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Mark Hanna

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Mark Hanna - 6 August 1959 - 26 September 1999

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 seriously injured in an aircraft crash in Spain on Saturday 25 September 1999 and passed away at 8.30 pm the next day.

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