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Aerobatics at 100

Aerobatics at 100


13 Aug, 2021

Fearless, award-winning airman Jack Hemmings, former RAF Squadron Leader and early pioneer of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) – the world’s largest humanitarian airline – celebrated his 100th birthday on 10 August at the controls of an aerobatic aircraft …

To mark his centenary, Jack Hemmings spent the day performing aerobatics in a Slingsby T67 Firefly aerobatic aircraft at White Waltham Airfield near Maidenhead, alongside flight instructor Nigel Rhind. The day was organised by his son-in-law, former RAF pilot Chris Whatts, and the pair appeared on BBC Breakfast television the following morning.

Reflecting on an exhilarating birthday, Jack said: ‘Today bought 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 added: ‘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.’

Nigel, who co-piloted Jack’s birthday flight, was also impressed with Jack’s sharp flying skills, saying: ‘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.’ 

Having received 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. 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 his 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.’

Ruth Whitaker, CEO of MAF UK – now the world’s largest humanitarian airline, which Jack helped pioneer 75 years ago – echoes the praise for his faith and personality, saying: ‘How wonderful to see Jack flying aerobatics on his 100th birthday! He is a true inspiration. For all who know him, we appreciate his enduring interest in others and lovely sense of humour. He is a wonderful example of faithfulness and a great gentleman. From everyone at MAF, huge congratulations and a very happy 100th birthday.’


Could you follow in Jack’s footsteps?

Get in touch with MAF to find out how you could use your flying skills to make a real difference to the lives of people in developing countries:

Tel: 01303 852819



Jack Hemmings

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

While in India in 1945, one of the airmen at his Delhi station discovered a copy of the Mildmay Outlook, a magazine with an article written by New Zealand pilot Murray Kendon about launching a Christian air service. Jack responded, and once back in London in 1947 became a member of the early Mildmay Movement, which went on to become MAF.

Now 100, Jack remains a dedicated supporter of MAF, along with other local and international charities.


Launching MAF

Jack helped launch the first mission air service from the Mildmay Operations Room in Islington, being appointed chief pilot of the first MAF survey flight from Croydon on 13 January 1948. Alongside him in MAF’s first Miles Gemini aircraft, RAF Engineer and MAF co-founder Stuart King helped plot their route across Libya, Egypt, Kenya and the Belgian Congo using the River Nile as their guide. The pair became the first British airmen to survey the needs of isolated areas across central Africa, and formally began the worldwide mission of MAF, which now spans more than 25 countries.

Discovering hazardous terrain and unimaginable needs, Stuart and Jack established connections with remote mission stations and ascertained that, in many places, the only way to offer life-saving help in the wilderness was to build airstrips. With the use of small planes, emergency cargo, missionary personnel and medical equipment could be delivered safely and efficiently, saving many days of travel by treacherous or non-existent roads. It was the adventure of a lifetime – one they both embraced with fearless determination and a healthy dose of pragmatic humour. 

On one occasion, their trusty Gemini was climbing slowly through the rising valleys of Burundi’s foothills, struggling to reach an altitude of 8,500 feet to clear the mountains ahead. However, approaching the highest peak, a strong headwind dragged them down, and they fatefully met a banana tree on their descent. It was a miracle that men both survived, but the Gemini was in ruins. The incident gave Jack the nickname ‘Crasher Jack’, which is still affectionately used by family and friends to this day.

Returning to London 10 months after leaving Croydon, Jack remained closely affiliated with MAF, but began a successful career in accountancy. He returned to flying in 1982 and won the Dungeness to Le Touquet air-race in 1985. 


MAF today

Millions of people cannot access basic medical care, clean water, food or education, simply because it is too dangerous or time-consuming to reach them. Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) provides flights for more than 1,500 aid, development and mission organisations to enable the world’s remotest people to access the essentials they need to survive. Every four minutes, an MAF plane takes off or lands in 26 developing countries, flying help, hope and healing to some of the remotest places on Earth.

To mark its 75th anniversary, MAF published Above and Beyond, a book dedicated to Stuart King. Click here to order a copy.

Find out more about MAF:

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