RAF veteran, Jack Hemmings AFC*, took to the skies today to raise money for MAF and pay tribute to fellow MAF co-founder and RAF engineer, the late Stuart King, in what would have been Stuart’s 100th year. In 1948, the pair flew across Africa in the same aircraft model, which surveyed the needs of some of the world’s most isolated people….
On Saturday 19 March, Jack Hemmings AFC* piloted a vintage 1947 Miles Gemini aircraft over Old Warden Airfield on the Shuttleworth Estate in Bedfordshire – the same model he flew 74 years ago for MAF.
This follows Jack’s 100 birthday celebrations last August, which saw him perform aerobatics at White Waltham Airfield in Maidenhead. Jack – a former WW2 pilot and squadron leader – is thought to be one of the oldest British airmen to perform stunts of this kind.
Today, blessed with a clear blue sky, Jack was accompanied in the air by the Miles Gemini’s owner, Stu Blanchard. They had a bird’s-eye view of Shuttleworth’s huge collection of vintage aircraft set in 875 acres of parkland.
Shuttleworth is home to some of the world’s oldest flying aircraft, including a De Havilland Rapide – the model first used by MAF in Sudan, which Jack flew during the 1950s.
Shortly after landing in Shuttleworth, Jack summed up his momentous feat:
‘It was wonderful to be back in a Miles Gemini after 74 years.
‘I love flying because I have a feeling of detachment from all the problems in the world, and there are a lot of problems! Flying is an enjoyable relaxation.’
Jack Hemmings, MAF co-founder
An adventure of a lifetime
Jack’s first flight in a Miles Gemini aircraft was on 6 September 1947 when MAF began its six-week UK tour from Broxboume Airport, Hertfordshire. It was MAF’s first British aircraft.
Rallying support from the British public was crucial ahead of MAF’s first ever survey across Africa.
The UK tour comprised of 33 stops covering 3,600 miles. Over 20,000 people got to hear about MAF and the Miles Gemini named the ‘Mildmay Pathfinder’ – Britain’s first ever mission aircraft.
Following its successful UK tour, on 13 January 1948, the Mildmay Pathfinder took off from Croydon, South London and headed to Nairobi, Kenya – the starting point for MAF’s Africa survey.
MAF was the first ever British mission to assess wide-ranging humanitarian needs of isolated communities across Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda and the Congo.
This six-month trip saw the Miles Gemini encounter hazardous terrain, difficult climates and dangerous conditions, which Jack and Stuart documented in 900 pages of notes.
During their survey, they travelled more than 10,000km visiting over 500 remote missionaries across Central Africa. Jack recalls:
‘Everywhere we landed was somewhere new to us, and a lot of locals would never have seen a plane in the air, let alone in their village! We were met with total bewilderment and people gathered round with great interest.
‘We explored whether we could help with the aims of local missions in areas almost completely cut off.’
Together, Jack and Stuart concluded that the only way to provide lifesaving help in hard-to-reach places was to build airstrips in the wilderness.
An incredible legacy
This year’s Miles Gemini flight was an opportunity for Jack to celebrate Stuart’s life and raise money for MAF, whilst reliving the excitement of his former years.
Jack reflects upon his early days with MAF, which led to a lifelong friendship and the global aviation charity that it is today:
‘Together we shared many novel experiences – first flying the Miles Gemini on the UK tour, then the six-month survey of Central Africa in 1948.
‘Stuart was a pilot, a conscientious engineer, a pioneer and a man of resolute faith. He was a great friend, a man of vision, devoted to MAF since the early days of 1947. If Stuart were here today, I would simply say to him: “Stuart – you done good!”
‘Today, MAF has 123 aircraft around the world. Every flight does some good – I think MAF is like the international Good Samaritan of the air. If anyone needs transporting out of difficulty, or needs urgent medical help, MAF is there.’
To date, Jack has raised over £1,000 for MAF in Stuart’s memory. You can still support Jack here.
*AFC = ‘Air Force Cross’ , which is a military honour awarded to officers for acts of exemplary gallantry while flying.
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