two-seater NH341, so I did a bit of two-seat flying. I was so fortunate to do eleven seasons with the BBMF but my time was coming to an end there and it was really a choice of, and it sounds very spoilt, but do I go back to the Eurofighter Typhoon to fly it, maybe become a ground instructor, because thatís good money and itís also a lovely team who teach in the simulator there, or Keith said Ďwell look, what about becoming my chief pilot here and fly and do that,í and you know domestically, I chatted to my wife about it, and I just thought if I didnít take this opportunity I would always regret it and that was the feeling I had, it was more of a gut feeling. Itís such a lovely team here at Aerolegends. We really try and enjoy it and make the whole experience, whether itís the fly-with or itís the flying in a two-seat Spitfire, a very personal and very pleasurable experience.

Weíre massively fortunate I think here at Headcorn because the play area we have, you know itís eight minutes for me to fly to the White Cliffs of Dover, so in twenty minutes youíll see an elliptical wing and you know there is a monument to the Battle of Britain at Capel-le-Ferne, thereís the White Cliffs of Dover, you can come back and maybe do a barrel roll and even a loop if they want to, but it really is a breathtaking backdrop, and itís a grass runway which is quite close to where we are so you get to hear and see and smell the Spitfires taking off and landing, so itís a great set up.

AC - What do you find are the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of flying with Aerolegends?

Parky - Essentially, the main thing is you are safely operating a Spitfire, be it a two-seater or a single- seater properly in formation. To safely do that, clearly you have to operate the aircraft safely. I think most attention will always be on the landing. A Spitfire needs to be landed just so. It was never really designed for crosswind landings. Itís got quite a tight gear, itís absolutely lovely, but itís a very satisfying aircraft to land but I will always be watching the weather forecast almost from two days before Iím flying, and I know if itís going to be a 15 knot crosswind. Itís very satisfying landing a Spitfire in that wind but definitely that is something that is in your mind. Youíve got to get that right without a doubt and when you do just squeak it down, its lovely!

For formation flying, I guess as a military pilot, and especially as an ex-Red Arrow pilot, itís my bread and butter. That is something that I love doing, and to safely fly an aircraft next to another aircraft again is just another satisfying experience, and it is wonderful for essentially a civilian person to realise just how close you are. If you have to fly through cloud on the wing of an aircraft, you are on the wing of an aircraft and you can look at each other and in each othersí eyes and are in different aircraft, so thatís great.

For the two-seater flying youíve really got to try and gauge how much the passenger wants to do, because itís their flight and itís for them to get the max out of it. Essentially, you always take it gently at first because itís a different world jumping into the back of a fighter aircraft, albeit a 75 year old one, but itís still a fighter aircraft which means itís got performance, itís not built for comfort and itís quite hot. Itís almost a sensory overload - itís noisy, I wouldnít describe it as smelly, but itís definitely got that aura of a vintage machine, and you know most people are probably slightly nervous because theyíre in a Spitfire. You really take it easy at first. You get them airborne, but even taking off in a Spitfire - itís going to be noisy. You bump down the runway and you get airborne, and that is a fabulous thing and thatís probably quite an adrenaline filled and exciting thing. You take it easy at first and calm down and when you actually speak to them they canít believe it and itís a two-seater so you can let them have a go at the controls and feel how taught the spitfire is to fly - it really is the most ridiculously precise machine, and then itís just gauging what they want to do, making them get the most out of this experience, so all of those bits have their challenges and all of them are very, very satisfying, but at the end of the day, to safely take off, land, and operate that aircraft, is clearly the most important factor.

AC - The RAF is celebrating its 100th birthday this year but you have a 100 year link closer to home. Can you tell us about that?

Parky - My grandfather was in the Royal Flying Corps in World War One. Its a hundred years ago. Itís amazing! I remember as a young kid clearing out the house after heíd passed away. I met him but I canít remember meeting him. I think I was three or something like that, but Iíve got a picture in my house and Iíve got his second log book which is from 1918. He was an instructor at that time and itís amazing reading the remarks. Heíll say he crashed or a wheel fell off on take-off, you know brilliant!  Iíve got a picture of him when he was given his Royal Air Force uniform and he kept his RFC wings on it and itís even more special. Itís 100 years on and 100 years ago he was in the RAF and I just about ended 100 years later. In fact, my number two son at the moment is at Sandhurst so heís hopefully going to go Army Air Corp so weíve almost gone army to RAF, me RAF and back to the army, so I guess thereís flying in the family, itís in the blood. 

AC - What inspired you to get into aviation when you were young?

Parky - Itís very strange but I just genuinely cannot remember ever not wanting to be an RAF fighter pilot and thatís the truth. When I was very young I remember watching every movie and I built Airfix kits and I knew every aircraft and my family were always like Ďwell Anthony will get Grandfatherís Wings and heíll get the log book.í Even when I was very young I was obviously passionate from a ridiculously young age about aviation and in my mind I can still remember as a child going to airshows and seeing the Red Arrows or seeing jets fly and just thinking Ďpeople get paid to do that! That is ridiculous and that has to be the coolest job in the world,í and I can confirm it is. Having done it for 40 years, it is the coolest job in the world!

I think the majority of people love aviation. Thereís something very special about flying, this extraordinary free feeling, and in my opinion a fighter aircraft is just the ultimate of that. Thereís rules and regulations and bits, but essentially if youíre in an F-16, or a Phantom, or a Eurofighter, it is you who is flying this ridiculously powerful machine that you can go to 55,000 feet in, and every now and then, if I was coming back on my own, I would always go upside down and find some clouds because I enjoy flying too much to not do it, and thatís the important thing about flying, it is just a ridiculously pleasurable thing to do, and I never forget that. Sometimes I think Ďoh that was not such a good trip in my jetí but you always think Ďwhat am I saying? Thatís a ridiculous thing to say!í

AC - What advice would you give young people considering a career in aviation?

Parky - I guess believe in yourself would be the first thing. I remember when I was young so many people would say Ďoh itís so difficult to become a pilot, oh itís so difficult to become a fighter pilot, itís impossible to become a Red Arrow pilot,í but somebodyís got to do it so yours is as surely a good enough chance as anyone else so believe in yourself. Clearly, do the best you can at school. It sounds crazy but work hard.  All the pilots I meet, from the self-helpers to everybody they are, you can just tell they are well driven, they are motivated to do what they want to do and that is such an important thing to have that belief, to go for it and work hard.  Without doubt itís not easy, and if it was everybody would do it because itís such a great thing.  I think if you have that belief and that drive youíll achieve it and what area you achieve it in, you can almost argue that every job in aviation is fun, no matter what it is, itís fun and thatís why people do it, so good luck to everybody. Thatís why we do airshows, we try and introduce people to the world of aviation, to excite people and show them it exists. Good luck to all of them, I really hope they succeed!

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