Alex Henshaw was born on 7th November 1912, the son of a wealthy Lincolnshire businessman. Early in his life, he showed the courage and daring which were to stand him in good stead in his air racing and test pilot careers when he rescued a youth from a fast flowing river. For this, he was presented with the Royal Humane Society Award.
He showed an early affinity for engineering and arrangements were made for him to take up an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce. Before starting his apprenticeship however, he worked for a time as a salesman for one of his father's businesses and proved so successful at this that he never took up his apprenticeship.
His passion for flying began whilst he was still a teenager and he learnt to fly in a Gypsy Moth, soon acquiring a Moth of his own. At the age of only 19, he won the Siddeley Trophy and began,his air racing career in earnest.
In 1937, Henshaw acquired a Percival P6 Mew Gull and in 1938, won the, King's Cup with the fastest time of 236.25 mph. The following year, he concentrated his efforts on an attempt to beat the existing records for the point-to-point London to Cape Town flight. Henshaw flew from London to Cape Town, a distance of 6,377 miles, in 39 hours and 23 minutes, smashing the previous solo flight record by 39 hours and 3 minutes. It took him just 39 hours and 36 minutes to complete the return journey, again breaking the existing solo record by a staggering 66 hours and 42 minutes.
In February 1940, Alex Henshaw married Barbara, Countess de Chateaubrun and Barbara, along with his father, the Mew Gull and the Spitfire, were to be the greatest influences in his life. It was also about this time that Henshaw met Jeffrey Quill, the Supermarine test pilot with whom he was to develop a close and lifelong friendship. When Quill offered Henshaw a job at Supermarine, he took it with alacrity and moved to Castle Bromwich as the Chief Test pilot. During his time there, from 1940-46, Henshaw tested over 3,000 aircraft from the Spitfire to the Lancaster.
After the war, Henshaw worked for two years in Johannesburg as a Director of Miles Aircraft SA Ltd. On his return to Britain, he subsequently became involved in a range of family businesses. In 1953, he was cited for heroism for his part in the rescue of many members of his community when tide and storm surge conditions resulted in massive floods. Awarded the Queen's Commendation for Bravery and presented with Gold Oak Leaves.
Henshaw has written three books on his experiences - "The Flight of the Mew Gull" tells of his epic and record breaking flight from London to Cape Town back in February 1939 and of his early life and experiences as a young aviator. "Sigh for a Merlin" deals with Henshaw's experiences as Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich, the largest factory producing Spitfires and Lancaster bombers during the war.
"Wings Across the Great Divide" covers post-war flying in the remotest part th desert and jungle in Africa and a conclusion to his high risk flying.
His winning speed in the Mew Gull G-AEXF in 1938 is still the fastest speed for any British Aircraft and his records to Cape Town and back have never been excelled by any aircraft or pilot in the World.
He has donated all of his awards and a full scale replica of the famous Mew Gull to the Royal Air Force Museum. He was awarded the Britannia Trophy for this unique performance.
Now retired and living in Newmarket, Henshaw is a Past President of the Spitfire Society and, in 1997, was presented by HRH Prince Philip with the inaugural Jeffrey Quill Award for his services to aviation. On Thursday 16th March 2006, aged 93, he was once more at the controls of the Mark IV Spitfire, lovingly rebuilt after surviving the war, only to crash 55 later.
Although another pilot took off and landed the aircraft, Mr Henshaw flew it over the Cambridgeshire countryside using its dual controls.
"It brought all the memories flooding back", he said. "Those young men went into combat with only five or six hours' flying experience in it. If it had not been for the Spitfire, a wonderfully easy aircraft to fly, they would not have survived. If it had not been for the Spitfire, Britain would not have survived. It has been such a privilege flying one again today."
Henshaw has also been awarded the M.B.E., Fellowship in the Royal Aeronautical Society and a Companion of the Air League - their highest award. The King's Cup and many other cups, trophies and awards will be on display at the Royal Air Forces Museums at Hendon and at Cosford where a special unit is now under construction for their display.