A brave South Tyneside soldier is flying high today - after Prince Harry stepped in to ensure he took to the skies in a Spitfire to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Nathan Forster, from Broughton Road, South Shields, is one of just two injured personnel chosen to fly solo in the iconic plane to pay homage to the military milestone.
The Spitfire Scholarship – which supports wounded, injured and sick members of the forces – was launched by Prince Harry this year, with the support of the Royal Foundation’s Endeavour Fund.
Prince Harry, who toasts his 31st birthday today, was due to join around 40 Spitfires, Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheim bombers as they flew in formation from Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex to key Second World War airfields Biggin Hill, Duxford, Northweald and Northolt - but gave up his seat to allow a battle veteran to take flight.
The Prince was due to have a seat in one of four two-seater Spitfires taking part in the flypast but when one of the vintage aircraft developed mechanical problems, he decided to step aside to ensure the event’s special guests would still get to fly.
His spokesman said he wanted to make sure that 95-year-old Tom Neil, an ex-wing commander and Battle of Britain Hurricane and Spitfire pilot, would still be able to take part.
It is phenomenal to have this opportunity. The spitfire is a British icon.Nathan Forster
And he wanted to ensure that former para Mr Forster and an RAF corporal who won places on a Spitfire scholarship training programme were also still able to take part in the display.
Mr Forster, a former private in the Parachute Regiment suffered severe damage to his left leg in an IED blast while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2011.
Corporal Alan Robinson, an RAF aircraft technician, from Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, lost a leg in a motorbike accident.
The scholarship was established by the Boultbee Flight Academy and is supported by the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s Endeavour Fund - which donates money and offers practical help to sporting and adventure challenges for wounded ex-service personnel.
Harry had been due to fly in the Spitfire PV202 piloted by John Romain, managing director of the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford, Cambridgeshire.
But the Prince was previously able to fly in a Spitfire when, in August last year, he met pilots who were training for the event, and he even had the chance to take the controls.
The display, which has been delayed by two hours because of poor weather, is a tribute to the Second World War pilots famously dubbed “The Few” by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill for their efforts defeating the Luftwaffe.
During the summer and autumn of 1940, 544 personnel from Fighter Command died as the RAF fought in the skies above southern England to force back the threat of any invasion by Hitler.
The 75th anniversary is likely to be the last major anniversary at which the surviving members of the pivotal conflict - who are now all well into their 90s - will be fit to take part.
A royal spokesman said Harry was “incredibly honoured” to be part of the event on his birthday.
Prince Harry took the chance to wish Mr Forster well as he took the Prince’s seat in the Spitfire PV202.
After waving him off, Harry took a photograph of the plane on his mobile phone before it manoeuvred on to the grass runway to take its place in the formation.
Mr Forster, a former pupil at St Wilfrids College, South Shields, was badly injured in February 2011 when the Parachute Regiment he was serving with came under attack from the Taliban.
An explosion left him with shrapnel in his left leg and back – missing his spine by just three millimetres, which would have left him paralysed.
He was in a wheelchair and using crutches for a year, but is now on the mend.
He was medically discharged from the army last May, and has now set his sights on a career in aviation.
Nathan and fellow scholarship winner Corporal Alan Robinson earned their wings after completing a rigorous selection process, including initial flying training with two disabled flying charities, Aerobility and Flying for Freedom as well as a weekend of flight and aptitude testing, aided by RAF Cranwell’s Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre.
Nathan said after being chosen for the flight last year: “This scholarship has provided me with a new focus, purpose and drive that I have rarely felt since being injured.
“It is phenomenal to have this opportunity. The spitfire is a British icon.”