Spitfire veteran Nelson Swinney

A 94-year-old RAF war hero has finally taken to the skies in a Spitfire, 75 years after he was denied the opportunity.

Nelson Swinney dreamt of being a fighter pilot since he was a small child but was unable to train as one due to his poor eyesight.

Spitfire veteran Nelson Swinney

He applied at the age of 20, at the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940. 

But his chances were dashed when his poor eyesight was exposed - when he crashed his motorbike into the doors of an RAF recruitment office. 

Nelson Swinney
Nelson during his RAF career

Now, more than seven decades later, his dreams have finally become reality after his son organised for him to fly in a training Spitfire at Duxford Airfield, Cambs. 

Nelson, a widower said: "It was such a pleasure to be up for 30 minutes flying in a big circle over Duxford, Cambridge and Newmarket. 

"It wasn't just a placid drive around the sky - we did some diving around which was thrilling. It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it was great fun and I would love to do it every day of the week." 

Nelson was an engineer on Spitfires and Hurricanes after joining the RAF in 1941 aged 18 and was shipped out to Libya, where the war in the Western desert was at its height. 

This was the veteran's first time in the Spitfire, which he said he particularly loves as an aircraft. 


His sons Paul and John always knew their dad's war experiences were an 'essential part his being' - especially after regular weekend visits to airshows, model-making on the kitchen table and his 'remarkable recollection' of his time in the RAF. Paul said:

"It was... a very moving moment for us all to see him climb into a Spitfire, an aircraft that, even now, he could describe in the most intimate detail."

"He had wanted to be a pilot and enlisted as soon as he was old enough. 

His sons revealed the news to him last October, with Nelson having to wait even longer to enjoy his present, as his flight was postponed twice due to bad weather. 

Spitfire veteran with family

Nelson joined a pilot a couple of weeks ago for the flight in the two-seater Spitfire on his birthday. 

The veteran still puts in a 30-hour a week work shift at an office desk, where he works as a credit controller for a small firm. He said:

"It causes a little surprise when people find out I am still working five days a week. But I work civilised hours from 10 to 4 and it stops me becoming a grumpy old man."

"Everyone needs interests and I like reading, watching sport and going to work. 

"I am targeting the century before I retire. It makes a huge difference and I would recommend it." 

He went on to give some advice to the younger generation: "My message to young people is to always remain positive and look on the bright side of life. "