MAF co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC holds Lockheed Hudson propellor at London’s RAF Museum (credit: Jo Lamb)
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MAF pioneer reunites with WW2 aircraft ahead of Remembrance Day

10th November 2023

MAF co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC holds Lockheed Hudson propellor at London’s RAF Museum (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

Jack holds Lockheed Hudson propellor at RAF Museum (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

On 6 November, the 102-year-old RAF veteran and MAF co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC was reunited with one of his favourite aircraft at London’s RAF Museum – a Lockheed Hudson, which he flew during World War II

It’s been over 50 years since MAF’s co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC laid eyes on a Lockheed Hudson, which he flew with 353 RAF Squadron during World War II.

Jack – one of Britain’s oldest wartime pilots – joined the Royal Air Force in 1941.

In 1942 he became an RAF squadron leader based in Calcutta, India, and was charged with protecting the Bay of Bengal from Japanese invasion until 1946 using a Lockheed Hudson aircraft.

The Lockheed entered service in 1939 and was extensively used over UK waters. The RAF had over 2,000 of them, which were also used overseas. It was the first Allied aircraft to shoot down a German plane during World War II in October 1939.

Jack hasn’t seen inside a Lockheed Hudson aircraft for over 50 years (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

Jack hasn’t seen inside a Lockheed Hudson for over 50 years (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

During the special RAF reception in London, Jack recalled how it felt to fly in such a historic plane:

‘Flying the Hudson was very comfortable indeed – a nicely balanced aircraft with all the American mod-cons. If you’re going to spend eight hours looking at salt water, you want to be comfortable!

‘It’s wonderful to see the Lockheed again – just like old times.’

Escaping death

Jack also shared hair-raising stories about narrowly escaping death whilst flying the aircraft:

‘More through ignorance than arrogance, I flew in to have a look at the port of Taungup to be met by a shower of upward flying incendiaries.

‘I had the distinction of being the only one to be seriously hit by enemy fire. There was a loud bang behind my head as something in the radio exploded just as the rear gunner called ops to say, rather dryly, “Lots of little holes in the wing Jack.” There was a fountain of petrol coming up through the floorboards!

‘I was knocked flat out. I don’t recall the rest, but the chaps kindly pulled me out.’

Jack wearing his Royal Airforce Uniform during World War II (credit: MAF Archive)

Jack wearing his Royal Air Force uniform during World War II (credit: MAF Archive)

From destruction to preservation

The war hero who received the Air Forces Cross for exemplary gallantry while flying, went on to explain how after the war he wanted to use his aviation skills for good by co-founding MAF in 1948:

‘During wartime, aircraft were used for destruction; but it has always been my desire that they be used for good.

‘That is what MAF does today, it is more than a bright idea that stayed in someone’s head, it has grown exponentially to become the Good Samaritan of the air.’

Jack Hemmings AFC, MAF co-founder and World War II veteran

Jack also shared how he and fellow co-founder, the late Stuart King, undertook the first British humanitarian survey flight across central Africa in 1948.

With Jack at the helm, they took off from Croydon in South London with little more than a map and compass, using the river Nile as their guide.

They visited more than 100 remote mission outposts across central Africa during their 10-month expedition. It became clear that the only way to support isolated communities was to build airstrips.

Only then, would small planes be able to safely deliver lifesaving supplies, medical equipment and personnel, saving many days of treacherous travel on non-existent roads.

During their historic trip, Jack was given the nickname ‘Crasher Jack’ when he famously crashed into a Burundi mountainside in August 1948. Miraculously, he walked away unscathed.

‘I’ve never got into an aeroplane and regretted it’

Reflecting on the state of the world today, besides achieving an enormous amount of good with a plane as proven by MAF, Jack also derives pleasure and a sense of peace from flying:

‘Getting into an aeroplane gives a sense of pleasant expectation – I’ve never got into one and regretted it. I love flying because it gives me a feeling of detachment from all the problems in the world – and there are a lot of problems.’

To mark his centenary, Jack performed aerobatics – aerial acrobatics – as part of his birthday celebrations during August 2021.

Seven months later, he flew a 1947 Miles Gemini aircraft, which he hadn’t piloted for 74 years.

To mark Jack’s 101st birthday last year, his son-in-law – a retired British Airways captain – surprised him with a flight in a Robin DR400 aircraft, which Jack took control of mid-flight.

102-year-old war hero Jack Hemmings AFC – the main attraction at the special RAF reception (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

War hero Jack – the main attraction at the RAF reception (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

In awe of Jack’s many achievements, RAF Museum CEO Maggie Appleton was delighted to host Jack at the RAF Museum:

It is a huge honour to welcome Squadron Leader Jack Hemings. The RAF Museum is committed to sharing the story of the Royal Air Force and inspiring audiences first-hand with the experiences of servicemen and women.

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