The powerful new backer of an aviation heritage group needed little encouragement to become involved, according to one of its members.
Stephen Riley of the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS) was speaking after it was revealed that Air Commodore Harvey Smyth has agreed to become patron of the society.
The UAS said Air Cdre Smyth OBE – originally from Northern Ireland – has 15 years’-worth of experience as a Harrier jet pilot, was posted to serve on all three of the UK’s aircraft carriers, and is currently helping to introduce the F-35 fighter jet into the RAF.
Mr Riley said the military man had often come and visited the society, and it “didn’t take a whole lot of persuading” to convince him to join as patron – adding that they are now hoping to press him into bringing the cutting-edge F-35 to the Province to showcase its abilities.
Mr Riley – a 71-year-old Canadian now living in Templepatrick – said: “He’s an active pilot, he stays current on modern aircraft. He can fly the F-35... This is an amazing aircraft. It’s state-of-the-art – it’s still not in service.”
Born in Banbridge, the UAS said Air Cdre Smyth was raised in Donaghcloney just to the south-east of Lurgan.
Mr Riley said last year he had been flying a Tornado jet to Portrush, and had passed especially low over Lurgan “just to say hi”.
Mr Riley added: “I have a hope that at the Portrush Airshow he’d fly an F-35.
“I’ve no reason to believe that may happen, but it’d be a nice surprise. For aviation enthusiasts, it’d be a real thrill to see this aircraft go through a couple of its paces in front of a massive crowd like that.”
Asked if they will lobby him to do just that, Mr Riley said: “We may make a subtle suggestion to him.”
He added: “We’re really delighted to have him as patron; not just [due to] his rank, but he happens to be a really nice guy.”
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Air Cdre Smyth said: “I have always been a keen supporter of the society’s work.
“I’ve consistently been amazed by the whole team’s enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication toward protecting and promoting Northern Ireland’s rich aviation heritage.”
The UAS said he will be “an advocate of the UAS and its activities”, and promote the Province’s aviation heritage generally.
The Ulster Aviation Society is based at the former Maze site near Lisburn, and was founded in 1968.
Today it has about 500 members, and is a registered charity.
It is essentially a museum dedicated to the flying history of the UK and Northern Ireland.