Award-winning Perth businessman Iain Hutchison tells Michael Alexander why he likes nothing better than getting behind the stick of his replica Spitfire and taking it for a spin from Perth Airport.
As one of the world’s leading drill consultants who specialises in accessing difficult to reach oil wells, Perth-based Iain Hutchison is no stranger to globetrotting.
In the month immediately prior to this interview, the engineering director with Merlin ERD has spent 64 hours on 18 commercial aircraft flights taking his oil and gas exploration skills around the globe.
But it’s flying of a very different kind which keeps the 47-year-old father-of-three busy when he’s back home on Tayside – the air enthusiast has built and flies his own Spitfire!
Iain, who was born in Glenrothes and raised at Auchenblae, was first bitten by the flying bug whilst a pupil at Mearns Academy.
He was 14 when he went on an air experience flight in a Cessna at Dundee Airport and will never forget that first ever sensation of lifting.
“I thought ‘this is amazing’,” he recalls.
“Then there was the fact you could see the showers of rain and fly between them. It brought home just how beautiful Scotland is – even in the showers! That never left me. I’ve been enthralled about flying ever since.”
Iain joined the university air squadron whilst an engineering student at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, and toyed with the idea of pursuing a career as an RAF fast jet pilot.
But with no guarantee of making the fast jet grade, he concentrated on his engineering studies instead – taking advantage of the air squadron experience to ‘go solo’ at Edinburgh Turnhouse and later secure his pilot’s licence whilst working in the USA.
Iain, who is qualified to fly single engine light aircraft and a qualified display pilot, has since flown in America, Australia, South America, and the Caribbean.
But even after all these years, he says there isn’t anywhere that beats flying in Scotland on a good day – particularly when he’s behind the stick of his Spitfire replica, based at Perth Airport.
“The Spitfire thing came about when we were living in Perth, Australia,” he smiles.
“I was flicking through a British magazine and saw an advert for a pre-cut, pre-formed Spitfire kit from Supermarine aircraft. I’d always had a big soft spot for Spitfires.
“To buy a real one was £2 million a pop – which I didn’t have! There are also only 55 of the original 22,000 that were built left.
“But here was a kit for about £200,000 – about the same cost as a high end sports car – where you would have total control over the quality – you build it, you know if you make a mistake, you have the provenance of material, and you can stage your investment.
“I looked at the sales video over six months and my wife Deborah said ‘just do it’.
“It made no sense whatsoever – so I just went and did it!”
It took him and his team of friends 2000 man hours to build the aircraft over two years.
It’s built from aviation grade aluminium and has a wooden composite propeller with modern light aircraft running gear.
“Lots of people say it’s not real. It’s a replica. That’s true, “he says.
“But close your eyes and walk this way. Now tell me it’s not real!
“The similarity is in the shape. From the ground it looks the same, but it doesn’t sound the same. The original had a 27 litre engine. Mine’s got a six litre engine. The main difference is I can afford to run this one!”
One of only 100 replicas in the world, Iain shipped the aircraft to the UK when he and the family moved back from Australia in 2007.
Part of the attraction was to be based in Perth and to make use of the “excellent” airfield facilities.
Now he flies the Spitfire around 20 hours per year – and particularly loves doing shows.
He adds: “I get a huge buzz. I also get a little bit of income to offset the running costs. But it’s showing off! Any display pilot who says they are not showing off is lying!”
Iain describes the Spitfire as “phenomenal” to fly – and he is particularly interested in its engineering credentials.
“You feel like you are part of the plane when you fly,” he adds.
“You are part of the plane. You look right and the plane goes right.
“The commonest expression is that you don’t strap in, you strap on a Spitfire, and it’s true.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to fly an original – a two-seater at Goodwood.
“My one is really sensitive and it’s an absolute delight to fly, but in the original it’s even more so.
“You don’t even need to look right. You just think about it and it’s away right! It’s just a beaut!”
Iain is particularly fascinated about the role Spitfires played in the Battle of Britain, and, drawing comparisons with his work now at the forefront of global oil well drilling, believes everyone should be so proud of British – and Scottish – engineering – particularly when the chips are down.