Awarded for an outstanding contribution to the art of display flying of historic, vintage or modern fighter aircraft.
2020 Awarded to: Air Marshal Cliff Spink CB CBE RAF(Retd)
Cliff Spink is one of the most recognisable and long-standing warbirds pilots flying on the air display scene, perhaps best known for his enduring association with the Supermarine Spitfire. Having retired from display flying in 2019, the retired Air Marshal is believed to be the only living pilot to have flown all the airworthy Spitfire marks – Mk.1 through to PR.XIX, Merlin III engine to Griffon 65.
It took 27 years from his first Spitfire flight in summer 1991 to being invited to take his tenth and final mark aloft, a feat that is unlikely ever to be achieved again.
A highly accomplished fast jet pilot and commander but modest to the core, Cliff has always recognised that flying warbirds is about stewardship and sharing – never more than when displaying the iconic Spitfire. He has always insisted it is not about the pilot but about showing the machine to the public to best effect. His sense of the history and stories that are represented by the aircraft is acute.
Described as understated with great humility and kindness by those who know him best, AM Spink is always willing to help others and has mentored young pilots keen to follow in his footsteps.
Prior to the warbird scene, Cliff enjoyed an illustrious Royal Air Force career. Having trained on the Jet Provost, Gnat and Hunter he joined No.111 Squadron on the English Electric Lightning, a period of the Cold War when regular Quick Reaction Alert scrambles to intercept Russian bombers were par for the course. He was posted to the Falkland Islands on the F-4 Phantom detachment, returning to the UK to command RAF Coningsby and its Tornado F3 fighter force.
This was his introduction to warbirds, with the station commander customarily invited to fly the resident Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricanes and Spitfires. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, Spink rapidly deployed to Saudi Arabia, as Tornado Detachment Commander, remaining in post until the conclusion of the Gulf War in spring 1991.
While flying a desk, Spink had maintained his hours flying the de Havilland Chipmunk and so was well placed to make the transition to the tailwheel fighters via the Harvard trainer. He began his piston warbird flying on the BBMF’s Hurricane Mk.IIc, displaying the aircraft for around 15 hours before moving on to the Spitfire.
Towards the end of his BBMF flying, Cliff was invited by legendary display pilot Ray Hanna (whose name adorns this award) to fly for his Duxford-based Old Flying Machine Company (ODMC). It was the start of a long association, which only ended with Ray’s death.
OFMC put Cliff into the cockpit of its famous Spitfire Mk.IXb MH434, often referred to as the definitive example. Flying with OFMC led to a series of memorable flights to airshows across Europe. It was a golden era for air displays and Cliff took every opportunity to revel in the challenging flying and occasions, often meeting Second World War veterans. He was later invited to fly restored Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 ‘Black 6’ – another machine in which he became well known for his stirring displays – along with types such as the Kittyhawk, Mustang and Fury. He also flew for The Fighter Collection, logging time in aircraft like the Wildcat, Corsair and Thunderbolt.
By the mid-2000s Spink was spending increasing amounts of time flying with the Aircraft Restoration Company, with yet more Spitfires on the agenda. During this period Cliff had the privilege of being led by Ray Hanna in the maestro’s last display in 2005 at Duxford’s Autumn Air Show. Sadly, Ray died just weeks later.
In recent years Cliff has enjoyed the rewarding experience of flying the Duxford-based two-seat Spitfires on pleasure flights with paying customers, including veterans. The arrival of new Mk.I restored Spitfires at Duxford gave him an insight into the original Spitfire experience, displaying both examples at various air displays.
In 2018 Cliff completed ‘the set’ of Spitfires when he was invited to fly Maxi Gainza’s Mk.VIII MV154.
Quoted in a recent media article, Cliff described some of the moments he’d experienced during his Spitfire years. ‘Flying over Kent and the English Channel at 3,000ft on a sunny day, you’ve got to be a man without soul if you don’t ally that with what the aeroplane did during the war,’ he said.
Apt then, that his display flying career was to reach its conclusion at Duxford for last year’s September Air Show. Flying SM845, Cliff led the Spitfire formation, bringing the curtain down on his airshow career with a solo display followed by a final low flypast with contemporary Brian Smith alongside – the perfect ending to a distinguished career.
For his outstanding contribution to the art of display flying of vintage fighter aircraft – most notably the Spitfire – Cliff Spink is awarded the Hanna Trophy.
2013 John Romain
2014 John Beattie MBE
2015 Squadron Leader Duncan Mason RAF
2016 Flight Lieutenant "Charlie" C V Brown
2017 Brian Smith
2018 Lee Proudfoot
2019 Nigel Lamb
2020 Air Marshal Cliff Spink CB CBE RAF(Retd)