Historic aviation off and on screen

Andy Saunders didn't have much time for girlfriends as a young man; historic aviation was (and still is) a huge part of his life...

I grew up very much in the era of Airfix kits, Biggles books and war comics – and it is fair to say that both model aeroplanes and ‘ripping yarns’ influenced my interests as a young lad. Feeding into that were family tales which were triggered by the latest aircraft model. For instance, my mother’s account of seeing scores and scores of B-17s heading out on daylight raids which was set off by seeing my 1/72nd scale model of the aircraft. Or an uncle viewing my Spitfire and Messerschmitt 109 and being thrilled by his tales of dogfights overhead. I was hooked. And the interest in historic aviation, and flying in general, has never left me.

Time in the Air Training Corps, where I took my first flight in a Chipmunk (definitely hooked, now!) gave me greater insights into all things aviation. And an even greater hunger for flying. Then, about this time, I watched some of the film ‘Battle of Britain’ being shot before a chance discovery of a crashed wartime aircraft propeller blade sticking out of a river during a fishing trip led in other directions. And most certainly away from fishing!

Circumstances meant that a career path took me elsewhere than the RAF or aviation, but it was always and most certainly foremost in my interests. Well, until I discovered girlfriends, that is. Although, come to think of it, probably even after girlfriends came onto the scene. Well, you know, priorities and all that…

During the early 1980s, I was the originator of a concept to create an aviation museum at the former RAF airfield at Tangmere in West Sussex, later becoming one of its founders and its first curator.

After several years in this role, and while holding down a full-time job and with a family of four children (I eventually grew into the girlfriend idea) I went into other areas and finally left my full time career in 2000 to concentrate fully in areas of historic military aviation, including hands-on projects, but mostly writing, researching and editing as well as carving out a niche career as TV and film adviser and, sometimes, as on-screen contributor. My published books now number around 30, with more on the way, plus a series of TV documentaries. In the latter sphere, involvement with the McGregor brothers for their ‘RAF 100’ BBC documentary was a highlight.

Public speaking on historic military aviation subjects is also a regular, including at the Imperial War Museum and (recently) online for various organisations including the Carnegie Library in Washington, USA.

In 2000, I travelled to India (twice) to organise the purchase and shipping of two First World War DH9 aeroplanes to the UK for restoration. One is now restored to flight, the other to static display standards at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Another restoration and return to flight project I have been involved with includes the stunning Spitfire I, P9374, a subject which I wrote a popular book about a few years ago.

Currently, I am returning to complete my PPL flying licence and intend to pick this up again once we finally emerge from lockdown.

My flying life has been fun, fun, fun! And I’ve met some wonderful people along the way!