WITH RISK COMES GREAT REWARD
Being a Spitfire Pilot, businessman, pilot trainer and Dundas man, Matt Jones has quite the collection of stories and experiences. From office job to flying around the world in a Silver Spitfire, Matt encapsulates what it means to get up and go, to take life by the horns and in doing so inspire others to do the same through the Spitfire Academy.
Dundas London: Hi Matt, great to chat with you! Lets dive straight in and hear about ‘Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight’ that you went on with your co-pilot Steve Brooks at the end of 2019.
Matt Jones: Well, Silver Spitfire was essentially myself, Steve Brooks and Ian Smith flying a Silver Spitfire around the world. The rest of the team included Gerry Jones as Engineer, Lachlan Munro as Trip Manager and Ben Uttley as Photographer, all of whom flew the whole way with us in the support aircraft. That trip was actually my third time around the world - once with a backpack as a student, the second being when I took a jet around the world and then thirdly (and potentially not finally) in the Spitfire. Absolutely the best way to see the world is over the wing of a spitfire, that’s for sure! And flying one is an unbelievable feeling; when you’re on your own in a little aeroplane and you can point it wherever you want, along with the aircraft having the power and agility to do whatever you ask of it - it is an incredible three dimensional freedom.
DL: Incredible stuff. It can’t have been an easy process getting these warplanes ready to fly such long distances. What kind of problems did you run into before and during the trip, and what did these experiences teach you about overcoming obstacles?
MJ: Before the trip we planned, planned, planned! Having seen a model of a Spitfire as a 12 year old kid in a shop window, and then being in a position where I owned a Spitfire, I couldn’t let us strip the historical integrity from it so we kept it as a one seater. So then the idea came... “we could fly a Spitfire around the world, no one has ever done that before! That would inspire people!”, and so we did it.
There were quite a few sleepless nights thinking about what could go wrong, these aeroplanes are old and they do have issues. The Spitfire is an interceptor so it’s built to do short range flights meaning we have to increase the fuel load, the engine that was 75 years old was taken apart and put back together again. It was a balance of looking at the systems and making them a bit more reliable, without jeopardising the integrity of the core aeroplane.
Matt wears the Dundas White
DL: What have you learnt about risk and fear and the adventure of that?
MJ: With risk comes great reward. Most of our industry thought it was utter madness, even with a couple of days to go, I thought it was utter madness, I would have done anything to get out of it but it was too late by then. That sense of going out and trying to achieve something that no ones done before, particularly when everyone’s telling you it can’t be done and then coming back and thinking well we made it was 100% worth it.
DL: And were there any unforeseen hairy moments up in the sky?
MJ: Yes absolutely. Because of the nature of the way you fly the plane, you can only fly on days when you can see the ground and see where you’re going. We didn’t always have the luxury of picking the right day to fly on this trip and we had a couple of issues with the weather, one of them was in Russia. It was probably the loneliness I’ve ever been in my life. We were caught between clouds below and above us and you can’t fly into the cloud because it puts a layer of icing on the aeroplane and it basically falls out of the sky. Even if I jumped out and survived landing in the mountains, there would have been bears around with not a person within 500 miles. We turned left and turned right and went back and eventually found a way through and that night was the tastiest beer I’ve ever had.
Photo thanks to John Dibbs, The Plane Picture Company
DL: Goodness, that’s quite the story! Can you tell us a bit about where it all started for you - where did your love for flying come from and what attracted you to a life of adventure in the sky?
MJ: The sad truth is, I don’t think I ever grew up. As a 4 year old, my first memories are pointing to the sky and saying “aeroplanes” and as soon as I could I was making them, and the interest never really went away. I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. I tried to join the Royal Air Force but my eyesight wasn’t good enough, so I ended up working in the city for 8 years, looking at aeroplanes flying into Heathrow thinking “what am I doing here!” so eventually did something about it and here we are.
DL: The Spitfire is a national treasure and an emblem of freedom across the globe. What have been your experiences when taking others up in them?
MJ: The spitfire is something that means an enormous amount to people in this country, and as we found, around the world too - and we take people up for experiences to give them an idea of what it would be like to be in a Spitfire. Often they have relationships with people who fought them in the war, built them in the war, maintained them in the war, or something along those lines. It’s an incredibly emotive aeroplane.
There were 21,500 Spitfires built and only 55 in the world now so the number of people who get to fly them isn’t large. Some of those people who we teach to fly are already pilots and the Spitfire is kind of the Everest and they want to have that experience. This aeroplane has to keep being flown for the people who gave their lives, who were prepared to sacrifice everything for what they believed in to be remembered.
Photo thanks to John Dibbs, The Plane Picture Company
DL: And finally what has being a pilot taught you?
MJ: I think we all learn a lot about ourselves as we grow older anyway but flying is very unforgiving. You have to be very truthful with yourself to progress, so that you don’t make mistakes. It’s not an environment that works well for people who try to dodge responsibility and blame other people. Very early on you have to be really honest with yourself. When you’re flying at three hundred miles per hour and you’re only two feet away from another aeroplane, and there are seven other aeroplanes around you, you have to be trustworthy and know where you make mistakes.
DL: Amazing stuff, thank you so much for chatting with us Matt! Be sure to check out the The Spitfire Academy at www.spitfires.com