Pi­lot De­brief: An­thony ‘Parky’ Parkin­son

For­mer RAF fast-jet, Red Ar­rows and BBMF pi­lot Parky’s new job is demon­strat­ing- and tak­ing pay­ing pas­sen­gers for rides in Aero Leg­ends’ Spit­fires

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & pho­tos: An­drew Critchell

A con­ver­sa­tion with the for­mer RAF fast jet and BBMF pi­lot who now flies Aero Leg­ends’ Spit­fires

Parky joined the RAF in 1983, aged eigh­teen, as an as­pir­ing fast jet pi­lot. The main phase of his train­ing took place in the US, firstly on the T-37 Tweet pri­mary jet trainer and then the su­per­sonic T-38 Talon. Back in the UK, he con­tin­ued his weapons train­ing on the Hawk T1. Tours on the F-4 Phan­tom and Tor­nado F3 fol­lowed, be­fore a three-year ex­change post­ing to the Royal Nether­lands Air Force to fly the F-16. An­other stint on the Tor­nado F3 came next, fly­ing as an in­struc­tor on the Op­er­a­tional Con­ver­sion Unit, and also be­ing the dis­play pi­lot for the 1999 and 2000 air­show sea­sons.

His next po­si­tion was fly­ing with the Red Ar­rows for four years, be­fore join­ing the Typhoon force at RAF Con­ingsby. While at Con­ingsby, Parky be­came in­volved with the Bat­tle of Bri­tain Me­mo­rial Flight as Op­er­a­tions Of­fi­cer, a post he held for eleven years. Re­cently, Parky de­cided to leave the RAF and has joined Aero Leg­ends at Head­corn, Kent as chief pi­lot. Founded by Keith Perkins, Aero Leg­ends 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 El­iz­a­beth. We spoke to Parky at Head­corn ear­lier this year.

Pi­lot: You were the first pi­lot to achieve 1,000 hours each on the Phan­tom, Tor­nado, Hawk and Typhoon, and are now the first full-time civil­ian Spit­fire pi­lot. Do you see your­self achiev­ing 1,000 hours on Spit­fires?

Parky: Well yes. Five would be greedy, but also won­der­ful and prob­a­bly the best badge of all! I got to 500 hours in the Spit­fire prob­a­bly about two years ago and I have 650 Spit­fire hours at the mo­ment, so maybe in three years; we fly about 100 hours a year. 1,000 hours Spit­fire is pretty spe­cial. There are a few guys with that and it’s prob­a­bly quite a se­lect club, but it’s an hon­our, to be hon­est. Any time you fly a Spit­fire, it never loses the magic.

You’ve flown sev­eral dif­fer­ent Spit­fire marks, do you have a favourite? That’s al­most like pick­ing be­tween your chil­dren! I would def­i­nitely say that the Mk IXS that Aero Leg­ends fly are ridicu­lously good Spit­fires. They are just so fast; they run and han­dle beau­ti­fully. But my favourite has to be the Mk IIA Spit­fire I flew in the BBMF with its in­cred­i­ble his­tory. She starred in the film the Bat­tle of Bri­tain and she’s got a known his­tory.

The first Spit I flew was ac­tu­ally MK356 (the BBMF’S Mk LFIXE) but then I flew P7350, which is brown and in bat­tle colours. I flew her when she was QJ-J on one side and QJ-G on the other side, which was Ge­of­frey Wel­lum’s 92 Squadron Spit­fire.

I read First Light and I met Ge­off many times and called him my friend. 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 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. That was my 180th flight in P7, so I def­i­nitely hogged her as much as I could for my eleven years on the Flight. She will al­ways be my spe­cial favourite. She’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary air­craft and an im­por­tant part of this coun­try’s his­tory, but it’s won­der­ful that any Spit­fires are fly­ing, and the peo­ple com­ing to fly to­day en­able TD314 and

NH341 to keep fly­ing. Head­corn will hope­fully have the busy sound of Mer­lins all day and that is great. Aero Leg­ends is lucky to have two ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous bits of ma­chin­ery.

How did you first be­come in­volved with Aero Leg­ends?

It was around 2013-14. Keith Perkins had bought the sin­gle­seater TD314 and was look­ing around to gain ex­pe­ri­ence about how to op­er­ate a Spit­fire, and he came over to the BBMF. Al­though it’s Royal Air Force, the BBMF works quite closely with the civil­ian world and is more than happy to of­fer ad­vice and guid­ance and say “This is how we op­er­ate Spit­fires. It might not be the right way, but this is how we do it, how we teach ground school, how we con­vert pi­lots, how we fly, ev­ery­thing”. So I met Keith and I re­mem­ber show­ing him around the hangar at Con­ingsby and talk­ing, and he asked would I like to come down and fly TD314. Well, you never turn down an op­por­tu­nity to fly a Spit­fire, so I went and flew TD314 at Dux­ford. I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘what a fab­u­lous Spit­fire’. I mean we’ve got great Spit­fires with the BBMF but I thought TD314 was gor­geous; a lovely Mk Ix−so orig­i­nal with the gun­sight and some touches. I’d never flown with a gun­sight be­fore. We ac­tu­ally don’t fly with them with the BBMF even.

I would take days off from the RAF and do ‘fly-withs’ with the sin­gle-seater and then Keith bought the two-seater NH341, so I did a bit of two-seat fly­ing.

You never turn down an op­por­tu­nity to fly a Spit­fire

I was so for­tu­nate to do eleven sea­sons with the BBMF but my time there was com­ing to an end and it was a choice of−sounds very spoiled−do I go back to the Eurofighter Typhoon to fly it, maybe be­come a ground in­struc­tor, be­cause that’s good money and it’s also a great team who teach in the sim­u­la­tor there, or Keith’s of­fer “What about be­com­ing my chief pi­lot here and do that?”

I chat­ted to my wife about it and my gut feel­ing was that if I didn’t take this op­por­tu­nity I would al­ways re­gret it. It’s a lovely team here at Aero Leg­ends. We re­ally try and make the whole ex­pe­ri­ence en­joy­able, whether it’s the fly-with or in the two- seater, and a very per­sonal and very plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

We’re mas­sively for­tu­nate, I think, at Head­corn be­cause of the play area we have. It’s eight min­utes for me to fly to the White Cliffs of Dover, so in twenty min­utes you’ll see an el­lip­ti­cal wing, fly over the Bat­tle of Bri­tain mon­u­ment at Capel-le-ferne, and see the White Cliffs of Dover, then you can come back and maybe do a bar­rel roll and even a loop if you want to. It’s a breath­tak­ing back­drop, and it’s a grass run­way which is quite close, so you get to hear and see and smell the Spit­fires tak­ing off and land­ing. It’s a great set up.

What do you find are the most re­ward­ing and the most chal­leng­ing parts of fly­ing with Aero Leg­ends?

While the main thing is to op­er­ate the Spit­fire safely in for­ma­tion, be it sin­gle- or two-seater, 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; it’s got quite a tight gear. It’s ab­so­lutely lovely, and it’s a very sat­is­fy­ing air­craft to land, but I will al­ways be watch­ing the weather fore­cast from two days be­fore I’m fly­ing, so I know if it’s go­ing to be a fif­teen-knot cross­wind. That con­cen­trates the mind. You’ve got to get that right

with­out a doubt, and when you do just squeak it down it’s great!

As an ex-mil­i­tary and ex-red Ar­rows pi­lot, for­ma­tion fly­ing, I guess, is my bread and but­ter. That is some­thing that I love do­ing, and to fly an air­craft safely next to an­other air­craft again is just an­other sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence−and it is won­der­ful for a civil­ian to re­alise just how close you are. You can fly through cloud on the wing of an­other air­craft, and you can look at each other and into each oth­ers’ eyes.

Fly­ing the two-seater, you’ve re­ally got to try and gauge how much the pas­sen­ger wants to do, be­cause it’s their flight and for them to get the max out of. Es­sen­tially, you al­ways take it gen­tly at first be­cause it’s a dif­fer­ent world, jump­ing into the back of a fighter air­craft. It may be a 75-year-old one but it’s still a fighter air­craft, which means it’s got per­for­mance but it’s not built for com­fort and is quite hot. It’s al­most a sen­sory over­load: it’s noisy, I wouldn’t de­scribe it as smelly, but it’s def­i­nitely got that aura of a vin­tage ma­chine, and you know most peo­ple are prob­a­bly slightly ner­vous be­cause they’re in a Spit­fire. So you take it easy at first. Even tak­ing off in a Spit­fire is go­ing to be noisy. You bump down the run­way and get air­borne, and that is a fab­u­lous thing, quite an adrenalin-filled and ex­cit­ing thing. They can’t be­lieve it. And in the two-seater you can let them have a go at the con­trols and feel how taut the Spit­fire is to fly−it re­ally is the most ridicu­lously pre­cise ma­chine−and then you gauge what they want to do to get the most out of the ex­pe­ri­ence. All of those bits have their chal­lenges and all of them are very, very sat­is­fy­ing but, at the end of the day, to take off, land, and op­er­ate that air­craft safely are clearly the most im­por­tant fac­tors.

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?

My grand­fa­ther was in the Royal Fly­ing Corps in WWI. I met him but I can’t re­mem­ber meet­ing him; I think I was three or some­thing like that. I re­mem­ber as a young kid clear­ing out the house af­ter he’d passed away, and I’ve got his sec­ond log book which is from 1918. He was an in­struc­tor at that time and it’s

amaz­ing read­ing the re­marks. He’ll say he crashed or a wheel fell off on take­off, you know. Bril­liant! I’ve got a pic­ture of him when he was given his Royal Air Force uni­form and he kept his RFC wings on it and that’s even more spe­cial. I fin­ished my RAF ca­reer about 100 years on from when he was in the RAF. And my num­ber two son is at Sand­hurst at the mo­ment and hope­fully go­ing to go Army Air Corps, so we’ve al­most gone Army to RAF, me RAF, and back to the Army, so I guess there’s fly­ing in the fam­ily, it’s in the blood.

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

It’s very strange but I just can­not re­mem­ber ever not want­ing to be an RAF fighter pi­lot and that’s 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 was al­ways like “Well, An­thony will get grand­fa­ther’s wings and he’ll get the log­book”. I was ob­vi­ously pas­sion­ate from a ridicu­lously young age about avi­a­tion and I can still re­mem­ber as a child go­ing to air­shows and see­ing the Red Ar­rows or see­ing jets fly and just think­ing ‘peo­ple get paid to do that! That is ridicu­lous and that has to be the coolest job in the world,’ and I can con­firm it is, hav­ing done it for 35 years.

I think the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple love avi­a­tion. There’s some­thing very spe­cial about fly­ing, this ex­tra­or­di­nary free feel­ing, and in my opin­ion a fighter air­craft is just the ul­ti­mate of that. Of course there are rules and reg­u­la­tions, but es­sen­tially if you’re 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. 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 not to do it, and that’s the im­por­tant thing about fly­ing, it is just a ridicu­lously plea­sur­able thing to do, and I never for­get that.

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

Be­lieve in your­self would be the first thing. When I was young so many peo­ple would say “Oh it’s so dif­fi­cult to be­come a pi­lot”, “Oh it’s so dif­fi­cult to be­come a fighter pi­lot”, “It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­come a Red Ar­rows pi­lot”, but some­body’s got to do it, and you have as good a chance as any­one else, so be­lieve in your­self. Clearly, do the best you can at school, and work hard.

All the pi­lots I meet are driven and mo­ti­vated to do what they want to do: it’s such an im­por­tant thing to have that be­lief, to go for it and work hard. With­out doubt it’s not easy, but if you have that be­lief and that drive you’ll achieve it.

Al­most ev­ery job in avi­a­tion is fun, no mat­ter what it is, that’s why peo­ple do it, so good luck to ev­ery­body. That’s 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!

I can­not re­mem­ber ever not want­ing to be an RAF fighter pi­lot

LEFT: Taxy­ing out in Aero Leg­ends' sin­gle-seat Spit­fire Mk IX TD314ABOVE: Parky joined Aero Leg­ends at Head­corn in 2018 as chief pi­lot

ABOVE: Parky in TD314, tak­ing off from Head­corn

BE­LOW: Char­lie Brown fly­ing TD314 (near­est the cam­era) with Parky in two-seater NH341

Pas­sen­gers can en­joy a rear-seat flight over the White Cliffs of Dover in El­iz­a­beth, Aero Leg­ends' two-seat Spit­fire

‘Just squeak­ing it down’ back at Head­corn af­ter an air­show

ABOVE: Char­lie Brown fly­ing Aero Leg­ends Spit­fire TD314

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