RAF veteran, 98, finally fulfils Spitfire dream - 80 years on from first flight

A 98-year-old World War Two veteran has finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of flying a spitfire - 80 years on from when he first signed up for the RAF.

Bernard Gardiner flew Hawker Hurricanes and Hawker Typhoons during the war, but the Spitfire always eluded him.

However, his dream finally came true on Wednesday after an aircraft restoration company organised a special flight for him at Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire.

The Typhoon Preservation Group wanted to say thank you to Mr Gardiner for his support in their efforts to restore a Typhoon bomber back to flying condition.

Only one complete Hawker Typhoon still exits, but the volunteer-run group are hoping to raise £5 million to restore another one back to its former glory.

Bernard finally got to achieve his dream of flying a Spitfire. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mr Gardiner has helped the company raise thousands of pounds towards their target, and as a mark of their gratitude, they decided to organise for him to fly in the plane he'd always dreamt of taking to the skies in.

"I think every pilot wanted to fly the Spitfire," Mr Gardiner told ITV News Anglia.

"I had no idea this was happening. It was quite a moment."

Mr Gardiner, who's from Jersey, first joined the RAF as an 18-year-old in 1940 and his first operational mission in a Typhoon was in October 1944.

Before Wednesday's flight, the last time he was in the cockpit of a plane was 38 years ago.

The flight was originally scheduled for March, but the coronavirus pandemic meant it had to be pushed back until the autumn.

Bad weather on Saturday meant it was put off another few days, but on Wednesday, conditions were perfect.

Mr Gardiner's family managed to keep the surprise a secret, and his grandson Matt said seeing the smile on his grandfather's face had made it all worth it.

The flight took place at Duxford on Wednesday. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"Somehow, it was kept a secret up until this afternoon. It was a really nice surprise for him," said Matt.

"Having flown the Hurricane and the Typhoon, the Spitfire I don't think was ever really on his menu. You could see the smile on his face."

Former Red Bull Air Race World Champion Paul Bonhomme was Bernard's pilot for Wednesday's flight, and he told ITV News Anglia it was "privilege" to share the cockpit with him.

"To take somebody like Bernard flying is a privilege," he said.

"It's no word of a lie to say we wouldn't be flying these machines if it wasn't for people to Bernard, so a huge debt of gratitude as well."