A lifetime in the skies

11:12am Monday 31st May 2010

By Melanie Adams

FOR MANY fighter pilots the end of the war signalled an end to their flying ambitions.

But for one Hampshire grandad it only fuelled his determination to spread his wings and spend a lifetime in the skies.

At 87, Doug Gregory is Britain’s oldest stunt pilot and he has no desire to clip his wings.

Yesterday he could be seen racing through the clouds over the New Forest, showcasing his acrobatic skills in a replica of a 1917 war plane that he built himself 20 years ago.

Despite a strong gale, which saw many of his display team keep their feet firmly on the ground, Doug was determined to brave the winds and give the crowds a good show.

He and one other member of the Great War Display Team took part in a thrilling dog-fight above the forest to celebrate the centenary of the former airfield at East Boldre.

Doug, from Blackfield, said: “There was a gale blowing which made it extremely difficult to fly and half of the team decided to stay on the ground but I was stupid enough to go up anyway. I was a bit scared, because when you are up in a very flimsy plane you bounce around a bit, but we didn’t want to disappoint the people watching on the ground.”

The former RAF pilot first took to the skies during the Second World War and since then he has been a frequent flyer, clocking up thousands of air miles over the years.

On leaving the RAF in 1946 he became a teacher and after retiring in 1983 he decided to build a replica SE5A First World War fighter biplane, which took him four years.

He added: “Retirement gives you a whole new lease of life and I knew what I wanted to do.

“It is a wonderful feeling to be flying and I just feel right up there.

Sometimes it can be frightening but a lot of the time it’s the best feeling in the world.

“I can’t explain it really, rather like seamen who love the sea, we are airmen who love the air.

“During the Second World War I flew Mosquitoes. I wasn’t shot down but I was shot at. Luckily they missed – most of the time.

“Many of my colleagues in the RAF never stepped foot on a plane again after the end of the war but I love flying and I will keep taking to the skies until I die.”

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