If you love aircraft, especially old aircraft, you will love this post but if not, look away! This is necessarily going to be a long post! I went to Duxford on the Sunday, drawn by the prospect of seeing two Avro Lancasters in formation. As all flight buffs will know, this is probably the last time more than one Avro Lancaster will be seen flying together and the crowds were huge. I arrived before 9 am and the queues were already long. By the time I left, I knew that many hadn’t got in. I saw people standing on bridges, miles down the motorway, hoping to see something. They probably weren’t disappointed.
Apart from the First World War crates, most aircraft were fast enough that their displays were spread over miles of the countryside around Duxford. Indeed, one of the highlights was a display but a Boeing 727, which has recently retired from passenger carrying and been converted to an environmental disaster response unit by a consortium of large oil companies. The red and silver jet was piloted by a first time diplay pilot who clearly had no idea about constraint because he proceeded to come in low over the airfield many times and climb away with both engines roaring at somewhere near full power. He was not that far from the onlookers, possibly flouting UK air traffic laws, but who could blame him?
The two Lancasters came early on, at about 3.15, and rumbled elegantly back and forth over the grass runway for us all to enjoy. Two Spitfires and a Hurricane, which turned up unexpectedly, joined them at the last moment.
I went for a short walk and took a turn in a Battle of Britain flight simulator, along with about ten other people. The simulated flight was of a Bf109E. The bumps and tight turns were faithfully reproduced but, of course, we felt no G-Force.
I also found the Blenheim Society hangar and spoke to one of the engineers who has been working to get the crashed Bristol Blenheim ready for flight again, this time with a Mark I short nose. If you have read Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, you will know that the later Mark IV features in the book.
I also attended a re-enacted Bomber Command briefing where I asked how on earth they launched the pigeons, which were used to carry coded information about a downed bombers location back to England. They told me that the pigeons were kept in biscuit tins while in flight and only released after the crash landing or ditching
Shortly after, we were treated to a display of American Naval power from WWII; a Grumman Hellcat, a Chance Vought Corsair and a Grumman Bearcat. While the two former aircraft rumbled slowly back and forth, the Bearcat executed a dazzling display in the background, sometimes going into loops which took it way beyond our vision, up into the clouds.
A Consolidated PBY Catalina (see photos below) took off twice and chugged around, keeping its nose wheel off the ground for an extended landing run, just to compete with the B-17 pilot who made a speciality of this maneouvre, we were told.
Then the B-17 Sally B fired up, sending clouds of black/brown smoke into the air. This B-17, actually a G model, distinguished by the chin gun, was painted to look like Memphis Belle, the first B-17 to survive 25 missions and return to the states, as filmed in the eponymously entitled film. Still in those colours, she rumbled past the crowd and took off for a short, but elegant display, showing her wide belly to the crowd each time.
I happened to be looking for lunch when I saw a Sally B stand and enquired whether I could actually get inside the aircraft. To my complete surprise, I was able to get a ticket to go inside for only £10; apparently a special deal for the day. I paid my money and climbed inside this old aircraft. If you want to see the photographs inside B-17 Sally-B (Memphis Belle) and find out more, take a look at my post two weeks ago.
Just before I sought lunch, I made a quick tour of the military vehicle hanger. If you like this sort of thing, you won’t be disappointed. I saw a Jagdpanther, a Conqueror and an Honest John missile launcher (I had a Dinky Toys one as a kid), to mention a few.
The hanger containing American aircraft had an SR-71 blackbird, a B-29 Superfortress, another B-17G a U-2 and many other interesting aircraft.
Most of these aircraft feature in the photographs below. I apologise about the layout but I have struggled all day to get it as good as this; I didn’t know that the WordPress ‘Gallery’ mode for posts does absolutely nothing and took a while to find out that you can’t easily fit three photos on one line. Anyway, enjoy the photographs, click to enlarge, and please leave a comment.
B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B (aka Memphis Belle)
If you want to see the photographs inside B-17 Sally-B (Memphis Belle) and find out more, take a look at my post two weeks ago.
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.