Military and integrated flight training didn’t work out, but at the RAF Flying Club, Sam Worthington-Leese went solo in a week
Yayeri van Baarsen
8 August 2022
I’ve always been fascinated by aviation, particularly its early ages. As a kid, I wanted the Battle of Britain to restart so I could fly Spitfires… My grandfather was a WWII fighter pilot and I guess some of that has rubbed off on me. My passion, for as long as I can remember, has been flying.
On my third attempt – I’d started gliding by then – I got into the RAF. However, after only two hours of flight training, I was made redundant. Afterwards, I started training with an integrated flight school that went bust after, again, two hours of lessons. I was on the verge of going to the States for a cheap PPL when someone mentioned the RAF Flying Clubs.
At Pathfinder Flying Club at RAF Wyton, everything came together. Obviously learning to fly was challenging, but it made sense and I didn’t find it difficult. I flew every day, multiple times. This helped as I didn’t forget anything I’d learned in my previous lesson, but it also meant there was lots to process at the end of each day. I had great instructors who made it seem straightforward and went at my pace: after about a week, I went solo.
No, I wasn’t. The day before, bad weather was forecast, so on the day of my solo, flying had effectively been cancelled. In the morning though, the weather turned out to be good, and after a quick flight together, the instructor sent me off. What I noticed most, was that the aircraft was way lighter, it climbed faster and didn’t want to come down. Going solo was a great experience, but since I’d always seen myself doing this, it almost felt like a natural next step.
Yes, my first Spitfire solo was incredibly memorable and the culmination of a long journey. Geoffrey Wellum’s book, First Light, showed me the path: fly Tiger Moths, Harvards and then the Spitfire might follow. After qualifying commercially, I became an instructor, flew many taildraggers, got a job that allowed me to fly the Harvard, obtained my Display Authorisation and got to know the guys at the Aircraft Restoration Company, Duxford, through the Typhoon project. Still, the offer to actually fly a Spitfire came out of the blue. I soloed in October 2019, carrying First Light in my leg pocket as it was the book that got me there.
It’s an unsung hero. Everyone knows the Spitfire and Hurricane, but almost nobody knows the Typhoon. We hope to get her back in the air as a living memorial to everyone who flew it or was involved in the design or build – especially to those who lost their lives flying it. Being employed as the first dedicated ground attack aircraft, the Typhoon had a high loss rate.
To me, it’s special because of my grandfather’s history. He flew them during WWII and his final flight of the war was in a Typhoon. I’ve got parts of the actual aircraft he flew that day and hope to incorporate these into RB396. If money was no object, rebuilding could be ready in four years. However, it’ll take £4.5-5 million… There aren’t any airworthy Typhoons anymore, so parts are hard to get and skills must be learned.
Because our fund-raising has taken a massive hit after Covid, I considered a challenge to raise money and awareness. Since 666 Typhoon pilots were killed in the war, I got the idea of running 666 miles to honour them. Breaking this distance into 100 days, I finished on 6 June, the Anniversary of D-Day.
It’s just the only thing I see myself doing. I’m not one for big crowds – up by myself in a vintage single-seater, that’s when I feel comfortable. I fly for my day job, fly as a hobby, and in my spare time, I’m raising money to rebuild an aircraft: for me, flying is everything.
For more info about the Hawker Typhoon project, click here
Co-founder of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group Sam Worthington-Leese aims to rebuild the Hawker Typhoon Mklb RB396 as a living memorial. He’s also founder of www.pilot396.com, where he writes about getting into warbirds.
|When||16 April 2012|
|Aircraft||Slingsby T67 Firefly|
|Hours at solo||Approx. 10|
|Hours now||Approx. 3,000|