Goodwood Festival of Speed – Saturday 25 June 2016

Catching up with an event from the ‘summer’, the theme for this year’s Festival of Speed was ‘Full Throttle – The Endless Pursuit of Power’. Centred around a hill-climb through the estate, current and historic motor racing cars, bikes and drivers hurtled up the tight course which passes Goodwood House and the BMW central feature sculpture. The modern cars included Formula 1 teams and 2016 season drivers or test drivers, plus others from the more recent past. Also on show were the motoring industry’s latest models, from family hatch-backs to the fastest supercars – all looking for customers. Although the weather looked promising in the morning, it soon closed in to become overcast and wet.

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Stow Maries Fly In – 6 September 2015

The blue sky over the historic Great War aerodrome on the Sunday of the weekend event gives little indication of the weather conditions which limited the flying activity at the fly in. None of the World War One reproductions were able to get airborne on the Saturday, and only the Albatros made it aloft on the Sunday – giving Rob Gauld-Galliers his first chance to fly in a World War One Heritage Aviation Trust (WAHT) machine. The increasing number of WWI airframes were displayed outside whilst a couple of yet to be assembled new arrivals were on view in the hangar. A few visiting aircraft also braved the elements, and some – including a smart Stearman in US Navy colours – carried out a pass on departure.

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Red Bull Air Race – Ascot Racecourse – 14-16 August 2015

The Friday of the event didn’t bode well for the weekend’s racing with the weather curtailing all chances of practice runs for the pilots, and indeed threatening their chances at even arriving at the location. A small break in the rain and low cloud did finally allow for them to land and for a single run through the course by Mike Mangold in one of the the Challenger aircraft, but to all intents and purposes the day was a wash out.

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Thankfully the weekend did improve, and the Saturday saw the teams practice in the morning and then carry out their qualifying runs.

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With Bonhomme taking ‘pole’ the scene was set for an exciting Sunday of racing, with hopes high for a home win.

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Red Bull:’

Britain’s Paul Bonhomme was crowned the winner of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship stop at the famous Ascot Racecourse, flying brilliantly under pressure in the world’s fastest motorsport series. The victory was Bonhomme’s third this season and second straight win at Ascot to the delight of more than 40,000 home fans.

Bonhomme’s final run was flawless and he stopped the clock in 1:06.416 seconds. Australia’s Matt Hall took second place in a time of 1:09.024 while Yoshihide Muroya got his first podium of the season with third.

With the hard-fought victory in the Final 4, Bonhomme picked up 12 points to widen his lead at the top of the overall standings to eight points (46) ahead of Hall (38 points) in second going into the final three races. Reigning World Champion Nigel Lamb of Britain, who last year finished second at the race over the historic Ascot Racecourse, finished back in 5th place, a result that destroyed his chances of defending his title.

“It was a hard day at the office but today was great fun – I enjoyed that,” said Bonhomme after hitting speeds of near 370kph on the track that featured a standing start in front of the grandstands. “All I can say is this was due to teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. I’m only the driver. I just point the plane in the right direction.”

It was the second time the Red Bull Air Race was staged in Ascot, just west of London, that has quickly become one of the most attractive racing locations on the calendar and a favourite with the pilots.

Austria’s Hannes Arch, who struggled in the training session and was last in Qualifying on Saturday, finished a disappointing eighth after winning the last two races in Budapest and Rovinj, Croatia. Arch had a great run in the Round of 12, just beating Bonhomme. But Bonhomme was the “fastest loser” and advanced to the Round of 8. Arch was unable to get his engine started before the Round of 8 and was forced to retire. “It’s frustrating if you can’t race but that’s life,” said Arch, who slipped to third overall with 30 points.’

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Paul Bonhomme went on to win the 2015 title, before announcing his retirement from the sport.

London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony – 29 August 2012

Amongst 2012’s amazing summer of Olympic sport there were few failings – despite the fears beforehand. One though must go down as a terrible injustice to the efforts of those involved, especially being that it concerned a charitable organisation and the incredibly inspiring Paralympic Games. What should have been one of the World’s biggest platforms for promoting a most worthy cause was ignored by Channel 4, who instead played their own countdown ‘VT’ rather than transmitting the Games’ official opening sequence – one which was timed with military precision to the second!
The 80,000 inside the Olympic Stadium were witness to the event as it was planned to be executed, with a combination of a big-screen video piece cueing in the arrival over the arena of a Tecnam P2006T twin aircraft trailing specially designed pyrotechnics. Lance Corporal Dave Rawlings appeared on the film telling the story of how he was seriously injured whilst serving the country in Afghanistan, leaving him permanently disabled. During his rehabilitation back in the UK Dave was given the chance of a trial flight by the charity Aerobility, going on to gain his PPL. It was Dave – cued in by his own instruction to the crowd within the stadium to ‘look up’ – flying the aircraft, thanks to the charity that does so much to bring aviation to those who would otherwise be unable to experience the pleasure of flight. That moment in time – which lasted for around 70 seconds – was the culmination of four years of planning, involving many people and organisations, sometimes coming up against seemingly insurmountable constraints and bureaucracy, and taking on the Paralympic axiom: ‘To triumph over adversity and to excel in everything that is possible, to concentrate on what you can do and not what you can’t’.

The story of the Aerobility Paralympic flypast must start with the charity itself, and its inspirational Chief Executive Mike Miller-Smith who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in his twenties and now uses an electric wheelchair at all times, but still chases his passion for aviation and to share the freedom of flight. The organisation started in 1993 as a group of pilots and friends with disabilities that met to represent disabled flying in the UK, calling itself the Delta-Foxtrot Club, otherwise known as the Disabled Flying Club. It became a charity in 2000, and renamed as the British Disabled Flying Association in 2003. The charity was given some Bulldog aircraft from the Royal Jordanian Air Force the same year, and Mike Miller-Smith answered a call for help to get them flying. He joined the Charity’s management team a year later, becoming Chairman in 2006 and Chief Executive in 2008 when the group was based at Lasham. The name Aerobility was adopted in 2010 and the base moved to its new home at Blackbushe Airport in 2011. Whatever their age, disability, illness or social background, Aerobility will aim to get people airborne and use the gift of flight as a tool for improving lives, and many continue on to gain their PPLs.

Mike first got an idea about doing a flypast for the Paralympics when it was announced that London had won the 2012 games, and a chance meeting in 2008 led to a trial flight with David Morris, a Senior Policy Adviser to the Mayor of London, who then went on to become the Olympic Diversity Coordinator. The options were limitless, but some early conversations with the Paralympic Opening Ceremony (POC) creative team and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) set some constraints that would prove to be some of the biggest hurdles: The Opening ceremony would be an evening event in the Olympic Stadium, so the flypast would need to be a night flight with a clearance to fly over London. This still did not deter Mike who had seen American night displays and a twilight glider display at Bournemouth with wingtip fireworks, so had confidence that something was going to be possible. Guy Westgate, the pilot of that seaside twilight firework flight, is an air-display innovator and has pioneered flying with pyrotechnics with both aerobatic aircraft and gliders, so was an ideal addition to the team, taking on much of the flying side of the project. The next problem was to find a suitable aeroplane and the difficulties of this choice were immediately apparent. Experimental types can be modified easily with a ‘permit’, but are not permitted to fly at night. There are also very few twin-engined aircraft in this category. Fully certified aircraft have the advantage of being allowed to fly anywhere, but any alterations require a lengthy and expensive modification procedure, with the risk of being unsuccessful. Mike started asking some operators of certified aircraft for help and Tim Orchard of Tecnam UK soon offered his new P2006T Tecnam twin. The four-seat P2006T was a recent design from the Italian manufacturer, first flying in 2007 and gaining EASA certification in 2009.

The creative brief was to fly the aircraft over the stadium with some light and pyrotechnic effects for between 2-3 minutes. The challenges were enormous as most fireworks last for only a few seconds, drop ‘dross’ and ash or are simply too dangerous to attach to an aircraft. The inspiration came from a pioneering parachute display in Bahrain that used a theatrical ‘stage’ firework, strapped to the parachutists’ legs for a night-time descent. Local pyro manufacturer Wells Fireworks took on the task to develop the concept, and, with no aircraft test platform available in the Spring of 2012, worked with Michel Carnet, Paramotor World Champion to fly with some of the pyro prototypes and combinations until reaching the optimum effect of duration and spark intensity. The effective illumination of the Tecnam could be boosted with lights and the idea to use High Intensity LEDs came from watching the latest night flying kites. The final high-speed trials of the pyrotechnics and LED strips were made with GliderFX, Guy Westgate’s new glider display team – so another piece of the puzzle was taking shape and fitting into place.

Afandi Darlington is a world-renowned design engineer, and started the design for both the LED lighting scheme, the aircraft battery installation and the all important wingcuffs for the Tecnam. The individual pyrotechnics would be bundled into clusters and attached to prongs of a fork, trailing behind each wingtip. Tecnam’s Managing Director, Paolo Pascale, generously sent a pair of winglets for Tim Dews, of Airborne Composites, to fabricate the wing cuffs. Tim’s experience with composites and glass-fibre enabled him to transform Afandi’s CAD designs into his ‘Timlets’. The last element of the hardware was a pyro sequencer, as to produce a seemingly continuous trail of sparks would actually require a number of the clusters to fire one after the other. Chris Cain of Think Tank Electronic designed and built a tiny control box to fit to each wing tip. The initial thought was to use a secure radio link to start the pyro sequence, but this was changed to a hardwire system due to possible interference over the Stadium.

Mike wanted to have one of the charity’s successes at the controls during the flight, so invited the Aerobility membership to a simulator challenge. The minimum requirements were a PPL and lots of free time. One candidate stood out, the aforementioned young Lance Corporal, Dave Rawlins. Dave was very keen to be an ambassador for Aerobility but needed to fly more hours before starting his twin rating to fly the Tecnam, so the race was on against the wettest British summer on record. Once Mike had established the mechanics of the display flight, the biggest remaining challenge was the certification process. Despite many of the team having deep reservations, Mike’s charisma and passion to achieve the impossible won through. The UK CAA were keen to see the project succeed and suggested the best way forwards was to obtain a ‘permit to fly’ from EASA to allow the modifications to the Tecnam. The cost and time implication was enormous, but with no choice other than to ‘follow the rules’, Gama Engineering at Fairoaks were tasked as a Part 21J Design Authority to start the certification process. Just as the critical point was reached with EASA in Brussels, EASA pulled the plug and declared that their office would not have the resources to process the Permit to Fly application in time for the ceremony and they would hand the project back to the UK CAA to process on their behalf. The project was in danger of being killed by bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, The POC Creative team were focusing their attention to the flight profile over the Olympic Stadium. The viewing angles from beneath the Stadium roof were calculated and a scheme devised to put the Tecnam in view of the most number of seats with a series of orbits, flown at minimum turn radius. Dave Rawlins started training with Guy in Aerobility’s PA-28 Warrior, concentrating on flying accurate tight turns with high angles of bank at low speeds, the target to fly four complete orbits, fully adjusted for wind in 150 seconds. Dave moved on to the Tecnam and completed a multi-engine course. Time was getting tight. The CAA regained control of the certification process with only 2 weeks to go. They could not agree to a UK issued Permit and insisted on a full Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). This is normally months of work, but the clock was ticking with just 7 days to the first dress rehearsal over the stadium. After a frantic week, heated emails and telephone calls and sleepless nights about flutter calculations and a million other things, the paperwork was filed, boxes ticked, LEDs stuck on and wingtips mounted, the whole team was ready. With the CAA airworthiness department and Gama engineers all satisfied, test pilot Dan Griffith developed a test schedule and the Tecnam was put through its paces with Dan and CAA Chief Test Pilot Paul Mulcahay each flying the aircraft. With the flight tests complete, the STC arrived in the nick of time for the first rehearsal flight with two hours to spare!

The spotlight now focused on pilots Tim Orchard and Dave Rawlins who would manage the flights together. The restricted airspace over London would need a number of permissions for the flight to take place, including display permissions, exemptions to fly below 1000ft, exemptions to enter the Olympic restricted airspace and requests to suspend operations from London City airport for the duration of the practice flights and displays. Once in the aircraft, their challenge was not only to fly accurately over the Opening Ceremony, but also to negotiate their time critical approach profile through the busy airspace around Heathrow and London City to arrive exactly on-time. An ‘Olympic box’ of protected airspace had been setup over the Olympic Park area for the Games to enable broadcast helicopters to self separate and deconflict, and although this would mean the orbits would be inside the box and free of interference from ATC, regrettably the cube of protected airspace was not designed for the time critical extended approach profile of the Tecnam, and while the controllers and airspace managers argued about the legality of helicopter camera ships formating in controlled airspace, and the minimum separation standards for Special VFR, the team focused on how to get over the Stadium on time.

The plan was to fire the wingtip pyros at the exact time Dave asked the crowds to look-up, with the aircraft calculated to be over the downwind edge of the stadium. The Tecnam is fitted with a state of the art GPS that plots waypoints onto a colour map. The team also equipped the Tecnam with a radio-controlled clock – accurate to a fraction of a second – but this wouldn’t allow any leeway for delays in the action in the stadium if a fixed target time was set. The solution was to start the aircraft’s countdown clocks with a radio call at the start of the video tape (VT start) as Dave’s ‘look-up’ cue was exactly 8 minutes 37 seconds into the video and construct a series of checkpoints on the approach path to monitor the aircraft’s progress.

The day of the ceremony was tense. Winds checked and the approach waypoints calculated, batteries charged, pyros prepared, mounted and wired up and checked and checked again. The weather wasn’t great with strong winds and rain battering London all morning, but a clearance was forecast for late afternoon, albeit leaving a strong south-westerly wind. Many of the team were in the stadium, but Guy Westgate had the best vantage point of all, up on the stadium roof as Flight Safety Director, and monitoring the progress of the “Blue Whale” – as Mike had nicknamed the Tecnam – as it held south of the Thames. Dave and Tim then started their approach pattern, shadowed by a TV helicopter streaming video to the stadium. Guy states that the sound system in the stadium was incredible, with speakers suspended around the roofline, directing the video’s soundtrack downwards towards the spectators, but hardly audible from the roof itself. The video’s soundtrack included Dave’s ‘look-up’ reveal cue, and as the Tecnam first appeared the pyros fired and a wall of noise filled the Olympic Stadium, not from the speakers this time, but from 80,000 screams and shouts below, which was a very emotional experience for Guy and the team.

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The small Aerobility team had excelled. There can be very few volunteer projects which have brought together so many specialists – many of them quite unique in their field – all indispensible to the success of the project and wholly focused on a single goal. Recognition must also go to the professional contributions from Gama Engineering and Tecnam UK together with partner AEROS Ltd. A week after the opening ceremony a re-run of the display was held at Aerobility’s Blackbushe base in front of an invited audience of all those involved with the project as a token of gratitude for their unstinting efforts in bringing the venture to fruition, and it is from this event that the following illustrating images were taken.

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The title given to the opening ceremony was ‘Enlightenment’, and few would argue that the public’s perception of disability hasn’t been hugely improved by the images from the London 2012 Paralympics. It must be hoped that the positive vibes continue and that support for charities such as Aerobility is boosted to allow them to play an even more immeasurable part in opening new doors to those less able-bodied. For further information please visit www.aerobility.com

 

Dambusters Commemoration 15-16 May 2013

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On the night of 16/17 May 1943 nineteen specially modified Avro Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron Royal Air Force departed Scampton in Lincolnshire bound for the Ruhr Valley deep in the heart of Germany. Targets for the night were the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams using the Barnes Wallis ‘bouncing bomb’ with the intention of striking a blow at the industrial production of the area. The attack – titled Operation Chastise – caught the imagination of the British public which had hitherto had little in the way of positive news through the early war years, and also proved the effectiveness of precision attacks against valuable targets. 617 Squadron was specially formed for the raid and would forever be known as The Dambusters, with their motto becoming ‘Après moi le déluge’  French for  ‘After me, the flood’.

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The seventieth anniversary of the raid would see a number of commemorative events involving the current RAF 617 Squadron and its Panavia Tornado GR4 jet bombers, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster and a number of locations linked to the history of the event. Whilst the ‘bouncing bomb’ – more correctly a mine – was tested in locations such as Chesil Beach, Dorset and Reculver, near Margate, Kent, the bomber crews practiced their attack approach for the dams using most famously the twin-towered dams of the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire.  For the anniversary events this would be the location for the most visually dynamic; a flypast at low level over the Ladybower Reservoir by the BBMF Lancaster and a pair of 617 Squadron’s Tornado jets, both of which had been specially painted with their tails depicting the breaching of the dams. Getting photographs of the aircraft involved climbing the valley walls to around 400m – but was well worth the effort!

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On the 15 May the BBMF Lancaster flew over Woodhall Spa and the memorials positioned there:

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Battle of the Atlantic and Arctic Convoy Commemorations – 9 May

The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, is being commemorated in a series of events marking the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle, May 1943, when Germany’s submarine fleet suffered heavy losses in the Atlantic. Over the course of the battle, thousands of merchant ships and tens of thousands of lives were lost. Three Royal Navy warships arrived in London before a special evensong service at St Paul’s. HMS Illustrious docked on the Thames at Greenwich on Wednesday, following the arrival of HMS Blyth and HMS Edinburgh, the latter going alongside museum ship HMS Belfast. Organisers have planned fly-pasts, memorial services and parades to honour those who lost their lives.

HMS Edinburgh alongside  HMS Belfast

HMS Edinburgh alongside HMS Belfast

 

On 9 May at 19:00 BST, a flypast took place over Greenwich and ‘Lusty’ and followed the Thames to overfly IWM ship HMS Belfast. The Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish LS326 – which operated from Biggin Hill – led a Navy Lynx, two Sea Kings and a Merlin in atrocious conditions.

Navy flypast approaching HMS Belfast

Navy flypast approaching HMS Belfast

Navy flypast approaching Tower Bridge

Navy flypast approaching Tower Bridge

Navy flypast over London

Navy flypast over London

A surprise addition (to myself anyway) was a tail-end Charlie in the form of  Plane Sailing’s Catalina from IWM Duxford – a highly appropriate addition.

Plane Sailing's Catalina overhead HMS Belfast

Plane Sailing’s Catalina overhead HMS Belfast

Belfast is a veteran of the Arctic Convoys and was also a focal point on the day for events commemorating the relationship between the Allies and Russia. Titled Victory Day London, a gala performance by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra in The Hay’s Galleria commemorated the extraordinary contribution made by British and Russian sailors in the treacherous Convoys of 1941-1945.

Orchestra in the Hay's Galleria

Orchestra in the Hay’s Galleria

Veterans sharing stories

Veterans sharing stories

This special, free to attend concert featured one of the world’s great orchestras – conducted by Benjamin Pope – playing popular classics, culminating with the epic Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture accompanied by live ‘cannons’ from HMS Belfast.

Belfast's part in the orchestration

Belfast’s part in the orchestration

 

The delegation of Russian veterans visiting London includes: Yuri Kopytov and Georgiy Evtyukov from Arkhangelsk; Dmitry Dubman, Valentin Soldatov, Alexander Lochagin, Vladimir Pozhornyakov, Boris Davydov and Nikolai Imchuk from Moscow. Eugene Kasevin, founder of Victory Day London, said: “We urge the continuity of the remembrance of the important historical role of the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War, so that the present and future generations know about the joint struggle of the Russian and the British people against the fascist invaders, and remember the courage and heroism of their ancestors.”

A Musical Tribute to the Few – 17 August 2013 – previewed

Robin J Brooks, publicity contact for the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, paints the story: ‘To the people of Kent Sunday August 18, 1940 was like any other Sunday since the war had started. Some were at Church, some were cooking a Sunday lunch whilst others were walking in the glorious August sunshine. What was different was that across the English Channel, preparations were being made by the Luftwaffe for a fierce assault on the airfields of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command.

At Biggin Hill, a key sector airfield, Nos. 32 and 610 (County of Chester) Squadrons were at readiness awaiting the call to scramble. The former squadron flew the Hawker Hurricane whilst the latter the Supermarine Spitfire. The first mass raid came shortly after midday with Biggin Hill one of the main targets. 32 Squadron were the first to be scrambled followed by 610 minutes later. A short distance away Kenley, Croydon and West Malling were also subject to ferocious raids causing loss of life and many injuries. By the evening, Biggin squadrons had lost five Hurricanes destroyed with two damaged together with two Spitfires damaged. There were injuries but no loss of life.

August 18, 1940 became known as ‘the hardest day’ for together with the attacks on other No.11 Group airfields, the evening saw 100 German and 136 British aircraft destroyed or damaged.’

Former Spitfire pilot Warrant Officer Maurice Macey visited BHHH on Friday 22 March to help publicise a new event, titled ‘A Musical Tribute to the Few’.

W/O Maurice Macey

W/O Maurice Macey

Maurice, 89, from Eastbourne, Sussex, flew his 41 Squadron Spitfire during D-Day in 1944. He was shot down in France and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. However, when he was repatriated to RAF Duxford, Cambs, Maurice was signed up to fly a Spitfire in the first ever flypast over London, which was led by Squadron Leader,Douglas Bader. Maurice couldn’t be restrained from climbing up into one of BHHH’s Mk IX Spitfires!

W/O Maurice Macey

W/O Maurice Macey

Biggin Hill is to commemorate that momentous day on Saturday August 17 2013 with a spectacular concert. The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangars ‘A Musical Salute to the Few’ will feature music by the RAF Central Band interlinked with flying by all of the aircraft in the collection. Colin Hitchins, formally the organiser of the Biggin Hill Air Fair said “This unique event gives us the opportunity to celebrate what Churchill called ‘ his few’ and Dowding called ‘his chicks’ together with the many groundcrews who laboured under adverse conditions”.

Squadron Leader Andy Pawsey, creative director of the event and historian said “To have the opportunity to tell the story at the most famous of all the Battle of Britain fighter stations is an incredible privilege. The event will appeal to everyone who has respect for ‘Britain’s Finest Hour’”.

Further news and ticket details are available here: http://www.synergyeventsuk.com/tickets/buy-online

The event will take place around the still extant wartime E pen which gave protection to the fighter aircraft whilst on the ground, and will include video screens, lighting and role play to accompany the orchestration and flying displays, with actor and pilot Martin Shaw (The Professionals, Judge John Deed) providing some of the commentary.

BHHH own a number of warbirds including Spitfire Mk IX TA805 which is titled ‘Spirit of Kent’ – often referred to as ‘The Kent Spitfire’ – and which will be part of the event. It is seen here undergoing winter maintenance:

The Kent Spitfire

The Kent Spitfire