Today, the 19th October, marks the 80th Anniversary of the delivery flight of Spitfire AA810 from RAF Henley-on-Thames, to RAF Benson – but who was the delivery pilot? After nearly two years of research we are able to present what we know to date.
The Operational Record Book for 1PRU contains some relevant information but frustratingly not all the details. We know that Spitfires AA806 and AA810 were ready for delivery after the 17th October and that on the morning of the 19th AA809 was tested by Jeffrey Quill and was declared satisfactory for entry into service. On that day 'A' Flight of 1PRU were selected to do the ferry flights – so who might our pilot be?
At that time, 'A' Flight consisted of David Salwey, Frank Robinson, Alfred Ball, Joffre Fripp, Donald Steventon and Gavin Walker, so armed with this we could narrow down our search.
With thanks to Henley-based historian Darren Pitcher the logbooks of 'A' Flight pilot Squadron Leader Frank Anthony Robinson DFC were located (see main picture) which revealed critical information about the flights that day. The group of pilots including Frank were flown by Blenheim to Henley with David Salwey as the pilot. Frank was one of the pilots to fly a Spitfire back but sadly he did not record which one nor who travelled with him to get them! David Salwey DFC could be eliminated at this point as he was piloting the transport aircraft.
Alfred “Freddy” Ball was next on our tracing list and his family was contacted through RAF Benson. Freddie was on sick leave at the time of AA810’s ferry flight, having lost control of a Spitfire in a thunderstorm at high altitude on the 5th October and he was only thrown free when it broke up in the air. Freddie could therefore be ruled out too.
Joffre Fripp’s family were traced and his logbooks still survived which proved he was not flying that day. Therefore with three aircraft flying that day, and just three pilots left on the flight, we knew who our ferry pilots are but not who was flying which of the three aircraft that day.
Some eight months on and for the time being two of the three logbooks still elude our research efforts. You can however read more about Robinson, Steventon, and Walker one of whom we know will have ferried AA810 80 years ago today at https://www.spitfireaa810.co.uk/the-men