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18 August 2015, 18:15
The skies above southern Britain have echoed to the sound of massed Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, 75 years after they defended the country in the Battle of Britain.
Some 24 Second World War fighters took off from Biggin Hill in south-east London to mark the anniversary of the defeat of Hitler's planned Nazi invasion this afternoon (Tuesday August 18 2015).
While Biggin Hill is used to noisy jets as a London airport, the display took it back to its heyday, when it was on the forefront of the battle in 1940.
Veterans of the fight in the sky over Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and London joined thousands of spectators who watched the warbirds and listened to the throaty roar of their famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.
Will Curtis, managing director of Biggin Hill Airport, himself a modern day Spitfire pilot, said: ``It's great isn't it. This is probably the largest number of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines run on this airport since the Second World War, so it is a great privilege to see such a large number of aircraft airborne at once.''
He added that Spitfire remained an ``iconic aircraft'', saying: ``The remarkable thing is that today it is still a joy to fly. If you think about how an 80-year-old car would feel today to drive, it is a real credit to (Spitfire designer) RJ Mitchell that to fly the Spitfire today, it is as finely tuned and as well-balanced, if not better balanced, than a modern aircraft.''
The Spitfires, Hurricanes and a lone P-51 Mustang fighter gathered 75 years to the day after the hardest day of the Battle of Britain, to pay their respects to ``the few'', the pilots who took to the sky, as well as the engineers and other ground crews who kept them in the fight against the Luftwaffe.
The 24 aircraft scrambled before forming up into three flights, with one flying west over Surrey, West Sussex, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, a second flying east over the former RAF bases in Kent and the third going south east over Sevenoaks and Ashford to make a special salute over the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-Le-Ferne on the white cliffs of Dover.
They then returned to Biggin Hill for several fly pasts, before a lone Spitfire performed a victory roll over the crowd and runway.
August 18, 1940, saw Biggin Hill repeatedly attacked by bombers aiming to force the RAF to capitulate and pave the way for an invasion. But the base's Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons kept fighting throughout the day. Hitler eventually abandoned the invasion plan, codenamed Operation Sealion.