Air Show 2015

Today was the first day of the Wales National Air Show in Swansea. I try to go every time it’s on but this year was special as there was a chance to see the last flying Vulcan bomber. And, as I found out, it was the last year the plane would be flying.

The Vulcan and I go back a long way. One of my earliest memories is at the age of about 4, being woken up by the deep, earth shaking roar of a squadron of Vulcans taking off from RAF Cottesmore. This would happen quite regularly, at any time of the day or night. As a child, it was exciting and slightly scary. What I didn’t realise then was that this was the training and preparation for the third world war. Each time the aircraft were scrambled, my dad (a flight sergeant in the RAF) would have to get ready in case it was for real. If it had been for real, those bombers would have been our deterrent to nuclear attack and the fact they were taking off would signify an attack was imminent. Thankfully, the four year old me didn’t know this. I don’t know how my dad felt every time he had to rush off to his post on the base and I don’t know what my mum thought when he went. I just remember the big planes.

I was taken to see a Vulcan in it’s hanger by my dad. His mate in the maintenance unit managed to arrange for a private tour. The plane was up on the equivalent of car jacks as it’s undercarriage was being serviced. While I was there, they retracted and deployed the undercarriage, and then opened the bomb bay doors. I can’t describe how cool that was to me. I talked about it for years afterwards and anyone who knows me now must be fed up of hearing the story once I knew the Vulcan was flying at today’s airshow. I apologise!

Seeing the Vulcan approaching over Mumbles Head this afternoon gave me goose bumps and sent a shiver down my back. That iconic and unmistakeable shape banked over Oystermouth, sun glinting off the delta wings, and made a low level run along the bay. As soon as I heard the deep roar of the engines, I was back to my early childhood. The noise was so familiar that I could picture the base and the house we lived in. As it climbed at the end of the run, that extra kick of power and the chest pounding noise took me straight back to the exercises and alerts of 1968. I was four again! I took photos but made sure I also watched the plane with my own eyes. As I did so, I found memories of my parents coming back. As the Vulcan disappeared into the distance, it left me with that feeling of excitement, a little scared and with a great big lump in my throat.

EDIT: In the photo of the Typhoon, notice it’s in the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary colours – these are the original 1940 camouflage colours that appeared on Hurricanes and Spitfires. It’s 75 years this month since the battle started. Let’s remember the few. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What could have been 2 – what was.

As a brilliant birthday present last year, my friend bought me a flight in an old bi-plane.  I’d had several attempts at booking the flight, all of which had been postponed by the weather. I re-booked for Wednesday and at the last minute changed the date to today. I rang up the company this morning just before I left and was told that the sky had turned a funny shade of blue and it was ideal flying weather. I set off, nervous and excited and eager to get to the airport, in Gloucester. Staverton was an old RAF station that  was home to training flights and played a part in developing air-to-air refueling at the end of WW2. I’d studied Google maps and the place looked like a maze but I drove slowly between the hangars and finally spotted Tiger Airways on the left.

The hangar was full of aerobatic monoplanes and two Stampe SV4Cs with their engines disassembled. Tiger, the half greyhound, welcomed me in to the office where Chris set up the Pre-flight Briefing DVD. Apparently, if I touched anything with yellow tape on it, the plane was likely to plummet to the ground and if I didn’t do the harness up properly, I was likely to plummet to the ground – no parachutes here. If I talked while the air traffic control were talking, I could make us miss something important and if didn’t plummet to the ground, people would shout at me.  Then it was on with a flying jacket and white silk scarf and out to the waiting aircraft – a Stampe SV4C G-AZGE with a complete engine. After filling the tank, I climbed into the front cockpit, nervous and excited. Tizi, the chief instructor pilot, fitted the leather flying helmet and I did a radio check. Chris took photos.

Then, just like the movies, there was a lot of  ‘fuel pumps on, brakes on, carbs primed, contact,’ stuff and on the second attempt and with the aid of a hammer, the engine started. They even said ‘chocs away’ just before we started off. After some contact with air traffic control, we taxied out to the runway and waited for a Cessna to land. It bounced quite high and Tizi laughed as only an experienced pilot is allowed to. Then, with the wind in my face, we bumped down the runway. In a surprisingly short time, we were airborne and climbing away from the airport. The wind buffeted the plane, making it shake and shimmy, but there was no stomach churning turbulence. I actually felt part of the plane rather than sitting in it. We always returned to the same heading and level flight. Tizi tested me out on the controls and then offered me the chance to experience some simple aerobatics. We looped, then we did a loop with a roll. The thought of both made me doubt I wanted to do them, but the reality was that they were exhilarating, fun and not nearly as bad as I was expecting.

Then I had a chance to fly the plane. The control stick was remarkably sensitive and required the lightest of touches from finger and thumb to make the plane bank, climb and descend. It was very simple to maneouver the plane and the bit of the briefing that said ‘it’s easier to fly this plane than to drive a car’ felt true. With Tizi’s guidance, we climbed up over the flooded Severn, over Tewkesbury and then circled gently around to fly over the airfield at around 2000 feet. We watched other aircraft landing and taking off from above. Then we circled again to join the landing circuit. I was just about getting the hang of the tiny movements required to guide the plane as we dropped in behind a Cessna that was ahead of us in the queue to land. Tizi only took over again as we descended and slowed on final approach. The landing was smooth and we taxied back to the hangar.

Sitting in the cockpit waiting to fly, I thought about WW1 pilots and how flimsy their planes were to take into combat. I was feeling nervous at that point and it must have been similar for them. As we taxied, I felt excitement too, but it wasn’t like the flights to and from Lukla. I felt more in control as I could see more and feel the plane – as I said before, it felt as if I was part of it. In the air, it was nothing like flying in a passenger plane. I could see clearly out but the height wasn’t an issue. I guess because I was looking sideways rather than down. Watching the ground above me was odd but not frightening. Diving towards the ground coming out of the loop and roll was disconcerting but not scary.

When I got home, I looked up the history of the plane on the Internet. It was built in 1947 in Belgium and was probably a trainer. But the most fascinating this for me was that in 1976, it was modified to look like a WW1 SE5a fighter and used in the film ‘Aces High’. Look at this link to see the plane itself – scroll down until you see the plane on the ground with the tail number E-940. I sat in the front of that!

What a great experience!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What could have been

This blog entry should have been about a fantastic birthday present I had from Em – a flight in a Tiger Moth biplane over Gloucester. I’d booked the flight a few weeks ago and carefully, nervously watched the weather forecast as the day neared. It became clear that I’d picked the day quite well – on Tuesday and Thursday they were predicting torrential rain but Wednesday would be clear in the afternoon.

Of course, I hadn’t factored for the unexpected. It seems that with all the rain, Gloucester airport flooded! I spoke to the pilot before leaving Swansea (he sounded like an airline pilot with that clipped clear pronunciation) and  he confirmed that ‘it’s not really Tiger Moth weather’. He said the runway was flooded and no flights would be taking place that day. To say I was disappointed would be a major understatement. I can book again, so the present isn’t lost.

So we decided to head off to St Fagans instead. I like the museum of Welsh Life – as you’ve probably gathered from previous entries, I like all things historical but really enjoy being in amongst it over reading about it. So we spent the morning walking through the castle (really a stately home built on the ruins of a Norman castle and resembling in feel Dunster castle). Then we visited the 16th and 17th century cottages, collected from all over Wales and rebuilt here. The chapel was tiny and you could picture the minister in full flow, with the congregation hanging on every word.

After food, we drove back to Swansea and had a look around the Winter Wonderland – now renamed the Waterfront Wonderland or the Winter Waterland, or perhaps the Frontland Winterwater.  Anyway, all the favourites were there – the ice rink and a smaller rink for kids, the big wheel, our favourite roller-coaster. I didn’t see Santa’s grotto but that was probably a good thing after last year’s experience.

Then it was home to find a great swathe of scaffolding around the house. Not a surprise, though, as I’m having the house’s make-up replaced. You’ll probably read about that here sometime soon, if you’re unlucky.

All in all a busy day, and while not quite what I was expecting, enjoyable thanks to the company.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Post Cherry

Evening,

Several of my friends have blogs and I was beginning to feel a little left out. A few years ago I used to blog for the band I was in, and that was fun. But I left the band – artistic differences (damn you, Coldplay, I was the best tambourine player you ever had) and I stopped blogging. So here is my first personal blog. I am a personal blog virgin; be gentle with me.

I’m a photographer so this will be photo driven but it will be about anything I feel like writing. One purpose for this blog – suggested by a friend – is to use it to motivate me to go out and take more photos. So expect photos.

This weekend I spent watching and snapping away at the Wales National Air Show on the beach at Swansea. Like any boy (and I’ve been a boy for forty hmph years now) I love all things aeroplane. So I risked exposure to the sun, thousands of spectators and sand blasting (the wind was quite strong on the beach)  to watch about 6 hours of great flying. Highlights for me were the Lancaster – nearly 60 years old and still going strong and a reminder of the dark times in which Swansea, like many other places, suffered – the air sea rescue skills of the Sea King crew and the the Wing Walkers.

But best of all were the Red Arrows. My dad was in the RAF and I remember seeing the Red Arrows perform many times at the places he was stationed. They were always good. They still are.

My first personal blog post. I’ve done it and it lasted longer than 3 minutes. Off to have a post blogial cigarette.

Dave

This slideshow requires JavaScript.