On 1 December 2005, veteran pilot Ray Hanna passed away in his sleep at his home in Switzerland. It took everyone by surprise, as Ray had led a full season of the Old Flying Machine Company's airshow duties. Here Dave Eade pays a brief tribute to this star of the airshow scene... Pictures as credited
It is a fact of airshow life that the men in the seats of aircraft displayed to the British public are a fairly anonymous bunch. Those who have stood in absolute awe as Ray Hanna put his beloved Spitfire MH434 through its paces at Duxford know that, with his passing, we have lost one of the best display pilots to ever grace our skies. It was obvious to even the most casual observer that this pilot had the ability to do it right and give the crowd exactly what they wanted - Ray always did just that!
The more senior of us remember him as a leader of the Red Arrows, taking over from Lee Jones to lead the team for four seasons from 1966 to 1969, longer than any other person. One of the founder members of the team in 1965, Ray is always credited with the stamp of brilliance and perfection that became the image of the team, but was always the first to give total credit to the team itself, refusing to allow himself to be singled out. Ray took the team from a seven-ship to the now trademark nine, incorporating the early 'thrill' movements for which the team became famous, but which had never been seen until the RAF took the decision to create a permanent display team.
Leaving the RAF in 1970, Ray stayed on the display circuit, through the association with many warbirds, while continuing a day-job flying Boeing 707s with Cathay Pacific, among others. His love for warbirds led to the formation of the The Old Flying Machine Company with his son Mark, an organisation which, with the Fighter Collection, was to become the foundation of many displays and film credits - and the days at Duxford that we all came to cherish. Leading the Breitling Fighter Team, Ray showed his love and prowess for formation flying as well as his ability to show these 'old-uns' at their best, despite becoming an 'old-un' himself. The sad loss of Mark at Barcelona in 1999 was a heavy blow to Ray, but instead of throwing the towel in he vowed to dedicate future development of the OFMC in Mark's memory.
A glance to the west end of the runway, with the Duxford Autumn sun setting, will not seem the same again without Ray doing what he did best - with the classic Merlin at full bore and Ray roaring in on the wings of MH434. To anyone that saw it, however, that image will never be forgotten.
Somewhere in wherever or whatever heaven is, there is a group of nine angels, dressed in red, looking at a blackboard in a briefing room… Eclat - ad astra.
A more detailed history of Ray's career can be found here