Gardnerville man recalls Spitfire flight |

Gardnerville man recalls Spitfire flight

Gardnerville resident Doug Robbins sits in the cockpit of a SPITFIRE which he had the chance to fly over England last year.
Special to the R-C |

In light of the war movie, “Dunkirk” playing at local theaters, one of the central story elements is French and Allied sailors and soldiers trapped by Germany on the beaches of Dunkirk.

However, Gardnerville resident Doug Robbins took notice of another element in the movie: the Supermarine Spitfire.

A British aircraft, the Spitfire is powered by a massive Rolls Royce V-12 engine producing up 1,350 horsepower and cruising in a flight at 385-mile per hour. Robbins said he got to fly one.

Since 2005 Robbins has had many items on his bucket list, including to fly a Spitfire which he checked off last year.

“With fewer than 20 airworthy Spitfires flying in the world, and fewer than 100 pilots having the chance to fly one, it was a true thrill to fly one” said Robbins.

After serving in 1968-69 in Vietnam as a Green Beret, he used his GI-bill when he returned to train and obtain his pilot’s license and found a true love of flying, he said and has flown all over the USA.

With a few phone calls, Robbins bought a ticket to London then on to southern Kent to Biggin Hill Airport, formerly known as the Royal Air Force station called RAF Biggin Hill during WWII. Now a small enclave on the airport still retains that designation.

He buckled up, took off and cruised at 265 mph with 60-percent power, he said.

“The plane flew so easily,” he said. “To fly over the beautiful English southern county side then on over to the White Cliffs of Dover was totally amazing.”

All he could say after the flight was “How can I get one of these?” with a smile the length of the wings on the plane. He still has that smile recently when talking about the flight.

“To take off and fly in the skies of the “Battle of Britain” was something I will never forget,”said Robbins.

In conjunction with the Spitfire, he’s done the Alcatraz Island to San Francisco swim by himself, swam in: Croatia, Greece, Spain and the British Virgin Islands of the Caribbean. He has traveled to almost all of Europe including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine, and Helsinki, Finland.

He’s currently in training to swim this fall both on the eastern shores of Tremiti Italy (16 miles) and then a swim 10 days later in Mallorca Spain (10 miles).

He’s thinking about adding a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa to his bucket list. He would join a small group for the 16,000-foot climb next spring.

Robbins hobbies include travel, restoring antique motorcycles and flying his own plane out of the Minden airport. He’s also an elected board member to the Douglas Swim Center with his motto “to make sure the water is always wet.”

“It’s been a transition of a life, as a businessman who believes in giving back to the community, a father, and someone who is capable to go out and just do something. I’m 71 and I’m not about ready to stop now,” he said.