An Air Force veteran is set to return to the skies today after after being gifted a flight in a war plane by a motorcycle club and the RSA.

The ride in a New Zealand Warbird military plane was the first prize in the Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle club's annual fundraiser, but the winner passed it to the RSA to find a deserving recipient.

Air Force veteran, RSA welfare officer and Waitakere Hospital volunteer Ray Claridge, 85, was chosen to take part in a Battle of Britain commemoration flight.

Claridge said he was looking forward to being back in a military aircraft again: "It's been some time since I've been on a flight, having done 6000 rides on other aircraft, dropping supplies, dropping troops, dropping passengers around the world. So it's making me very excited to go around and look at Auckland.


"Just getting in that aeroplane, sitting down, strapping myself in, hearing the engine start, rolling down the runway and getting airborne — it'll be just like old memories."

The NZ Patriots bring together people of a service background and a love of motorbikes to ride together and give back to their communities.

When they approached the RSA to find a winner, the group wanted a person strong enough to get themselves into the plane, and someone who had a military background.

Neville Swann, president of the Pt Chevalier RSA, said Claridge fitted the criteria "like a glove".

"He's as agile as they come, we had him in a couple of months ago at our club and he was up singing and dancing and chasing the girls around. He's a real bundle of bloody dynamite actually."

Claridge grew up in Burma during the Japanese occupation, but moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a career in the RAF.

After initially wanting to train as a pilot, he was told he was too short and went on to become a navigator instead.

In 1971 he and his wife — they've been married over 60 years — moved to New Zealand where he still contributes to his Mt Eden community.


Percy Wooton, vice-president of the Auckland Chapter of the NZ Patriots, said the original winner thought gifting the prize would be a great way to celebrate their partnership with the RSA.

"We really wanted to foster a relationship between ourselves and the RSA, to promote RSAs and what they represent because they are not just old gentlemen and ladies."