B-17G Sally B at Duxford Air Show
I went to the annual Duxford Air Show yesterday. What a day! I have never been before and I thoroughly relished seeing so many old aircraft in one place. I have never before seen an SR-71 Blackbird, B-29 Superfortress, B-52 Stratofortress, Avro York, TSR2 or Handley Page Hastings. I also walked through all the old air-liners: The Viscount, Trident and the DeHavilland Comet. I actually remember traveling to the Canary Islands in about 1973 with Dan Air on a Comet. It was a case of shake, rattle and roll and very noisy! I wondered if it had been the same aircraft because the Duxford Comet was retired in 1973. But its log showed that, for the last few years, it flew between London and Alicante. I managed to get my ticket clicked for every single air-liner.
Click on any photograph to expand.
On the program for the day, I noticed that an ex Blackbird pilot, Colonel Richard Graham, would be giving guided tours around the SR-71 Blackbird. I turned up on time and even go his autograph on my ticket. Did you know that pilots had to stay in the cockpit of the SR-71 for 30 minutes after landing because it was too hot to exit?
Of course, the highlight for most visitors would have been the two Lancasters, flying together. There are only two Avro Lancasters still flying, the RAF Battle of Britain Commemoration Flight example and a Canadian one in private hands. The British one is still commissioned and flown by the RAF. There is never any chance of getting near it but apparently you can fly on the Canadian one if you have a spare $2500!
I took pictures of both Lancasters. They sounded great. A pair of Lancasters, flying together, hasn’t been seen since the shooting of the Dam Busters in the late 1950s and it will probably never be seen again. The RAF Lancaster is due for major refurbishment, which will take years, and, with Insurance regulations tightening up for these old aircraft and costs escalating, its doubtful that the Canadian Lancaster will ever fly here again.
I expected the two Lancasters to be the highlight of my show too but I was wrong! On my way to get fish and chips for lunch, I saw a stall marked ‘Sally B.’ I heard a rumour earlier that one could get inside her very cheaply that day but I didn’t believe it; access to these bombers is very restricted and getting inside a grounded Lancaster in the UK will set you back upwards of £200.
I hopefully asked how much the day membership cost and whether it would get me inside the Sally B and the lady said:
I swallowed and asked:
I could hardly believe it!
The lady told me to queue up at 3.45 because the bomber was just about to display and would need cleaning afterwards. I bought my ticket and watched the display. At 3.45, I walked to the old bomber but there was no queue! A man in a flight suit was attempting to put a very oily rag in a bin and failing.
I asked him where I should queue and he said:
“Do you have a pass?”
“Come right in then!” He introduced me to the other queue an took me to the entrance hatch near the tail! I couldn’t believe my luck. I scrambled in and took the photographs you see here. Unfortunately, my camera is not great so I apologise for the quality of the photographs.
Did you know that the floors of the B-17s were wooden?
You will also notice from the photograph that the waist gun has no trigger. Apparently they fell off years ago!
The top gun turret is incomplete; its just a shell without guns or any turning mechanism because its so close behind the crew seats that the mechanism would hinder access.
The cockpit is quite small, car-sized, but neatly arranged and with good visability.
As you will have noticed by now, Sally B is painted to represent Memphis Belle and, in fact, she played the veteran bomber (now in USA) for the 90s film of the same name. However, Sally B is a B-17G and Memphis Belle a B-17F. You can distinguish the B-17G by its chin gun turret, under the nose. This was removed from Sally B for the film but has now been replaced.
Lastly, I asked my guide when he would managed to get in the ball turret (it’s notoriously tiny). He said:
“It’s been sealed up!”
I later found out the my guide’s name; Dominic Ivaldi. He told me he was a photographer so I will have to look up his photos. I took a photograph of him in front of Sally B, when I climbed out. Thanks a lot Dominic for showing me around. I really enjoyed it!
Oh and I also got the signature of Dominic and a flight-crew member on my ticket too!
If you liked this post on Sally B, you might like my more recent post about the whole Duxford Air Show.
If you are interested in aircraft, you might like one of my Wartime aviation novels.
Screaming Angels explores the causes of the MiG-15s superiority at the beginning of the Korean War and includes a chapter about the De Havilland Mosquito.
Attack Hitler’s Bunker! is about a raid using composite Hawker Hurricane and Short Stirling aircraft in a daring raid on Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin.
December Radio is about secret German technology during WW2 and features detail on Eugen Sanger’s Orbital Bomber, sometimes called the Amerika Bomber, which could skip along the Earth’s atmosphere to reach New York and reach Japan, making it the forerunner of the American Space Shuttle.
Explore these books under the main menu item Wartime (Aviation) Series.