An Aerodrome Review of 2017

An Aerodrome Review of 2017

As we all come to terms with the fact that we have eaten too much, drank almost too much and are all suffering from smoking wallet syndrome, it is time for yet another festive tradition – the annual review edition of Aerodrome. Before we begin, could I take this opportunity on behalf of everyone at Airfix, Corgi and the wider Hornby Hobbies family to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous New Year and sincerely thank you all for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog throughout the past twelve months. We hope you had an enjoyable Christmas and are already looking forward with some optimism to 2018 and the Centenary commemorations of the establishment of the Royal Air Force – an extremely significant year for any aviation enthusiast.

The traditional live date for our annual review blog is the last Friday in the year to be reviewed, however due to some website scheduling issues which had to take precedence, we have been forced to delay posting the blog until this early new year slot. Not to worry though, this is a fine way to start an important year for Aerodrome and the fascinating subject of aviation – we are going to take a look back at some of the significant features we included within the blog during 2017, as well as looking forward to the coming year, which is already shaping up to be an extremely memorable one for anyone with even the slightest interest in aviation. We are also looking for a couple of overseas contributors to guest write an Airshow or museum review for the blog this year, allowing Aerodrome readers across the globe to share in some Aviation features they may never have the opportunity to experience for themselves. As readership figures for Aerodrome continue to increase, let’s hope that we manage to collect many more aviation enthusiasts during the coming year, as we continue striving to bring you the latest interesting and engaging Aviation related content.

 

A shiny new Lancaster for Christmas

A visit to East Kirkby in 2017 allowed visitors a unique view of Lancaster ‘Just Jane’

 

There could hardly have been a better way to start 2017 than with a visit to the former Bomber Command airfield at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire, to view a famous aeroplane which was undergoing a spectacular transformation. Arguably one of the most ambitious ongoing aviation restoration projects anywhere in the world, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre are attempting to return their famous Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ to airworthy condition and the 2016/17 winter maintenance programme signified the start of this mammoth undertaking. In order to allow the renovation team to assess the condition of the aircraft and produce a schedule of actions which would be needed to see this bomber eventually taking to the air once more, it was necessary for ‘Just Jane’ to be stripped bare, with 40 years of paint having to be removed.

With the aluminium skin of the aircraft exposed, the team at East Kirkby were able to assess every aspect of the aircraft’s condition and gain a much clearer indication of the work needed to achieve their eventual aim, the timescales involved and most importantly, a more accurate estimate of the significant funds that would be required. Clearly, this was going to be costly work and would be relying on the expertise of many specialist companies and services from around the world, as components for a former wartime bomber can prove rather difficult to source these days. The current estimate is that it could cost around £3 million to see ‘Just Jane’ returning to the air once more, with these costs having to be met by the owners of the aircraft through museum entry fees, tours, taxy rides and supporter donations and as there is much work to do, this estimate may well increase the closer they get to realising their dream.

 

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre ‘Rivet Club’ allows people to donate towards this exciting project

 

Anyone interested in playing their part in seeing a second UK based Avro Lancaster triumphantly returning to airworthy condition in the years to come can do so by joining the museum’s ‘Rivet Club’, where you can make a small monthly donation (from as little as £2.00) to this amazing project, allowing the renovation team to continue with their important work without delay. For your support, you will receive a monthly newsletter, along with weekly restoration reports from November to April, charting the progress of the project and giving you the latest updates before anyone else hears about them. For more details about this opportunity, please head for the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre website, or click on the ‘Rivet Club’ link above.

 

Looking like a life-size die-cast model, Lancaster NX611 may take to the air once more

 

As far as the aviation enthusiast is concerned, the bare metal Lancaster  afforded some unique viewing opportunities and thousands flocked to this sleepy corner of East Lincolnshire to see ‘Just Jane’ as she had never been seen before – eau naturelle. Obviously, whilst the highly specialist and potentially hazardous process of removing the paint was taking place, the hangar was restricted from public access, but once the cleaning up process had been completed, the sight of a bare metal Lancaster was without doubt one of the highlights of 2017. We were privileged to be shown round this magnificent aircraft by Andrew Panton during one of his fascinating restoration tours, which allowed everyone in attendance the opportunity to gain a unique insight into this project and at how Lancasters were produced during the war. In a scene reminiscent of the famous wartime pictures of the production lines at Avro’s Chadderton factory, in this bare metal state, you could clearly see the individual sections of the aircraft and how they would have to be joined together during the manufacturing process, leaving you with complete admiration for the people who were producing hundreds of Lancasters each week during the war.

We would like to thank Andrew Panton and his team for their kind hospitality during our visit and look forward to heading back to East Kirkby for an update early in 2018.

 

Take-off with the Gazelle Squadron

I was fortunate to be allowed close to Westland Gazelle HT.3 ZB627

 

One of my personal highlights of 2017 was the opportunity to attend a pre-season training day with the fantastic people at the Gazelle Squadron Display Team, at their Bourne Park airfield base, near Andover. This delightful little airfield is now a haven for the diminutive Westland Gazelle helicopter and a group of people dedicated to preserving, restoring and operating this extremely capable machine, which was once a regular performer on the UK Airshow scene. Their efforts appear to be bearing fruit, as 2017 proved to be a very busy season for the team, with the distinctive sound of the ‘Whistling chicken leg’ being heard at many Airshows and events up and down the country and the aircraft once more becoming a regular and much-loved display performer.

From the very first moment I arrived at the airfield, the members of the Gazelle Squadron assembled for this important day made me feel part of the team, from ensuring I had an early morning cup of tea, to being introduced at the programme briefing. My aim for the day was to hopefully speak to one or two of the pilots and engineers behind the team during my visit and perhaps gain access to the magnificent helicopters they operated, but despite my hopes and preparations, I could have no idea just how special this day would turn out to be. Not only was I allowed close to the three Gazelles that would be flying during the training day, I was also given a tour of the workshops and storage facilities, saw more Gazelle parts than I thought existed and spoke to some people who had spent much of their service careers flying in or working on these enigmatic little helicopters.

 

Privately owned Westland Gazelle HT.3 XZ934 (G-CBSI) took part in the training day event

 

Having been instructed on the important active airfield safety instructions, I was allowed to attend the pre-flight briefing, where we were also treated to a guided tour of the aircraft and instructions on how to safely get in and out of a Gazelle. As this was in keeping with the inclusive nature of my experience with the team, I did not think anything of this and continued happily snapping away with my camera thinking how fortunate I was to be allowed this close – everything changed when I was handed a pair of earphones and told to get in! I was not expecting this and in truth, I was unprepared. I had the wrong lens on my camera and had a bag full of equipment needed for taking static ground shots, but sometimes in life, you just have to go with the flow. The look on my face must have conveyed something different, because the lady team member who was my companion for the flight in the rear seat of the helicopter was clutching a sick bag. Seeing this, I naively asked if this was the first time she had been in a helicopter and she replied as quick as a flash, “It’s not for me, it’s for you!”

 

The conditions for our flight could hardly have been better on the day

 

In actual fact, this was the first time I had ever flown in a helicopter, but any reservations I may have had were quickly dissipated, as this proved to be a magnificent experience and one of the most memorable days of my life. Flying above the beautiful Wiltshire countryside in a classic former military helicopter with another flying alongside for company was something I never expected to be doing during my visit and I count myself extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity. When we arrived back at Bourne Park airfield, it was at least half an hour before the smile started to ease from my face and I began to look like a normal human being again – what a fantastic day.

 

If my Euromillions win ever comes in, I will be making a Gazelle one of my first impulse purchases

 

I was able to catch up with the team and various Gazelles from the fleet at Old Warden, Yeovilton and Scampton throughout the year, with Scampton being particularly memorable. In a fantastic development reminiscent of Airshows long passed, the Gazelle performed a full display routine during both days of the show and surely heralded the return of the Westland Gazelle to British Airshows across the country. Once again, I would like to thank Craig Davies for arranging my visit and spending so much time with me during the day. As team members will proudly tell you, the Gazelle is ‘probably the best helicopter in the world’ – look out for one at an Airshow near you.

 

A date with aviation history

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2e replica was one of the stars of the Stow Maries photoshoot

 

Another 2017 event taking place before the Airshow season got underway saw me making the long journey down to Stow Maries aerodrome in Essex for an atmospheric aviation experience which is possibly unrivalled anywhere in the world. This long forgotten Great War airfield is slowly coming back to life, thanks to the efforts of a relatively small number of people, who are determined to preserve this historic airfield for future generations as a living memorial to the men and women of the first great air war. Established in 1916 as a home defence airfield, Stow Maries was responsible for launching aircraft to combat the Zeppelin menace which was causing panic amongst the people of London and southern England.

Once an important airfield in protecting and reassuring Britain’s capital against possible German attack, the aerodrome was left abandoned in the years following the end of the war, with the area returning to farmland and once busy buildings left to dilapidate through the passage of time, unoccupied and uncared for. Thankfully, this original RFC airfield did not disappear altogether and following its discovery in 2009, along with subsequent research into the history of the site, it slowly began its long road to recovery thanks to the ambition of two businessmen and an army of dedicated volunteers. With 24 authentic Royal Flying Corps buildings on the site, including mess buildings for both officers and other ranks, barracks, workshops and a morgue, many are now receiving some long overdue attention, with the aim of restoring as much of the original site to its former glory as is practicable, with Stow Maries acting as a living memorial to the airmen of the Great War and the people who supported their flight operations.

 

We were lucky to catch this beautiful Sopwith Snipe replica, which is now back with its owners in New Zealand

 

The specially arranged event I was attending proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the year and took the unique atmosphere of this magnificent venue and used it as a backdrop for a WWI evening aviation photoshoot. With the recently restored RFC Pilot’s ready rooms at our backs and several exceptionally well presented historic re-enactors engaged for the evening, there could hardly have been a better setting to take photographs of Great War aircraft, despite the plummeting temperatures once the sun had set. One of the aircraft taking part in the photoshoot was this magnificent replica of a Sopwith Snipe, an aircraft which many people believe to be the finest fighting aeroplane of WWI, despite it only making its combat introduction in September 1918. This beautiful example is no longer in the UK, having recently returned to its owners in New Zealand, making its capture in such unique surroundings all the more memorable. 

 

Airshow and Museum reviews

One of the most popular features of Aerodrome continues to be our regular Airshow and Museum reviews, which try to bring our readers a flavour of the action taking place at events up and down the country, especially if you were unable to attend yourself. We also have our regular Readers Pictures edition, which will be increasing to two editions each year, following a number of direct requests from loyal Aerodrome readers. Also, the coming year has the potential to be a significant one in the history of British Airshows, so we are expecting to be spoilt for choice when attempting to put our Readers Pictures editions together.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the 2017 Airshow season.

This beautiful De Havilland Vampire T.11 was the star of the Halfpenny Green Radial and Trainer Fly-in

 

Another De Havilland jet type made its one and only Airshow appearance at Duxford’s Air Festival in May

 

This classic sight of an English Electric Lightning F.6 was taken at the Cold War Jets Day at Bruntingthorpe

 

The Italian Air Force sent this fantastic Tornado to steal the show at RAF Cosford

 

Demanding to be noticed, the Army Air Corps Attack Helicopter Display Team at Cosford Airshow

 

You are always sure of some evocative images at a Flying Legends Airshow

 

This rare P-51B Mustang ‘Berlin Express’ was one of the highlights of this year’s Flying Legends Airshow

 

Reader Steve Kimpton captured this fantastic picture of the Shuttleworth Gladiator following a precautionary landing in a field adjacent to Old Warden aerodrome

 

Former RAF Valley gate guardian Hunter WV396 has a new home at the Anglesey Transport Museum

 

A visit to the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre at Cosford revealed the current status of this Handley Page Hampden restoration project

 

RAF 100 – an Aerodrome opportunity

With the impending Centenary commemorations of the Royal Air Force due to take off during 2018, Aerodrome readers have a unique opportunity to mark the occasion by having their own RAF stories and experiences immortalised on the Airfix and Corgi websites for fellow readers to share. With such a high profile anniversary as this, even people who would not usually describe themselves as being interested in aviation matters will be brought kicking and screaming into the world of aeroplanes and RAF history and it will be a fantastic opportunity to unlock some interesting stories that might otherwise be lost. These may simply be recollections of your first RAF Airshow, an experience that perhaps led to a career in the Royal Air Force, or an interesting RAF related family story handed down over the years and not usually heard outside the family environment.

 

Aviation will receive plenty of media attention during 2018

 

We would also be interested to hear your thoughts on any RAF 100 events you attend throughout 2018, including sending us any Airshow pictures taken which you feel best represent the theme of the Royal Air Force in this Centenary year. All this information will be collated in to at least one special edition of Aerodrome, probably replacing next year’s review blog, as we provide our own tribute to 100 years of the Royal Air Force. We will include regular reminders throughout the year, but if you have anything you would like to contribute, please use our regular aerodrome@airfix.com or aerodrome@corgi.co.uk e-mail addresses – we are excited to see what our readers come up with.

 

I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome and our annual look back at some of the highlights of 2017. May I take this final opportunity to wish everyone a very happy New Year and I look forward to attempting to bring you many interesting aviation related features throughout the coming year.

As usual, all the latest social media discussions regarding Aerodrome and aviation related matters in general are taking place on both the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and Corgi Aerodrome Forum, so please do get involved if you have something to contribute. If you have any specific comments, questions or suggestions for future editions of Aerodrome, please do feel free to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts, as we are always keen to receive your feedback. We also have our vibrant Airfix Facebook and Corgi Facebook pages, along with Airfix Twitter or Corgi Twitter accounts – please use #aerodrome when posting about an aerodrome topic.

We look forward to bringing you the next edition of Aerodrome, which is due to be published on Friday 12th January. Dates for the diary – The new catalogue ranges will be announced on the respective websites during the second week of January as follows – Corgi 10am Monday 8th January and Airfix at 10am on Tuesday 9th January.

Thank you for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog.

 

Michael

 

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