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GALLERY: Former RAF pilot, 100, takes to skies as Biggin Hill Airport celebrates centenary year

PUBLISHED: 13:17 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:01 14 February 2017

A Learjet containing veterans (left) flies alongside a Spitfire carrying former pilot Ray Roberts at the launch of the celebrations the mark the centenary of Biggin Hill airport. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

A Learjet containing veterans (left) flies alongside a Spitfire carrying former pilot Ray Roberts at the launch of the celebrations the mark the centenary of Biggin Hill airport. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Ray Roberts, from Margate, used a walking aid on the runway to take his place in the twin-seat aircraft

A 100-year-old former RAF pilot has taken to the skies in a Spitfire to mark the centenary year celebrations of an airport that played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain.

Ray Roberts, from Margate, used a walking aid on the runway to take his place in the twin-seat aircraft, while fellow centenarians Lily Osborne and Trudy Baxter flew in a Learjet 75.

The trio were VIPs at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent which arranged the flights to herald a year of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the ex-RAF base.

Mr Roberts, who was flown by Captain Peter Kynsey, joined the RAF in 1940 and trained as a pilot before being injured that year when his parachute failed to fully open after he bailed out of a Spitfire.

Former RAF pilot Ray Roberts, 100, took the skies in a Spitfire on Monday to mark the 100th anniversary of Biggin Hill Airport. Photo: Keith Larby.Former RAF pilot Ray Roberts, 100, took the skies in a Spitfire on Monday to mark the 100th anniversary of Biggin Hill Airport. Photo: Keith Larby.

He became a proud member of the Caterpillar Club, a group of people who had bailed out of a stricken aircraft and survived to tell the tale. His injuries forced him to quit as a fighter pilot.

And in 1941 he joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and spent the rest of the Second World War delivering aircraft to service units direct from the factory.

As the Spitfire roared in the skies above Kent and London, Mr Roberts’ daughter, Lyndi Roberts, said: “He is just amazed to be given the opportunity. He has been going through his old logbooks.

“Since he found out he was going to be flown in a Spitfire, he kept saying he cannot wait to get up and see the Earth, looking down. He said it takes him back.”

Best known for its role in the Battle of Britain, Biggin Hill served as one of the vital command bases for the Hurricanes and Spitfires of RAF Fighter Command protecting the South East.

It latterly accepted civil flights alongside its role as a rapid reaction station. And when RAF operations ended there, Biggin Hill gradually grew as an international gateway airport for business, corporate and general aviation.

Biggin Hill managing director Will Curtis told guests that the Second World War was won in part at the airport.

“We are aware that Biggin Hill sat at the very tipping point of the Second World War,” he said.

“I am naturally proud of that legacy and we will do our very best to ensure that it is properly preserved for future generations. I am also acutely aware that today Biggin Hill plays an important part in London’s future.”

With other airports, including Gatwick and Heathrow, becoming increasingly congested, Mr Curtis predicted a larger share of the business aviation market using Biggin Hill.

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