Spitfire!

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.

me about to climb into the spitfire

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’.

Bloody marvellous!

me in a spitfire

A view of the cockpit , I’ve even got my boots into the picture!

cockpit view

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.

view forward from cockpit

They even loaned me a WWII flying helmet so I could do the full Biggles impersonation. Tally Ho!

me in the spitfireme in the cockpit - thumbs up

‘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.

 

Vulcan Visit

Avro Vulcan

I visited the RAF Museum at Hendon, London, recently. I’d booked one of their open cockpit opportunities, in this case the rare chance to gain access to the flight deck of their Avro Vulcan B2 bomber.

Potted history: This particular aircraft – XL318 – has been a museum exhibit since 1982. Designed in 1947 to fulfil the Cold War role of nuclear strike, XL318 was delivered to 617 Squadron in 1961. In those days it was painted in the white “nuclear blast reflective finish”. Here’s a picture of some Vulcans on a QRA dispersal:

Vulcans on QRA

By 1966 XL318 had been repainted in the low level camouflage finish it wears today. In December 1981 it made its last flight, at which time 617 Squadron was disbanded as a Vulcan squadron (later to reform as a Tornado Squadron in 1983).

On to my visit. I was met underneath XL318 by one of the Museum’s volunteers. Then up the crew ladder I went!

Up the crew ladder

Once inside, I was met by two more volunteers who started off by showing me around the “back seat” crew area where the Navigator Plotter, Navigator Radar and Air Electronics Officer were stationed. Revealing its early post-war design, the Vulcan has a conventional bomb aiming window, a feature it shares with its wartime ancestor the Avro Lancaster. The Vulcan was never fitted with an optical bomb sight, however, as by the time it went into service it was equipped with a radar bomb sight which was operated by the Navigator Radar.

Here’s me looking out of the bomb aimer’s window (photo taken by my daughter!)

Note the yellow ladder up to the flight deck – this is just for visitors and wouldn’t be there in an operational Vulcan.

Old school bomb aiming window

Then came the tricky bit, climbing up to the flight deck and swivelling myself into the right-hand, or co-pilot’s, seat. In the photo below you can (sort of) see the rear crew area behind me. It was pretty dark inside the fuselage. What little illumination there was, was provided by some hand held working lamps, The Museum opens this aircraft so rarely, I guess it isn’t practical to set up permanent interior lighting. Also, it was surprisingly cramped up there. Every inch was occupied by equipment and it was an interesting exercise moving about in there. For once I reckon it helped being a short-arse. Maybe the 1960’s RAF selection process weeded out anyone above 5’6″.

The pilot and co-pilot (who was also responsible for looking after the engines, transferring fuel around the many tanks to balance the aircraft, in-flight refuelling, etc., there being no flight engineer) enjoy the luxury of ejection seats. In the event of an emergency, the other three crewmen would have to exit the aircraft via the same crew hatch I used to get into the aircraft. Once they had left the aircraft the co-pilot and pilot would then jettison the canopy and eject upwards.

Me in the right hand seat

So, I’m sitting there, in the surprisingly comfortable, right-hand ejection seat, soaking up the sights and smells of this awesome piece of aviation history. If you’ve ever been inside an old aircraft you’ll probably know what I mean about the smell. It’s a mixture of metal, rubber and… something else, I’m not sure what, old air? Anyway it’s distinctive and instantly recognisable.  I quite like it.

The volunteer sitting in the pilot’s seat had been a Navigator in 617 Squadron Vulcans back in the day. Between them, the two volunteers talked me through the instruments and controls, the engine start procedure – explaining the “green button” used when the aircraft was on quick reaction alert at the height of the cold war.  When the Vulcans were scrambled the crews could be in position and starting the Olympus jet engines within a minute; and be airborne within 5. That’s going some!

Flight Deck

They also explained the equipment designed to block off the flight deck’s windows, this was designed to protect the crew’s vision in the event of a nuclear blast. It’s chilling to think that these chaps could have been alone up there after a series of nuclear strikes with quite possibly no home airfield to return to. Down to a sunless sea indeed.

After a few years, the Government transferred the nuclear deterrent to rocket technology – the ICBM – and so XL318 and her friends were reconfigured to the more conventional bomber role. We had a chat about “Black Buck” and the bombing of the runway at Port Stanley during the Falklands war, and the radar bomb aiming techniques they used.

cockpit selfie

All too soon my time in XL318 was up. I managed to grab a quick “selfie” of me in the right-hand seat. With apologies for the rubbish quality – blame the limited light and lack of a flashgun on my phone’s front (selfie) camera. 🙂

I managed to extricate myself from the seat and reverse the sequence of 3 ladders back down through the hatch. Time for a quick pose for the waiting photographer (my Daughter).

Me posing in front of XL318

Wow. That was great. What an awesome aircraft.

Bentley Priory

Bentley Priory and Guardians

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.

Fighter Command Crest  Spitfire Gate Guardian

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.