Sam (80) flies Spitfire in ride of a lifetime

Sam beside the Spitfire.

Sam beside the Spitfire.

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A Loughgall grandfather has celebrated his 80th birthday in style - by taking to the skies above Kent at the controls of a World War Two Spitfire.

Sam Hewitt, who holds a private pilot’s licence, had not flown in more than 30 years but said that, once in the cockpit again, it was “like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it”.

Sam in the cockpit of the fighter plane.

Sam in the cockpit of the fighter plane.

And he described the half-hour flight in the Aero Legends Mark 9 as “absolutely unbelievable”, adding that it was even better than he had imagined.

The flight was a surprise gift from his three children, Reuben, Samuel and Claire, with both of Sam’s sons accompanying him to England for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sam, who lives at the family home of Annahugh House with wife Margaret, also has seven grandchildren.

Although Sam’s birthday was last September, he took to the skies only a week ago as the plane had still been undergoing restoration.

The aircraft, which is worth over £1 million, fought in the Battle of Britain, a major air campaign in 1940, and shot down two ME109s, the German equivalent of the Spitfire.

Sam has always been interested in aircraft and their history but, before last weekend, the closest he had come to a Spitfire was when he climbed into the cockpit of one in a hangar in 1954 and simply enjoyed the thrill of sitting in it.

He said, “I have always had a great love for Spitfires, all planes in fact, but the Spitfire is the ultimate plane. It’s like getting into a Formula One car. You have no conception of the speed of it until you do it.”

Sam’s flight saw him reach speeds of 200-300 miles an hour and at times he was skimming just 50 feet above the flat plains of Kent, on what was a glorious, sunny day.

For safety reasons, there was another qualified pilot in a seat in front.

Said Sam, “It has made me want to fly again. I took up flying in 1972 but because of The Troubles there were quite a number of restrictions on where you could fly. I used to go to places like the Isle of Man.”