A wing and an (answered) prayer

Former RAF pilot Frank Dell (96) from Bupa St. Ives care home in Sydney ventures onto the flight deck of a British Airways Boeing 777 at Sydney airport.
Former RAF pilot Frank Dell (96) from Bupa St. Ives care home in Sydney ventures onto the flight deck of a British Airways Boeing 777 at Sydney airport.

In his younger years Former RAF pilot Frank Dell (96) from Bupa St. Ives care home in Sydney flew over Germany in World War II before joining British Airways as a commercial pilot. It was his dearest wish to ventured back onto the flight deck of an aircraft

And that’s exactly what he did, 45 years after his retirement, as part of the British Airways #BAMagic100 campaign (100 acts of kindness), to celebrate its centenary this year.

Born in 1923, Frank joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 where he became a Flight Lieutenant, spending his six years in the RAF behind the controls of a De Havilland Mosquito flying over Germany during World War II. It was a risky role. “In 1944, I lost a good friend who also happened to be my navigator when our plane was shot down in Münster near the Krupp armament factory. It all happened so quickly. One minute I was in the plane at 28 000 feet and the next moment I was in the fresh air.”

Frank recalls trekking through European countryside and not linking up with anyone until the fifth day. He survived the war and after leaving the RAF moved to Buckinghamshire, where he raised two sons with his wife, Isabel. Keen to stay in the cockpit, Frank explored roles with other airlines.

British Airways crew accompany Frank Dell towards his dearest wosh

“Being a pilot was beyond the reach of average people like me in terms of the cost. The war paved the way for me to learn to fly,” he said. “And after the war I started with British European Airways. It was amazing to see how much pre-war flying and training came into the category of what we were doing then.

“It was a great privilege to work for British European Airways and now, an incredibly proud moment to help them celebrate their 100th birthday and be back in the cockpit again.”

Frank flew with British Airways for 30 years between 1946 and 1976, clocking up millions of miles.  “I (flew) … a well-known Royal in my very last year of service. There’s something of an unspoken pilots’ agreement that you don’t talk about the people you’ve flown – especially at that level – but it’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.”

Frank Dell on the flight deck of the British Airways Boeing 777

After retiring, Frank and Isabel moved to Australia in 2000 to be closer to their grandchildren and, when Isabel passed away, Frank moved into Bupa’s St. Ives care home in 2018.

Reba Hatcher, who manages Bupa St. Ives care home in Sydney says flying is a major part of Frank’s life. She contacted British Airways, who picked up the idea as part of their #BAMagic campaign. The two companies worked together to arrange the visit aboard a Boeing 777 at Sydney airport.

Frank said: “It’s been over 30 years since I was last in the cockpit, and I never thought I’d be here again.  While the technology has changed, there are so many things that have stayed the same, and it’s brought back some wonderful memories.”

Added BA’s Director of Brand and Customer Experience, Carolina Martinoli: “We’re honoured to have Frank and all our customers and colleagues join us in celebrating our milestone 100th birthday this year.”

To celebrate its centenary, British Airways has painted a number of aircraft in its heritage liveries, including an A319 in the colours of British European Airways (BEA), which is the airline’s short -haul predecessor that Frank used to fly for.