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The WAAF who flew on a Spitfires tail. Margaret Horton on the cover of The Daily Telegraph magazine. The Daily Telegraph article is dated March 1968 which suggests that she was in the ROC for at least 10 years.

The WAAF who flew on a Spitfires tail. Margaret Horton on the cover of The Daily Telegraph magazine. The article is dated March 1968 which suggests Margaret?was in the ROC for at least 10 years.

A Seat on the Wing Please

In early 1945, Margaret Ida Horton was an RAF WAAF (Fitter Mechanic Airframes) at RAF Hibaldstow, a satellite airfield to RAF Kirton-in Lindsey, Lincolnshire.

Friday 9 February 1945, dawned a cold and overcast day with slight drizzle. However, by late morning the wind had increased considerably and the Duty Controller instructed that ?rough weather? procedures should be observed. These procedures included measures to ensure the safety of taxiing aircraft.

Leading Aircraftwoman Margaret Horton, was assigned a familiar job: sit on the horizontal stabilizer of a Spitfire to help hold the tail down while it taxied on a windy day. Unfortunately, nobody thought to tell the pilot, Flight Lt. Neill Cox, that she?d be jumping aboard. (Horton later admitted, ?The squadron was run in a slap-happy way.?) The normal drill was for the tail-sitter to grab the aircraft?s elevator and waggle it before the pilot turned onto the runway, so he?d know she was hopping off. But this time Cox made a casual gesture out of the cockpit that Margaret took to mean, ?Hang on, don?t go yet.?

Big mistake. As the Spitfire accelerated down the runway, Horton had the good sense to quickly flop across the tail cone, where she was held in place by the vertical fin, her legs to the right and her torso to the left. Another WAAF who?d seen what was happening dashed off to tell a flight sergeant, who ran to the control tower. Cox was ordered to make a quick circuit and land, but wasn?t told why. Between Horton?s death grip on the elevator with her left hand plus the Spitfire?s tail-heaviness, Cox had already figured that something was amiss, but he couldn?t see as far as his airplane?s empennage.

When an aircraft engine had been serviced, the practice was for the training instructors to run the engine and do a particular test. Margaret had finished work on the Spitfire, when the pilot began this test. It was necessary, if it was windy, for a mechanic to sit on the tail of the aircraft while it taxied to the end of the runway ready for take-off. The mechanics were given the order, ?Tails?. Having got to the runway, the aircraft would pause for the mechanic to drop off. This time the pilot did not pause. Whether he was unaware that the order to ?tail? had been given, nobody knows. He just carried on with Margaret Horton hanging on for grim death, and him unaware that he had a ?passenger? on the tail. ?I thought the aircraft was tail-heavy?, he said later. The Spitfire had risen to 800 feet or more when the strange shape of the tailplane was noticed from the ground.

THE WAAF WHO FLEW A CIRCUIT ON A SPITFIRE.

The WAAF who flew a circuit on a spitfire

While Margaret Horton had become the unexpected passenger on a Spitfire, and sitting on the tailplane to hold it down in strong crosswinds as it was being taxied around the airfield, the pilot from 53 OTU was completely unaware of her and after receiving the green light from the airfield controller, he started his take off. He soon had great difficulty trying to move the elevators to gain height because of her grip on them, combined with her weight on the aircraft?s balance but he eventually managed to reach 800ft. Then it was noticed from the ground that all was not well and he was told to land immediately but not given the reason in case he panicked. The pilot finally struggled to complete a circuit and land the aircraft. Margaret was naturally very shaken but fortunately uninjured and went on to lead a long life. The Spitfire Mk Vb, AB910 is now part of the BBMF at Coningsby.

AB910 Spitfire Mk Vb of the Battle of Britain Flight. Photo: Caz Caswell.

AB910 Spitfire Mk Vb of the Battle of Britain Flight. Photo: Caz Caswell.

Neill Cox is 5th from the right, second row from the back in the group pic.

Neill Cox is 5th from the right, second row from the back in the group pic.

Flight Lieutenant Neill Cox, who has died aged 88, won two DFCs for flying operations in the Mediterranean; he was also noted in the Service for once taking off in his Spitfire completely unaware that a WAAF mechanic was clinging on to the tailplane.

Flight Lieutenant Neill Cox, who has died aged 88, won two DFCs for flying operations in the Mediterranean; he was also noted in the Service for once taking off in his Spitfire completely unaware that a WAAF mechanic was clinging on to the tailplane.

A newspaper obituary identified the pilot as Flight Lieutenant Neill Cox, and far from being a trainee pilot he was a veteran, winning two DFCs for flying operations in the Mediterranean. He was born in Weybridge, Surrey in 1923 and enlisted in the RAF in March 1941, later flying Blenheims with 614 Squadron flying patrols off North Africa before joining 39 Squadron with Beaufighters. Flying from Tunisia in September 1943, he intercepted five Ju 52s near Corsica and LACWshot down two. The following day, his squadron intercepted fifteen Ju 52s and attacking them head on, he damaged one as well as one of their escorting fighters. However his own aircraft was badly hit and he had to ditch it, saving the life of his badly injured navigator by towing the dingy he was in to the shore.

He was subsequently awarded an immediate DFC. Later flying from Sardinia on night anti-shipping ops, he attacked a merchant ship with rockets, scoring direct hits but his aircraft was damaged by flying debris. He managed to land safely despite there being a large hole in aircrafts floor just behind his cockpit. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC. After retraining on single seat fighters at Hibaldstow he joined 56 Squadron flying Tempests on ground attack duties until the war ended. He also flew captured German aircraft over to Farnborough for technical evaluation. All in all a very eventful flying career and well worth recording for reasons other than just for the Spitfire incident.
Flt. Lt. Cox was released from the RAF in 1946 and read Law at Oxford before becoming a Barrister; later in life he gave this up and went into farming. He was also an outstanding tennis player, representing the RAF, his college and later played at Wimbledon. Post war he maintained contact with his old comrades from 53 OTU but it is understood that he rarely talked about ?the WAAF on the tail? incident.

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Margaret Horton was on ?B? Flight, 53 OTU which was based near the main Redbourne/Hibaldstow Road. She later said that the incident was due to the ?slap happy way? the unit was run, due to the pressure of work rather than any negligence on the part of their NCOs who worked all hours. The pilot should have been briefed to stop before starting his take off run.

Interviewed in the Daily Telegraph in 1968 Miss Horton said that when they reached the end of the runway, they were supposed to waggle the elevator to let the pilot know that they were climbing down. On this particular occasion, the pilot made a little signal with his hand and so she thought that he wanted her to stay on but instead the aircraft gathered speed and took off. On the ground another WAAF mechanic had seen the aircraft go but stammered so much when she was telling her Flight Sergeant that he thought that she was joking at first; but then he went to the tower and reported what was happening.

Once the Spitfire was back on the runway, LACW Horton got down and the pilot revved up and roared away. The ambulance arrived to take her to sick quarters but she said that she was OK and didn?t want to go but she was taken anyway with a sprained arm.?While she was there, Margaret?was visited by the pilot in the course of of the official enquiry. ?He said ?Put yourself down for ten minutes flying time? ? I?ve never known his name?

Relieved to be back on the ground, Horton announced that after a change of underpants and a cigarette, she?d be good to go back to work.

Margaret Horton, seated on the tail of a Spitfire in 1958.

Margaret Horton, seated on the tail of a Spitfire in 1958.

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She later made clear that she was only obeying orders. It is reported that she was fined for losing her uniform beret during the during the short trip around the pattern and one irate Air Commodore sent her a letter stating that if he had been the Officer Commanding the Station she would have been severely punished ? for obeying orders!
After the flight, everyone involved was warned by senior officers not to mention the incident to the press but it must have leaked out because reporters from the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch were at the airfield the next day. It was suggested that someone rang the paper and got paid for the story.
Post war, Miss Horton joined the Royal Observer Corps and she seemed to enjoy her moment of fame as she gave interviews to the media and there are at least two different photographs of her sat on the tail of Spitfire AB910 in her ROC uniform.

She was posted later to West Raynham and, despite her ordeal, survived into her eighties.

The Spitfire was Mk Vb AB910 which is still flying with the BBMF at Coningsby.

The Spitfire Society

Spitfire took off with WAAF on tail? – Key Publishing Ltd Aviation …

THE WAAF WHO FLEW A CIRCUIT ON A SPITFIRE | Tangmere …

A WAAF at RAF Kirton Lindsey 1944 by Mary Blood (Nee Pettit) – BBC

Margaret Horton | Commonplace Fun Facts

Flight Lieutenant Neill Cox – Telegraph

Amazing But True Stories | HistoryNet

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk Vb – AB910 – Flying Legends – Touchdown …

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