Spitfire was ‘ladylike’, recalls lady war pilot

Mary Villiers with the flight simulator cockpit
Mary Villiers with the flight simulator cockpit

A lady who flew in the Second World War took a trip down memory lane last weekend, courtesy of a simulator in Wisborough Green.

Horsham resident Mary Villiers flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war, delivering RAF planes to where they were most needed.

Brian Smith invited her to see the Spitfire flight simulator he has set up at his home in The Luth, Wisborough Green.

The simulator includes a replica cockpit and three large screens. The cockpit is marked ‘MV’ for Mary Villiers on the left side, and ‘JH’ on the right side, for pioneering female aviator Joan Hughes.

Joan Hughes was a friend and comrade of Mrs Villiers, and coincidentally was Mr Smith’s first flight instructor.

Mrs Villiers said she flew about 37 different aircraft makes, models and marks, but the Spitfire was her favourite.

“I don’t think you could make too much of a mess of the Spitfire - it was a very nice, easy aircraft. It was a gentle aircraft, the only thing that was difficult was taking off - you couldn’t see because the nose was so high.

“It was easier landing because you had the nose down, so you could see.” Spitfire pilots would often zig zag along the ground before takeoff, so as to maintain forward visibility.

“They were very ladylike planes, very gentle. Flying them was a very good way to learn.”

She had less fond memories of the Barracuda, which was awkward to get into and rattled badly. “I don’t know how the Fleet Air Arm did it - they had some quite bad aircraft.”

“I’d always wanted to fly. I hadn’t flown at the beginning of the war, but I knew a few people in the ATA, which was a civilian outfit, and I managed to get into it, which was sheer luck.

“We learned to fly different types of aircraft - that was what was interesting because the RAF pilots couldn’t understand how we could fly so many aircraft. They could fly one, two or three at the most.

“It was the way we were taught - I take my hat off to the instructors.”

Mrs Villiers’ first solo flight was in a Mark V Spitfire. “We went up to this tiny little field, I got in and flew around, and that was it,” she recalled.

“After that I flew a Mustang. I didn’t even know what a Mustang looked like until then.”

Mr Smith’s simulator was build with materials from Creative Cockpits and Spitsim Flight Controls, with software from the RealAir Spitfire IX. For more information call (01403) 700346.

Do you have any unusual war stories you’d like to share? The County Times would be glad to hear from you via ct.news@jpress.co.uk or (01403) 751203, or just call into our new office at Springfield House, Springfield Road, Horsham.