Former RAF pilot from Rye pulls flying stunts to mark his 100th birthday

Former RAF Squadron Leader Jack Hemmings celebrated his 100th birthday by performing aerial acrobatics in a stunt plane despite having life-saving heart surgery a few months before.
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Jack, from Rye, was also an early pioneer of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) – the world’s largest humanitarian airline.

To mark his centenary, Jack spent the day performing aerobatics in a Slingsby T67 Firefly aerobatic aircraft at White Waltham Airfield alongside flight instructor Nigel Rhind.

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The day was organised by his son-in-law, former RAF pilot Chris Whatts.

Jack Hemmings flight 1 SUS-210921-095634001Jack Hemmings flight 1 SUS-210921-095634001
Jack Hemmings flight 1 SUS-210921-095634001

Reflecting on an exhilarating birthday, Jack said: “Today brought back memories of earlier aerobatic days, but it’s a wonderful feeling and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“The aerobatics were such a treat. I would welcome the idea of doing it again!”

Jack’s son-in-law Chris, who is now a commercial pilot and regularly flies with Jack in his four-seater aircraft, said: “I’ve been astounded by Jack. When he gets in an aeroplane, he is in his home environment, and he is so confident and aware. Jack looked so comfortable today and like he had never been away from this kind of flying.”

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Nigel, who co-piloted Jack’s birthday flight, was impressed with his sharp flying skills.

Jack Hemmings Upright SUS-210921-094127001Jack Hemmings Upright SUS-210921-094127001
Jack Hemmings Upright SUS-210921-094127001

He said, “I didn’t really need to be there. Jack is fully confident in the air. He did all the aerobatics and even bought the plane in to land.”

Receiving life-saving heart surgery in June this year, Jack has made a remarkable recovery.

Kate Hemmings, Jack’s wife said: “We want to give a special thanks to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton who conducted an aortic valve replacement procedure earlier this year, which saved Jack’s life.

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“He is the oldest patient to have received this operation – and we believe that the motto ‘fear not’ from his early 353 Squadron, along with firm Christian faith, have helped him all the way through. Jack is an awesome, amazing man, and the whole Hemmings family want to wish him a very happy 100th birthday.”

Jack joined the RAF in 1941 and became Squadron Leader of 353 Squadron the following year, flying Lockheed Hudson and C-47 Dakota aircraft. Jack was awarded the Air Force Cross for exemplary gallantry while flying, and later received the RAF’s Master Air Pilot award in 2017. Jack officially trained in aerobatics in 1992.

Ruth Whitaker, CEO of MAF UK – now the world’s largest humanitarian airline which Jack helped pioneer 75 years ago – echoed praise for his faith and personality. Ruth said: “How wonderful to see Jack flying aerobatics on his 100th birthday, he is a true inspiration.”