Ever seen the world upside down. Ever had land above you and sky below while at the same time having your legs above you and your head below, at 10,000 feet. It happened to me today as I was thrown into the sky by former red arrows pilot Dave Slow in what he describes as the flying equivelant of a Porsche.See how the pilot is sat t the back of the plane. I was at the front with a birds eye view.
Below me are the pilots in formation. This is how John Gillespie Magee died in formation. As you can see in the picture, like the spitfire he flew, the pilots straight ahead visibility is very difficult. At one point in our flight I could touch the other plane see pic below. We were flying at RAF Cranwell in Lincoln. Earlier in the day I interviewed the Wing Commander who himself has a rich knowledge of poetry. And poetry is the reason why I am here. It’s the 65th anniversary of the death of John Gillespie Magee who wrote the poem High Flight.
The Blades are the only private acrobatic air pilots in Britain. All pilots know the poem. “Unfortunately” says Dave Slow through the intercom “the poem is known mostly from being read at funerals”. Just as he says this he peels left and I experience a fierce G Force. When my hearing returns I realise I am screaming like a banshee. The adrenalin rush is pure. Flying is apparently addictive. 10,000 feet in the air I read the poem.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941
Ronald Reagan read the poem to help millions of Americans make sense of the challenger disaster. We fly past the Lincolnshire graveyard where John Magee is buried. He returned from a sortee and crashed into one of his own planes. Later on we’ll be filming there. It all sounds slightly morose but I will tell you this, Magee’s poem, however prophetic it seemed, is a celebration of life. Read it again and you will see what I mean. The piece I have done will be broadcast on a BBC Television programme called Inside Out in the Yorkshire Northwest and Midlands region.
Looking out from the front of the plane as we weave through the sky, the sound of the engines fills my ears and the plane stitches another seem in the fabric of my own past. My father was a pilot and died in a plane crash in 1972. The plane was caught in a storm in the simeon mountains. Lightening struck and it stumbled into a mountain in Ethiopia.