Hope that the world is treating you well, as it gets much colder here in the UK and flying activity becomes very sporadic, dependent upon the odd dry sunny day to allow Hangar 11 Collection to operate some of its fighters. Seems like a very long time ago that I was displaying at Duxford at the IWM show in September on what was a windy weekend with some massive showers especially on the Sunday, which made for an interesting show.
By design, August was not as busy time, in contrast to the last 20 years or so but we had some nice gigs nevertheless. There were a couple of displays at the super venue of East Kirkby, where we have the chance to mix it with Andrew Panton’s Lancaster and this year the Mosquito as well, as both were taxiing in the sunshine that day. Both Mustang and Spitfire displays were flown on separate occasions and the weather was kind, the crowds were appreciative and friendly. Lovely spot to display and all credit to Andrew and his team for the amazing challenges they are overcoming as they strive to get their Lanc into the air.
Do take a look at the short in cockpit video that I shot at East Kirkby which can be found at https://youtu.be/sVpyAMJJdXc
After Castle Howard concert (see last update) we were off to Duxford for what I think is their best show of the year the big September finale which usually has the most impressive line-up of Spitfires and fabulous WW2 fighters and this year was no exception. I had the pleasure of being invited to fly both the P51 Mustang “Tall In The Saddle” and also PL965 our unique Mk XI Spitfire, so there was some fancy footwork and logistics to get that sorted.
I positioned both aircraft from North Weald to Duxford on the Friday and settled back as the crew started to bed the planes down but then I was asked to fly a practice 4 ship display with the other Mustangs, so it was gulp down the coffee and of we went. I was given the “box seat” which is the number “4” position, middle at the rear of the formation. We had a routine which included some steep turns, 360 orbit and finished up in a high energy tail-chase. As the weather was really nice, bit of a cross wind on crowd but that apart really smooth and it was great fun, a flight to remember as I surveyed 3 other glimmering P51’s above me as I was slotted in the back number “4” holding onto the belly of number “1” Mustang.
Saturday dawned sunny but with a strong crosswind on crowd, it was pretty much at 90 degrees all day so some aircraft took off in one direction and landed in another. All credit to the pilots flying the WW1 stuff, some managed by landing across the grass into wind but we all managed fine.
First gig for me was our Mustang 4 ship and we took off into blue skies as I recall, joining up crowd rear and running in with a lovely topside pass, which all the “snappers” love. Then the practiced four ship manoeuvres which all went well. I was pleased that we’d blown out the cobwebs so to speak the previous day but that wind was a howler and down low it was bumpy. The formation part of the routine completed, we broke into the tail-chase, in which I was “tail end Charlie” of course as number “4”. When you have three fast brutal Mustangs ahead, churning up the air and you are trying to follow in an orderly manner, you do get really buffeted about. You try to fly to one side or below the slipstream of turbulent air from the other aircraft but inevitably during the tail-chase, you do catch the vortex and it hits you hard, as you wrestle with the controls to maintain controlled flight. It can almost flip you over if you are not careful, so you can imagine that one needs to be on one’s game. Fighting the controls near the ground, with the added strong turbulent wind was challenging but safe and fun and I had a great time.
After a 2 hour break, it was time to mount PL965 for the big Spitfire Balbo, which was the final act to close the show. As in previous years, it had been briefed extensively in the morning pilots brief and then we all walked through the formation prior to the flight, which although one feels really silly walking about in a conga line, it does really help when you are in the cockpit to cement the formation changes into your brain. When flying in close formation, there is no possibility to start looking at notes, you just can’t take your eyes off your leader for a second. If you do, you can fall out of the formation so fast and worse still, potentially collide with another aircraft as you are so close, so one just does not look down apart from a quick glance at the engine instruments and speed once in a while.
The Balbo went really smoothly as I recall. I did not carry cameras this year but the footage from my 2018 formation flight is still on line for you to watch and get a flavour from inside the cockpit. Landing was challenging as that wind kept up straight across the runway all day but we all handled it fine but I was sorry to hear that Maxi Gainza had damaged his prop on take-off, hope that is sorted now?
Saturday night was a farewell dinner at the hotel in honour of an old friend of mine and most of us, Cliff Spink, who retired at Duxford show after a long and very distinguished career on the airshow scene. We all hope that he enjoys his retirement as much as he enjoyed his flying. I am sure that Cliff will be about in one capacity or another for many years to come.
Sunday morning dawned rainy and dull with that persistent wind from the south east and the main subject of discussion in the hotel and boarding the coach was how we were going to get the show flown in this crap weather ☹
Duxford was hit by long period of heavy rain around midday and poor folks had to shelter wherever they could during the downpours, I was headed for the P51 for my first display when I had to shelter under the wing of a WW1 aircraft as it was just a tropical storm. So when we got airborne towards the west, turning right to hold crowd rear, the Mustang 4 ship was climbing towards some really low cloud and rain from every angle and it was decided by the formation leader that numbers 3 and 4 should land and numbers 1 and 2 carried on with a shortened display under low clouds and drizzle, that was the right call on the day , faced with those conditions a 4 ship was not safe , so my flight was briefer than expected but the day was to get more “interesting”
After lunch all pilots gathered for the walk through of the Spitfire Balbo as we prepared to start and taxi to close the show. The weather has improved, still windy but the worst of the rain had gone away at last, even some signs of sunshine as the day wore on. The formation of now 15 Spitfires were arranged in 2 sections, 3 rows of 3 aircraft at the front diamond and similar in the second formation. I was located in the front row of the second section on the right side of Brian Smith who was number one, as I was his number “Red 2”. Behind us were the rest of the formation so I was very much in the midst of the melee of Spitfires.
Around 16.30 as 15 Merlins burst into life and the Spitfires started to taxi in every direction towards the runway, each of us had to follow in our number order, so I was close to Brian but when I started the engine on PL965, which came to life smoothly on first start, from the corner of my eye, I noticed something just fly over my head…perhaps a loose bit of paper or what?. However, as I settled the engine into a low purr, watching for Brian to move away, my ground crew were waving wildly and clearly there was an issue. I chose to shut down right away, not knowing what had gone wrong?
Steve our crew chief bounced onto the wing with a small round cover in his hand and I soon realised that this was the inspection cover for the hydraulic reservoir , positioned on top of the cowling, it’s about 6 inches in diameter made of aluminium. Somehow, it was not correctly secured and had flown off. As I watched in some dismay, 14 other aircraft were taxiing off into the distance but at last, the inspection cover was secured and I had the signal to start. I did so and then was involved in a sprint over the grass to take up my position in formation as “Red2 “. The signal had been given to run up engines for checks and I was late to the party but I managed and finally all seemed good.
Then Spitfires were rolling off the hard one after the other and then from the grass ahead of us and then it was our turn. Brian gave the signal and started to roll, I counted 3 “bananas” for spacing and slowly advanced the throttle but then “whoosh”, the bloody inspection cover flew off again, narrowly missing the cockpit.
Think fast Teichman…. what are your options…..take off and perhaps find some handling issues, plus maybe incur the wrath of the regulator or safety committee for taking off with small part of your cowling aircraft missing….or worse still, abort and get collected by a row of fast moving Spitfires right behind me, whose forward vision is very limited over the bonnet until at least they got the tail wheel of the ground, so a real major chance of a multiple aircraft collision and perhaps fatality ……….
I chose to live and carried on and that was undoubtedly the right call, as I cleaned up the undercarriage and chased down my leader Brian, my Spitfire felt completely “normal” no adverse handling issues at all, as I adjusted the power cleaned her up, then I chopped from the display to the open tower frequency and told them that there was now “FOD” on the grass and could they go recover my inspection panel.
Then settled into the formation display slotting into “Red 2” and forgetting about the drama that had unfolded minutes before, emptying my mind of stress and concentrating on flying a smooth tight formation display. After we broke up Balbo, I headed home and happily the inspection cover was found undamaged and you know ,we could not replicate the problem, not once back in the hangar the following week, the inspection cover was literally “welded” in place, so who knows a strange yet sobering experience.
So, what’s going on at Hangar 11, well we’ve done some nice photo shoots with Neal and Timeline Events, always great value and will be working with them for the 5th year in 2020. Lots of regular maintenance and detail improvements to the aircraft. However the main focus right now is on our wonderful Russian Mk IX Spitfire, PT879 or her civilian registration G-PTIX.
When I signed up to have her restored at Biggin Hill with Peter Monk, I knew that this was a super outfit, at the cutting edge of Spitfire aircraft restoration but I really did not realise the level of accuracy, authenticity and sheer magic that Peter and his lads weave at BHHH. As the months have gone by, I have been more and more delighted with the quality of their workmanship at every level and Peter’s knowledge of this aircraft is unrivaled anywhere on the planet. I always call him “Mr Spitfire “ and for good reason as whatever it takes, BHHH are getting it done to the highest standard, I am delighted 😊
As an aside, a company in Denmark called REC watches have produced a really cool range of mechanical watches under the RJM collection. Each watch has a small part of PT879, as I sent a quantity of original aluminium from 1944 to the makers. I wear mine every day, super present and well worth a look at https://www.recwatches.com/collections/rjm
I have attached a few “teaser” photos but it’s hard to convey the level of historic accuracy that is going into this aircraft. Her Merlin “66” V12 engine is well on the way to completing its overhaul, her Rotol Airscrew is also coming on well and due with us by early Spring 2020.
Fuselage and electrics, hydraulics, pneumatics, largely complete, starboard wing will be out of the jig and completed by Xmas and then the port wing expected by March. All going well and I am delighted. This is the ONLY Spitfire to ever return from a Russian squadron in WW2, so special, so exciting and well, I do not like to make promises but I see no reason (apart I run out of dosh) that she will not display at some show during the 2020 season and I will be at the controls, you can bet on that!!
Our Mustang sits ready to fly but the weather has defeated us of late but we will fly in December if at all possible to test systems and keep current. PL965 is undergoing some internal pipework overhauls and we hope she will be back in the air in the Spring, good to go for the 2020 season
To close, you may have noticed that I am not CAA bashing on this occasion 😊, I am a happy bunny and peace and love to all Mankind. So from my lovely gorgeous wife Karen and all my family, Happy Xmas to all my friends and those who know us.
All the best