There’s only one set of flying controls in this Avro Anson, so when we’re safely airborne and pilot Ben Cox has got the aeroplane nicely in trim and flying straight and level, we swap seats. The view out to the left is stunning. The Sussex countryside slips past below, bathed in late afternoon sun; out to my left a silver wing with iconic RAF roundel and one of the Anson’s two 420bhp Armstrong-Siddely radial engines turning its propellor at 2000rpm. The Anson is noisy, even with our headsets on. There’s such a sense of occasion flying an old aircraft like this that it’s almost impossible to gather the emotions.
The Avro Anson was derived from the civilian Avro 652 airliner and saw service in the war as a training aircraft for pilots, navigators, wireless operators and was also used as a taxi and general transport by bomber and fighter squadrons.
My dad flew in an Anson just like this one during the war as part of his training before stepping up into a Wellington bomber. Briefly I think of that 25-year-old who 75 years ago sat in the back of this amazing aircraft poring over his maps. The Sussex coast is slipping underneath us as Cox gets me to turn the twin-engined aircraft towards Brighton.
The Anson is one of five machines owned by Coventry-based Classic Air Force that are being auctioned at the Revival by Bonhams. And what a selection. Most beautiful of all is the De Havilland Rapide which, like the Anson, is a twin-engined aircraft. The Rapide first flew in 1934 and saw service both as a civil airliner and as a training and transport aircraft in WW2 (the RAF rechristened it the Dommie).
The Classic Air Force’s Rapide was built in 1946 and has passed through many owners since briefly wearing RAF serial number TX310. With eight seats behind the single pilot, the Rapide is the perfect machine for joyrides, giving passengers a taste of what aviation was like before and immediately after the war.
Like both of the twin-engined aircraft in the Bonhams sale, the Percival Proctor also led a double life in the services and the civilian world. The early marks of Proctor were used like the Rapide and Anson as transport and training aircraft. By the time Classic Air Force’s 1948 Proctor 5 was built it was back to its civilian life as four-seat touring aircraft for the private flyer or as a company runabout.
Before having a long and varied life being passed from one enthusiast to another, G-AKIU was used by Rolls-Royce as a runaround for 14 years. Immaculately restored, this Gypsy Queen-engined beauty has been brought back to life and again provides relaxing touring.
The next two aircraft going under the hammer are quite different. Younger, they differ from the other lots in that they both led exclusively military careers. The first is the De Havilland Chipmunk. Some of you will now be casting your minds back to your schooldays and the air cadets or to being a member of a university air squadron. The Chipmunk took over from the Tiger Moth as the Royal Air Force’s primary trainer.
If you started your RAF career in the 1950s, ’60s or early ’70s, you learned to fly on a Chippy before going onto jets. Today, many Chipmunks are privately owned around the world, loved because they’re fantastic to fly and brilliant at aerobatics. I’ve never met any pilot who’s flown a Chipmunk and not loved it.
Right, you’ve got your ‘wings’ in the Chipmunk, now you’re moving into the big stuff. Your next training will be in our last lot, Classic Air Force’s 1958 De Havilland Vampire, the RAF’s second jet after the Meteor. There’s a Rolls-Royce Goblin turbojet in the back that’ll propel you and your instructor to a top speed of 548mph. Beautiful, isn’t it? And believe it or not you can fly the Vampire on a private pilot’s licence.
Up for sale in the auction at an estimate of £70,000 to £90,000 the Vampire will provide a buzz that not even the most extreme modern hypercar can. There’s only one slight snag: the Vampire consumes 350 gallons of jet fuel an hour.
Photography: Tom Shaxson