On a ‘dark day’ in September I was supposed to be at RAF Hendon sitting in the cockpit of a Spitfire. Instead, I found myself in Addenbrooke’s Hospital having major eye surgery so I sent Bob in my place (he really enjoyed it!).
Luckily, the museum released some new dates and so, sitting at home waiting for my vision to return, I booked myself on another ‘Spitfire Cockpit Experience’. Something to look forward to as I recovered from my eye Op!
Fast forward to the very last day of October: here I am at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
So, I’d finally fulfilled one of my boyhood dreams: to sit in a Spitfire! I wasn’t disappointed.
Clambering in through the small door and sliding down into the pilot’s seat.
With the cockpit door closed I immediately felt part of the aircraft, scanning the instruments, handling the controls and breathing in the smells of ‘old aircraft’.
A view of the cockpit , I’ve even got my boots into the picture!
This is the sort of view the pilot gets while taxying, i.e. bugger all. He would have to zig zag to get a view of the runway ahead before accelerating to get the tail up.
They even loaned me a WWII flying helmet so I could do the full Biggles impersonation. Tally Ho!
‘My’ aircraft was Supermarine Spitfire MK XVI built at Castle Bromwich in 1944. Serial RW373, she spent her early life in a training role before moving to 31 Squadron at RAF Hendon in 1949 as the personal aircraft of the AOC Fighter Command. Damaged in a landing accident at Hendon in 1951, after repair she moved around a lot, including a spell as a Gate Guardian and museum displays, until finally returning to her current location in July 2015. You can get the full history from the RAF Museum archives.
This weekend, Vulcan XH558 (the sole Vulcan flying today) has been travelling the UK. When I saw the flight plan for today I knew that this might be my last and only chance to see her in flight. Here are the details for the Salute to the V Force Tour.
Today’s flight plan:
One of the waypoints was over Leavesden. Now home to the Warner Brothers Studios and the Harry Potter studio, in the old days this airfield was a Rolls Royce jet engine factory so I think this waypoint was chosen to commemorate the link between Rolls Royce and the Vulcan’s Avon and Olympus engines. So, off I went to Leavesden and parked up near the studios. Within about 15 minutes I was joined by numerous enthusiasts who all had the same idea!
XH558 was tweeting her progress so, once she had cleared RAF Halton we knew she was en route for the RAF Museum at Hendon and would be passing overhead soon.
We all spotted her in the distance then, very quickly, there she was! Almost overhead, she made her planned turn to starboard and within a couple of minutes was gone. I managed to fire off a few photos but I had a spot of trouble with the camera; the continuous AF wouldn’t lock on, so I quickly switched to manual focus, then I had to get her in focus as she flew away from me. Plus I was using my good (left) eye – before my retina detachment I’d always used my right eye as my “viewfinder eye” and I’m not used to using that one yet. Argh!
Anyway, here she is:
What a beauty!
I’m still hoping to see her again this year but, if I don’t, today was a fitting salute to the V Force and the iconic Vulcan. I’m really pleased I saw her.
Family visit to Bentley Priory last Wednesday. As you know, this was the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command during WW2. From there Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding ran the Battle of Britain. In later years the house became the Officers Mess for RAF Stanmore before being sold off to developers in 2008. Luckily part of the deal was for the Priory to be restored to host the Bentley Priory Museum. Lots of information here.
For anyone with an interest in WWII or history in general a visit is a must. For anyone ignorant of the part Bentley Priory played in the Battle of Britain (or even of the battle itself) it is definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than the excellent short film which provides an excellent introduction.
To begin with, the Filter Room was located in the grand ballroom, however before the Battle of Britain it had been relocated to a much safer (and resilient) underground bunker. After the war this was filled in and a new bunker constructed in time for the Cold War, unfortunately this isn’t open to visitors. If you really want to see what the underground control room would have been like, there is an exact copy at RAF Uxbridge but that’s another story.
I dropped in to the RAF Museum at Hendon. I never tire of this museum, it is so good to see so many classic a/c preserved and there’s always a new exhibit to enjoy. Tried taking some photographs, not very successfully – the lighting levels are too low to get a decent shutter speed. A faster lens would help but I don’t have one. 😦
Anyway, here’s a close-up of 617 Squadron’s nose art on a Tornado GR1.
And here’s a picture of the much less glamorous Chippy:
The Chippy is the only a/c I’ve ever flown so I have a bit of a soft spot for the type, although “mine” was never that shiny. 😉
Today I was in our Old Town High Street and witnessed the moment when an RAF Tornado flew along the street at rooftop height, afterburners blazing. At the end of his run he pulled up and banked to the right in a salute. This was no ordinary occurrence. Today, family and friends said goodbye for the last time to SAC Ryan Tomlin, RAF Regiment. This brave lad made the ultimate sacrifice, doing what he loved and serving his Country in the shit-hole we know as Afghanistan.
Unlike my daughter who was stood next to me, I did not know Ryan personally. I was in the High Street simply to pay my deepest respects to a local hero. His Royal Air Force comrades did him proud and gave him the send-off he deserved.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
The RAF Museum Hendon, is one of my favourite haunts; I like to pop in for an hour or two when I’m in the area. Exhibits change all the time and I enjoy encountering something new. Yesterday I noticed the old Watch Office seemed to be open to visitors so I wandered over for a closer look.
It turned out that the Grahame-White Factory and Watch Office had been newly opened in March. They’ve relocated, restored and rebuilt the whole thing and installed all the museum’s early aircraft in the factory (to the left of the watch office in the picture below). As I entered the Watch Office it felt like I had travelled back in time. As I walked around the factory, I could visualise it in its heyday, building Avro 504K’s.
It wasn’t very busy when I was there, I think that’s because it’s not obvious that it is open to the public, I hope more people take the unprepossessing path to the right of the main museum entrance and explore this insight into aviation in the early 1900’s.
So, drop in if you are passing, and travel back in time 🙂
I was out geocaching today, at Ashley Green, Bucks. As I was walking across an open field a C130 flew over at treetop height. This was closely followed by another and, as I quickly got out my iPhone to grab a video, I realised I could hear the unmistakable music of Merlin engines. Within seconds, the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight appeared over the treetops! Awesome!
Whenever I see and hear one of these aircraft, especially The Lady herself, I get shivers down my spine. Bloody marvellous!
For the technically minded, the flight comprised the Lancaster, a Hurricane and a Spitfire. I managed to grab a short video.
One of the best low flying videos I’ve seen!
Brilliant video made by Aircraftsman Dean Tabreham to raise money for Cancer Research.