Mark Hanna

Mark Hanna

Mark Hanna – 6 August 1959 – 26 September 1999

One of Britain’s most experienced display pilots of historic military aircraft, Mark Hanna, was seriously injured in an aircraft crash in Spain on Saturday 25 September 1999. Mark passed away at 8.30 pm, Sunday 26 September 1999.

The accident took place at Sabadell near Barcelona where the aircraft was due to participate in a large flying display. It occurred on approach to landing and there was a major fire.

Mark was flying an Hispano Buchon, a Spanish-built version of the Second World War German Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter. The aircraft had appeared at air shows throughout the UK and Europe.

Mark was Managing Director and co-founder of the Old Flying Machine Company which preserves and maintains rare vintage aircraft in airworthy condition. An ex-RAF fast jet pilot, Mark had flown over 4000 flying hours of which 2300 were on historic aircraft.

Mark Ashley Hanna was born into an aviation family in Berkshire on the 6th August, 1959. Educated at Kimbolton School, Huntingdonshire, it was a foregone conclusion that he would join the RAF, having first been taught to fly by his father, Ray Hanna (a former leader of the Red Arrows) from a small coral strip in the Philippines. The aircraft was a T-34, and he was only sixteen.

A successful career as a fighter pilot followed, flying Hunters and then F4-Phantoms with 111, 56, 29 and 23 squadrons – including a tour of duty in the Falklands. He left the RAF in 1988 to run the Old Flying Machine Company which he had set up with his father in 1981, specifically to preserve, maintain and exhibit rare vintage aircraft. With growing public interest in aircraft of this type, the business expanded steadily and today includes many of the great military piston-engined fighters, together with several early British, American and Russian jets.

Mark was always generous with his time and attention, was considerate, forthright, wonderfully prejudiced and great company. His legion of admirers in the public at large and in flying circles admired him for his skill and prowess in the air, but that was only the exercise of a God-given talent allied to superb schooling and dedication. He flew with both authority and feeling, for flying was his greatest passion and one which he always endeavoured to share with the general public. Interviewed recently, Hanna, who had flown more than 100 different types, discussed the popularity of the company’s aircraft at air shows: “The older generation remembers both World War II and early jets, and younger people hear their parents talk of those days and realise what emotive things historic aircraft can be. The OFMC can put such aircraft into the skies once more, including the great adversaries of the Battle of Britain.”

Major films in which he acted as both aerial advisor and chief pilot included Empire of the Sun, Air America, Tomorrow Never Dies, Memphis Belle, Piece of Cake and Saving Private Ryan. However, he was not always enthusiastic with some film directors, who sometimes could not accept the art of the possible when it came to flying. Exceptionally, Steven Spielberg accepted this and did have a great understanding and feeling for aerial imagery. Hanna said “My father and I each flew Mustangs in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun and the consequent footage was quite remarkable.”

Occasionally, flying World War II aircraft in Europe could create bizarre situations which appealed to Hanna’s dry sense of humour. A few years ago, he was flying over Germany in a Messerschmitt Me 109 in formation with an American P-51D Mustang – deadly enemies in 1944 and 1945. The aircraft became low on fuel and, as a precaution landed at a USAF base; “A serious looking US Air Force guy drove out to meet us; he plainly thought we had passed through a time warp. He shouted: ” Are these planes armed?” I said “Not since 1945.”

“I’m not sure he understood the joke!”

Throughout the airshow and aviation film industry Mark was known as the “Golden Boy” of aviation and was acknowledged to have become a legend in his own lifetime.

Mark was buried at a private funeral at Parham in Suffolk on Wednesday 6 October 1999. 

The Hanna’s wish to extend their most sincere thanks to the many individuals who sent messages of sympathy and support. 

A celebration of Mark’s life took place on Tuesday 16 November 1999 at St Clement Danes in London.

Ray Hanna

Ray Hanna

Ray Hanna – 28 August 1928 – 1 December 2005

Squadron Leader Raynham George Hanna has died aged 77. Ray was the leader of the RAF’s Red Arrows aerobatic team in its early years, developing a level of expertise and panache in formation aerobatic flying that attracted universal acclaim and established “the Reds” as the world’s premier team and star attraction at airshows worldwide.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the RAF instructed various fighter squadrons to provide an official aerobatic team to participate in public events and provide welcome publicity. The “Black Arrows” and the “Blue Diamonds” were extremely successful; but, with the loss of fighter squadrons due to budget constraints, it was a wasteful activity to withdraw a squadron from the front line each year. The Central Flying School was asked to provide an official team and, in 1965, the Red Arrows were formed at Little Rissington. Ray Hanna was selected to join the team and within a year he became its leader.

Ray was the ideal candidate to lead a group of individualistic and brilliant fighter pilots and after an intense period of practice, flying their highly manoeuvrable, all-red Gnat aircraft, the team’s reputation for excellence on the airshow scene was soon established. In a very short time, the Red Arrows, together with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, had become the public face of the RAF, as it continues to be to this day.

Raynham George Hanna was born on August 28 1928 at Takapuna, New Zealand. He was educated at Auckland Grammar School before taking flying lessons on the Tiger Moth. In 1949 he worked his passage to England by ship to join the RAF.

Hanna gained his pilot’s wings before the demise of the powerful piston-engine fighters such as the Tempest, Sea Fury and Beaufighter, and his opportunities to fly them proved to be the beginning of a love affair with these evocative fighters that was to last a lifetime. He joined No 79 Squadron in Germany, flying the Meteor jet in the fighter reconnaissance role, one of the most demanding for a single-seat pilot. This gave him the opportunity to indulge in authorised low flying, at which he excelled. Formation aerobatics was a routine for all fighter squadrons, and Ray developed a passion for this form of flying.

His appointment to the Overseas Ferry Squadron provided him with the opportunity to fly a wide variety of jet fighters. He ferried the early Hunters from Britain to India and the Far East; this involved flying over Pakistan, where he was often intercepted by Pakistani fighters, enabling him to indulge in mock combat when fuel reserves allowed.

On one occasion Ray was returning a Vampire fighter to Britain when the aircraft’s only engine failed over India and he was unable to restart it. He eventually made a skilful crash-landing amongst a series of giant anthills close to a railway line. He waited for a passing train, which stopped for him; but the Indian guard refused to let him board since he was unable to pay the fare. Ray finally offered his watch as payment; the guard scribbled out an IOU and allowed him to travel.

After qualifying as a flying instructor, Ray became a member of the Meteor aerobatic team at the College of Air Warfare, and in 1965 he was selected to join the new Red Arrows team on its formation.

Ray led the Red Arrows for four years, the longest of any of the team’s leaders, but in 1971 he decided to leave the RAF to begin a new career in civil aviation. Initially he flew the Boeing 707 for Lloyd International Airways, followed by seven years with Cathay Pacific operating from Hong Kong. In 1979 he headed a company operating executive Boeing 707s, which operated worldwide.

Shortly before leaving the RAF Ray had been approached by Sir Adrian Swire, who had recently purchased a Spitfire IX. Sir Adrian invited him to fly and display the aircraft at a time when there were few of the wartime fighters flying regularly. This proved to be the beginning of a unique relationship between Ray Hanna and MH 434 (the aircraft’s serial number), an association which will be one of the lasting memories for Ray’s countless admirers.

In 1981, together with his only son Mark, whom he had taught to fly when he was 16,  and his daughter Sarah, Ray Hanna founded the Old Flying Machine Company, specialising in the restoration and operation of classic “warbirds” such as the Mustang, Spitfire and Kittyhawk. In addition to appearances at hundreds of airshows, Ray Hanna and his son and their pilots were in regular demand by the film industry.

Some of their flying sequences in the films Empire of the Sun (1987) and Memphis Belle (1990) were breathtaking in their skill and audacity. After seeing the stunning sequences in the former, Stephen Spielberg insisted that Ray and his pilots should provide the flying elements for his film Saving Private Ryan (1998). Ray also featured in the 1988 television series Piece of Cake, a drama about an RAF fighter squadron.

Ray regularly shipped some of the company’s aircraft to his native New Zealand to participate in the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow, recognised as the premier warbird flying event in the southern hemisphere. In later years he established a branch of his company in New Zealand.

In September 1999 Mark Hanna’s death in Spain, whilst flying a restored Me 109 fighter, was a devastating blow; but Ray vowed to continue their work, and the Old Flying Machine Company continues to be a major force today, managed by daughter Sarah.

Ray Hanna retained his passion for flying to the end, and six weeks before his death he was practising formation aerobatics in Spitfire MH 434. An internationally-renowned airshow pilot who was flying alongside him on that occasion has commented: “At every stage of a flying routine, one had utter trust in his skill and judgment – he was the doyen of display pilots.”

Ray was never afraid to be blunt when the occasion demanded, but his intolerance of bureaucracy and all but the very highest standards was tempered by his great modesty, warmth and approachability.

For his leadership of the Red Arrows, Ray Hanna was awarded a Bar to the AFC he had received earlier. He also received numerous international awards, including the Britannia Trophy. In 2000 the Air League awarded him the Jeffrey Quill Medal for his “outstanding contribution to the development of air-mindedness in Britain’s youth”.

Ray Hanna died on December 1. He married, in 1957, Eunice Rigby, who survives him with their daughter.