11 years ago on the 1st of December, the airshow scene lost one of its biggest names and one of its early founders; Ray Hanna:
Having learned to fly in his home country of New Zealand, Ray joined 79 Squadron of the RAF flying Meteors. Building from his RAF career, flying many of the early jets before in 1965 he was appointed as the No.3 pilot of the then new Red Arrows formation team.
He went on to become team leader of the team for four seasons. There are countless pictures from this era of Ray demonstrating his now legendary low flying skills in the tiny Folland Gnat. His time in the Red Arrows cemented Ray as a legend of display flying.
Having left the RAF in 1971 Ray went on to fly 707s for a number of airlines before being introduced to the aircraft that would become synonymous with the Hanna family name. Ray was invited to fly Spitfire IX MH434, then owned by Adrian Swires.
In 1981 Ray and his son, Mark formed the Old Flying Machine Company and they acquired MH434 in 1983, this purchase went on to make airshow history.
Along with the many other aircraft the company operated over the years,’434 became a well known TV and film star.
Two big “Moments” come to mind when thinking about Ray’s on screen appearances; First there is his low pass in the Mustang in Empire Of The Sun, complete with open canopy and a wave.
Then of course there was the shot of Ray and ‘434 flying under a bridge during the filming of the Piece of Cake mini series, an exceptional piece of flying. I remember watching an interview a few years ago where Ray shrugged this special piece of flying off as a straightforward task, which shows just how modest he was.
Ray reprised his leading role in an aerobatic team when he formed the Breitling Fighters formation display team, still regarded as one of the best warbird display acts ever.
I only consciously discovered Ray Hanna at the Chailey D-day airshow in 2004. I remember watching MH434 roar down the runway, lift up, raise the gear and the in trademark Hanna fashion the Spitfire dropped back down as low as seemed possible, before disappearing behind trees along side the runway. After what seemed like an age, breath held, the spitfire climbed up effortlessly at the end of the runway and disappeared into the hold.
I was hooked.
Ray started his display by diving in towards the crowd, dropping behind the tree line in front of us before pulling up from behind it into a graceful loop, what followed was a spellbinding routine that no doubt caused my Spitfire obsession that would last for the next few years.
I only managed to see his displays for a couple of seasons, but I’m sure I remember every one. Biggin Hill of 2005 springs to mind, where Ray displayed MH434 closing the show, ducking in and out of the surrounding valleys with the airfield silent.
I also recall the short solo routine performed at Legends 2005, a solo spitfire at Legends was not a common sight and I swear the clouds cleared for those few minutes, this proved especially poignant as it was to be Ray’s final Legends.
I was lucky enough to be at Duxford in October of 2005 and I saw what I believe was Rays final solo display, I remember it being just as good as any other I’d ever seen. I recently found a youtube clip of that display that confirms my memory, a Legend right till the end.
There are countless other moments I would have loved to have seen, with both Ray and his son Mark flying all manner of aircraft. We have the footage now that keeps both of this pilots stories alive. Though I was never fortunate enough to meet them their reputation as wonderful people speaks for itself and they are both hugely missed.
With Rays sad passing there was concern that his long time steed, MH434 may depart these shores, or at least Duxford, thankfully this wasn’t the case. The Old Flying Machine Company continue to operate both the Spitfire and Mustang and still display in true Hanna style. Whenever I watch MH434, subconsciously I am watching and missing Ray, a huge loss to the airshow scene and the world.
It’s hard to believe now that 10 years have passed since we last saw Ray grace the skies. Every time I see MH434 dancing around the skies I can’t help but think of Ray and the iconic moments he created.
I’ll leave you with this footage of one of Ray’s greatest moments: