A GREAT grandfather has been reunited with the plane he piloted nearly six decades ago for a birthday treat. 

To celebrate his 85th birthday, Paul Symes, of Hurstbourne Tarrant, flew in a Chipmunk from Popham Airfield over the village on Saturday, May 11.

Remarkably, he last piloted the same Chipmunk (No WZ 882) on March 22, 1965, in his last fixed-wing training flight at the Army Air Corps Centre (AAC) in Middle Wallop, before moving on to train and serve as a helicopter pilot in Germany.

Paul was reunited with the plane after his family asked what he would like to do for his birthday.

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Andover Advertiser: Simon and Paul with the WZ882 ChipmunkPaul told the Advertiser: “’I’d like to do that’ was my reply – pointing at an aircraft doing aerobatics over the village. As an ex-AAC fixed-wing and helicopter pilot, I’d always jumped at any opportunity to get into the cockpit and fly again.”

During his time in the Armed Forces, Paul flew Scout and Gazelle helicopters in the Falklands, an RAF Hawk through the valleys in Wales, an RAF Hunter around the Isle of Man, gliders at the Joint Service Gliding Centre in Bicester, after which he became chairman of the Army Gliding Association for a few years. 

Paul continued: “Then, finally before retiring from the Army, flying a Scout helicopter with the historic flight at Middle Wallop.

"Flying aerobatics in a Super Decathlon from Thruxton, which I did for three successive birthdays, was a real thrill - doing loops, rolls, reverse loops, hesitation rolls and a Cuban 8 - the agility of the Super Decathlon is astounding and thrilling to fly. Unfortunately, that opportunity is no longer available, so I looked to see what was on offer at Popham Airfield and booked a flight in a C42 Microlight with Airborne Aviation.”

The grandfather’s initial flight was postponed due to poor weather but, in conversation, Paul enquired about a Chipmunk he had seen flying in the area.

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“It is owned by Simon Tilling, CEO of the Light Aircraft Association and, when I checked its identification number, that became a ‘must fly’,” Paul said.

“Chipmunk T10 Serial Number WZ 882 was one of the many Chipmunks we flew as fixed-wing trainees at the AAC Centre in Middle Wallop and I flew in it three times – the last being my final flight on 22 March 1965 before moving on to train as a helicopter pilot and thereafter serve with the AAC in Germany.”

When Simon saw the 1965 entry in Paul’s Pilots Flying Log Book he commented: “Coincidence – this is almost spooky.”

Paul added: “It was a real treat and I’m extremely grateful to Simon, our photographer, Emma Taylor, and everyone at Popham Airfield for allowing me to retrace my history.”