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.
Handley Page Hastings port engine and undercarriage detail. Hastings served as transports at the end of WWII and during the Berlin Airlift.
Avro York Cockpit. These two were used in the Berlin Airlift and were a development of the Avro Lancaster. Unfortunately, my photos of the exterior are not good.
DeHavilland Comet 4, one of the last, serving on Dan Air route to Alicante until 1973. I flew on a Dan Air Comet in 1973, but not this one. They were noisy and shook a lot!
Airspeed Ambassador. Anybody who loves airliners is going to love this album; not my sort of thing really but its nice to take a trip down memory lane!
Airspeed Ambassador Cockpit
Bristol Britannia front
Bristol Britannia engines
Bristol Britannia cockpit
VIckers VC10 Trident
Vickers VC10 cockpit
VC10 engines. This would have been your view (minus the red covers) when you stepped off the aircraft at some hot holiday destination.
BAC 111 cockpit
TSR2 nose section. Such a shame this beautiful aircraft was cancelled by the Government.
Grumman Wildcat. This and the next sequence of photos were taken in the ‘Restoration’ hangar.
Hawker Fury with a long way to go until it flies.
Very tatty looking Spitfire.
Fairy Firefly. Two are being restored, one to flying condition and the other for museum display only.
An SR-71 Blackbird cockpit. The pilot of one of these gave guided tours on the day and I have his autograph. He said the crew had to stay in the cockpit for 30 minutes after landing because the canopy and fuselage were far too hot to touch.
SR-71 fuselage; elegant but menacing.
Nose of the museum’s static display B-17G Flying Fortress. The chin gun has been removed for restoration.
Ball turret of the B-17G.
Tail turret of B-17G.
B-29 Superfortress tail section.
B-29 Superfortress port outer engine. These had magnesium parts which were prone to melt and set light to the firewall between the engine and the fuel tank, which soon sent the aircraft up in flames!
B-29 Superfortress starboard cupola. The B-29 had remote-controlled guns and the operator would sight his targets through this cupola. Inside, you can just see the upper cupola.
B-29 Superfortress belly gun.
B-29 Superfortress. View from outside nose of bombsight.
B-29 Superfortress. View from right of cockpit
B-29 Superfortress. View up though nose.
B-29 Superfortress starboard undercarriage detail.
B-29 Superfortress starboard undercarriage bay, looking up. The motor is to the right and forward.
B-29 Superfortress starboard undercarriage bay, looking up and to the rear.
Nose of B-52 Stratofortress. Those still in service have been upgraded to serve on until 2040, which will mean they will be the first front-line aircraft to complete 90 years of service!
B-17G Sally B taxing. As you can see, Sally B is still painted to represent Memphis Belle, which she portrayed in the film of same name. I went inside Sally B so read on if you want to see the photos.
Sally B flying.
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.
The privately owned Canadian and RAF Lancaster flying together in formation. The Canadian Lancaster was flown over for a season of displays because the RAF Lanc is due for a long servicing dismantlement and this was the last chance for them to be seen together before that. With increasing fuel and insurance costs, this sight may well never be seen again (at least with real Lancasters!)