A RNZAF Spitfire pilot took a step back in time when he took to the skies over Canterbury in a replica Spitfire, just days before he celebrated his 95th birthday. Robyn Bristow reports.

Memories flooded back for Alan Frewer as he soared into the skies over North Canterbury in a Spitfire.

In spite of it being 70 years since he had slipped into the seat of a Spitfire, Mr Frewer, a former Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot, was quickly back in the groove.

The 95-year-old even took the controls for a time as he and Ivan Campbell of Loburn, who owns and built the replica, darted through the winter skies over North Canterbury and Christchurch.

"I managed to fly it for about 10 minutes. It was a bit strange to start with but I soon got used to it," said the former pilot.


Mr Campbell and his wife Sandy have a series of aircraft at their workshop and airfield at Loburn Abbey which Mr Frewer found to be an "amazing" place.

The couple have designed and subsequently manufactured the "Hard Shell" helmets that prevent injuries to fliers in all types of aircraft, but particularly in the Warbirds fraternity where their "leather look" resembles the World War 2 real thing.

Mr Frewer donned a helmet and goggles when he took his 45min flight with Mr Campbell in the Spitfire, the type flown by him on operations in Italy during World War 2.

This particular aircraft is painted to resemble the one flown by Colin Gray, the World War 2 Ace New pilot whom Mr Frewer knew.

Mr Campbell and Mr Frewer flew around Amberley, up to Redcliffs and then back to North Canterbury and "over to the hills".

"It was marvellous," said Mr Frewer who claims to not have had much flying experience since returning from the war where he flew 730 hours. Of these, 249 hours and 20 minutes were flown operationally on 157 sorties.

He says as a young Spitfire pilot you did not tend to worry too much about your fate or dwell on the horrors of war. You did your best to bring your aircraft home safely, which on reading Forever Valiant by Alan Parsey, in which a chapter is dedicated to Mr Frewer and his flying feats in his Mark 5 Spitfire, that was often a huge test of one's ability.

Flying time since returning to New Zealand has been limited to a flight in a Tiger Moth when he joined the local aero club and the normal commercial flights with Air New Zealand and others, he said.

The cost of the Tiger Flight was 15 to 16 pounds, a "fortune" back then.

"I decided I couldn't afford that for long, so it was the only flight I ever took," he said.

The day out for Mr Frewer, who turned 95 on Tuesday was organised by the Amberley RSA. He is a relative newcomer to the Amberley branch but is no stranger to Christchurch Returned Servicemen.

Mr Frewer arrived in Amberley three years ago after his home was badly damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes.

"My house was wrecked but I was still living in it with its cracked concrete floors. It was condemned and has since been demolished.

"My family lived up this way so I moved north," said Mr Frewer who son Kevin was

living at Leithfield. Brent, who had been living in England has since returned to home shores and is also living in Leithfield.

"We are all in one area now. It has worked out quite good," he said.

- The News