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  • WW2 RAF Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw signed cover

Test Pilots series cover dedicated to and signed by Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw who test flew more Spitfire variants than any other pilot.

Henshaw considered enlisting in the Royal Air Force at the start of the Second World War but instead became a test pilot for Vickers Armstrong. He subsequently took the rank of Sgt Pilot in order to fly a fully armed Spitfire to defend the factory, if needed, although he was never called upon to fly in combat. Henshaw started with Wellingtons and Walruses at Weybridge. He did not enjoy the work, and was on the point of leaving when Jeffrey Quill invited him to test Spitfires in Southampton.

In June 1940, Henshaw moved to the Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham, which had been taken over by Vickers after poor production results by the Nuffield group. He was soon appointed to the post of Chief Test Pilot, leading a team of 25 others. The factory built over half of the total output of Spitfires ever made, and 350 Lancaster heavy bombers; Henshaw tested both types of aircraft. Production/acceptance test flying was essential, ensuring that faults were detected before aircraft were delivered to the front line, but it was potentially dangerous: two of his team were killed testing new aircraft. Henshaw survived many forced landings and a catastrophic crash between two houses in Wednesfield near Wolverhampton on July 18th 1942 which destroyed his aircraft.

It is estimated that Henshaw flew 10% of all Spitfires and Seafires, testing up to 20 aircraft a day in often foggy conditions. He would also demonstrate the Spitfire to visiting dignitaries, such as Winston Churchill, and once flying the length of Broad Street in Birmingham at low level. He is the only pilot known to have performed a barrel roll in a Lancaster bomber, a feat that was considered by some to be reckless or impossible due to the aircraft's size and relatively modest performance. He flew this manoeuvre on several occasions with other members of his flight test team on board, including Peter Ayerst and Czech pilot Venda Jicha. (Venda was a fighter ace, Battle of Britain pilot and previous member of No. 124 ("Baroda") Squadron RAF.)

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WW2 RAF Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw signed cover

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