Retired, 96-year-old British Airways pilot returns to the cockpit after 43 years

Retired pilot Frank Dell may not be quite as old as the airline he flew for, but he's not far behind.

The 96-year-old war veteran returned to a British Airways cockpit in Sydney this week for the first time since his retirement in 1976.

Dell boarded the Boeing 777 at Sydney Airport, saying he was incredibly proud to be back in the cockpit to help the airline celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Dell began his flying career as a pilot in the British Royal Air Force, flying missions over Germany in World War II. He was shot down in 1944 but survived and trekked for four nights through the European countryside before finally linking up with Allied troops on the fifth day.

"In 1944, I lost a good friend of mine who also happened to be my navigator when our plane was shot down in Munster along the western edge of Germany, 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," he said.

Despite the horrors of war, the event gave Dell the opportunity to learn to fly.

"Being a pilot was beyond the reach of average people like me in terms of the cost. Then the war came along and paved the way for me to learn to fly," he said.

"When my time came to be released, there was no job for me in the air force, so 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."


He flew with British Airways for 30 years between 1946 and 1976, clocking up millions of miles and even carrying some well-known faces including royalty, although he won't say who: "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 that I'll treasure forever."

After retiring, Frank and his wife Isabel remained in Britain, though their son moved out to Australia. The couple followed in 2000 to be closer to their grandchildren and, after Isabel passed away, Frank moved into Bupa's St Ives care home in Sydney in 2018.

His visit to the British Airways cockpit was part of a series of events the airline is doing to mark its 100th anniversary this year.

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After meeting Hitler following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain emerged from his British Airways flight from Munich, proclaiming "Peace in our time!"


Winston Churchill was the first British PM to fly across the Atlantic when he travelled to meet US President Roosevelt. His BOAC Boeing 314 flying boat flew from Plymouth, via Bermuda and Norfolk, Virginia, then on to Washington DC.


After the death of her father, King George VI, Princess Elizabeth left Kenya instead of continuing her royal tour to Australia. She arrived on a BOAC plane at Heathrow as Queen Elizabeth II.


British PM Tony Blair was aboard a British Airways 777-200 when it set a new record for the world's longest non-stop commercial flight from Brussels to Melbourne – 17,157 kilometres in 18 hours 45 minutes.


Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh flew the first non-stop flight from Perth to London aboard a BA 777 after a Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. Now Qantas flies the 14,498-kilometre, non-stop route in about 18 hours and plans a non-stop flight from Sydney to London by 2022. - Steve Meacham

See also: How 100 years of British Airways changed aviation

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