Monday, 16 November 2015

Annual Photographic Competition

The traditional Annual Photographic Competition was held on Tuesday 10 November 2015 at the Group's meeting venue, The Rugby Hotel. The competition attracted 29 entries on a wide variety of aviation related topics. The quality standard increases every year and it was hard to choose a favourite image.

The winners this year were:
  1. Classic Air Force Meteor T8 by Theo Claassen with 13 votes,
  2. Grace Seafire LFIIIc by Theo Claassen with 10 votes,
  3. Czech Air Force Mil-24 Hind (Smiling Hind) by Ray Ball                                               and the Aircraft Restoration Company's Bristol Blenheim I by Theo Claassen with 8 votes each.

Gloster Meteor T8 photographed at The Victory Show 2015 at Cosby
Seafire LFIIIc recorded at The Victory Show 2015 at Cosby

Mil-24 Hind caught on camera at RIAT 2015
Bristol Blenheim I pictured at The Victory Show 2015, Cosby

The evening was rounded off with a slide show of some old and some not so old black & white images of aircraft of varying kinds, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all present.

The David George Photographic Trophy  will be presented to the winner at the Annual Christmas Dinner, to be held on Wednesday 16 December 2015 at the Cherry Tree at Catthorpe, Leicestershire. 

15 November 2015
Theo Claassen

We Will Remember Them

Remembrance Sunday is the day on which we traditionally remember and honour those who gave their lives for their country in wars and conflicts, past and present.

For the Rugby Aviation Group this means we especially remember the crew, mainly Canadian, that perished when their Handley Page Halifax crashed between Dunchurch and the airfield at Lawford Heath, just to the south of Rugby. 

This year, as he has done in previous years, Roger Higgerson had cleaned up the memorial on the green in Dunchurch and trimmed the grass around it for it to look presentable for the occasion. The Group is very grateful to Roger and his wife Janet for looking after the memorial.

Following the Remembrance Service at the Dunchurch Cenotaph, we made our way to the memorial, a couple of hundred yards from the Cenotaph to find waiting at the memorial our dear friends Denise and Peter Bilson and Paul Waller, who kindly took the photographs that accompany this post.

Rugby Aviation Group Wreath Laying Party from left to right Roger Higgerson, Barry Jones, Janet Higgerson, Peter Bilson, Denise Bilson and Theo Claassen

Rugby Aviation Group's Chairman laying the wreath under the watchful eye of Roger Higgerson

The Rugby Aviation Group Memorial for the crew of Halifax MZ920 that tragically crashed between Dunchurch and Lawford Heath
In conclusion, I would like to thank Roger and Janet Higgerson for their devotion to the memorial and its upkeep, to Paul Waller for his photographs of the precedings and to Peter and Denis Bilson for their support on this chilly and windy day.

15 November 2015
Theo Claassen

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Last Display Day of Vulcan XH558

The aviation phenomenon, much mooted in recent years, and simply known as "The Vulcan Effect" has reached its climax as Vulcan XH558 comes to the end of its second flying career. Albeit much shorter than its first flying career, its second stint made her one of the most photographed and revered aircraft on the airshow circuit in the UK, ever since the first air displays at RAF Hendon. One that created a following and support that raised the not inconsiderable sums of money for to put her in the air and keep her there for eight glorious years, years that brought pleasure to millions of people from ex-air and ground crew through enthusiasts to youngster who have been inspired.

On Sunday 4 October 2015, XH558 had two display appointments, both at sell-out events, the first of which at Gaydon in Warwickshire, the ex-RAF station and V-Bomber Training base in the Fifties and Sixties, now one of the UK's most prestigious automotive centres. The second display was to take place at the Shuttleworth Collection's Season Finale Air Show at Old Warden in Bedfordshire.

Prior to the weekend stark warning message had been sent out by the Vulcan To The Sky Trust to beg people not to turn up at Robin Hood Airport after the local Police Authority had "threatened" to put a stop to the flight if crowd were to descend on the immediate vicinity of the airport and clog up road, emergency exits etc. Also, around Gaydon and Old Warden, most roads had been "ballarded" by the Police and were actively patrolled to remove any vehicles parked alongside them. However, people walked for miles to find a vantage point along public footpaths and bridleways to catch a glimp, a distant photographs or videoclip as a final souvenir.

Having resigned myself to the fact that my final pictures of XH558 in flight had been taken at Coventry Airport a few weeks earlier I decided against driving down to Gaydon, Instead I would track aircraft's progress on the XH558 app and emerging pictures on social media. I followed some early messages on social media and one in particular caught my attention. It had been tweeted by one of my Twitter contacts and read "contrary to earlier message the M40 junction near Gaydon is open in both directions, but roads full of ballards. Suggest viewing from Burton Dassett Hills Country Park". Not knowing the area in much details I consulted the oracle, Google Maps, and found that the location was approximately 2.5 miles from Gaydon, not ideal, but at least the display would be visible.
Hazy conditions and the sun in the wrong place still produced an evocative image 
Mrs C prepared some bits and pieces for a picnic whilst I got cameras, seats etc out and off we set, guided by the trusted satnav. Arriving at the country park and having paid the entry fee of £2 (a lot less then that those at Gaydon had paid!) I drove as far as possible, but most of the car parks were already pretty full at around 12:30. We found a spot for the car and hill next to it as our vantage point. I must have passed this place many a time driving up and down the M40 motorway, but never realised just how high these hills are, the view was terrific with clear view toward Gaydon as well as the approach from where the Vulcan was due to come and departure route for flying on to Old Warden.

Without the haze she looks more colourful
 The entertainment, a side effect the "The Vulcan Effect", was amusing with literally hundreds of cars turning up in the park and trying to find somewhere to park. Some of the ensuing chaos and awkward situations were passed off with great humour and not a bad word was heard. The country park's taking for the day would have been many times more than usual and the ice crams van made a killing.

The People's plane fades into the distance and into history for most atop these hills. 
The tracker app showed at 12:57 that the crew were in and by 13:37 XH558 was airborne and on her way south,so we thought. A slight change of flight plan had been introduced to team up with a bunch of Spitfires and Hurricanes over RAF Coningsby for the LLA day.

Having left RAF Coningsby, the pilots for the day, Kev Rumens and Phil O'Dell, apparently, performed a full roll near Grantham. There is a short piece of footage on YouTube showing the maneuver. Was it for real, it looks it or was it a hoax?

At 15:42 with binoculars offered up to the old eyeballs, I spotted something in the distant haze coming south past Coventry and there she was gliding along silently. What followed was a standard full display that appeared not to be using the old runway as it centre line, but more across it, perhaps to avoid overflying the M40 at low level. 
Emotions round and about were running high, especially when the display came to an end and it was clear that the route to Old Warden was straight over the country park, no the actual hill we were standing on.

The first photograph shows XH558 approaching our position, not the best of conditions, but it did produce an evocative image.
The next photograph did not happen as I had to zoom out so quickly I missed the shot and recovered sufficiently for the second picture above. Whoever was at the controls, Kev or Phil, must have spotted the large crowd covering the hills as the aircraft's port wing dropped as a sort of goodbye.

The last photograph illustrates that for many people gathered on Burton Dassett Hills this would be the last time they would see this icon of British aviation engineering flying off into the distance and into history.

Two more public flying days are ahead on 10 and 11 October when the Farewell Tours will be flown, one northerly route and one southerly, no displays, just flybys at various locations. And that will be the end of the public flying of Avon Vulcan B2 XH558.

Also to an end comes a project that was conceived in the late Nineties and thanks to XH558's owner after having been purchased from the RAF, David Walton, who ensured the aircraft was kept in excellent running order.Without that the Vulcan To The Sky Trust would not have had a viable airframe to return to flight.

The initial financial support came from a bunch of enthusiasts and ex-RAF crew members that formed the 558 Club in 1997. I joined in the autumn of that year and with membership number 32 I am one of the founding members of what is today The Vulcan To The Sky Club, an organisation that has grown from strength to strength and over the years has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds towards that second flying career. With Lottery funding and a financial rescue by the late Sir Jack Hayward, the restoration was completed in 2007 and the first flight took place on 18 October the same year. But.the coincided with the global financial world taking a severe nosedive and the hoped for corporate sponsorships evaporated into thin air.

The project to restore the Vulcan to flight and subsequently operate her on the display circuit for 8 years was largely down to the overwhelming public support, which was needed to supplement the industrial support from various well known organisations. That's why XH558 was known as the People's plane and that's why, in her final flying days, hundreds of thousands of people, including Mrs C and I, have flocked to venues where we could bid her farewell, sad that it is over, but so glad to have seen it and for me have been a small part of it.

What will be the next classic Avro to fly, Lancaster NX611 or Shackleton WR693 and will it or both attract the amount of support Vulcan XH558 has enjoyed. Only time will tell.

Theo Claassen
6 October 2015

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Darren Priday Dornier Do17 Lecture

Darren Priday
On Tuesday 13 September 2015, the Rugby Aviation Group and the Midland Air Museum held their annual joint meeting for which MAM's chairman, Barry James, had attracted Darren Priday, the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre Manager at the RAF Museum Cosford.

Darren is responsible for the conservation of the RAF Museum aircraft and was closely involved in the recovery, transportation and conservation of the Dornier Do17, which was lifted from the seabed off the Kent coast near Deal on 10 June 2013 after 73 years in its watery grave. 

The following images provide some background to the aircraft recovery and clean up and although there is an identification plate, the true identity of the aircraft has so far not been established with certainty. It is believed to be a Do17Z registered 5K+AR and serial number 1160.

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High resolution scan of the Do17 resting on the sea floor.

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This Do17 was built by Henschel under licensed from Dornier

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Do17 on the barge after recovery from the English Channel
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Barely recognisable as an aircraft never mind a Dornier Do17
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The fuselage after removal of the sealife that was encrusted
on all surfaces, effectively preserving the aircraft

Following its arrival at the conservation centra of the RAF Museum at RAF Cosford, the aircraft remains were placed in poly tunnels. The project benefitted greatly from scientific assistance to determine the best process for cleaning up the airframe with causing further damage. The resulting cleaning agent was a citric acid solution which was sprayed onto the aircraft from various angles solution to gently remove the encrusted marine "crud". Not only did it perform well as a cleaning agent, it was also environmentally friendly and could be disposed off via the normal drains, saving the project on disposal cost.

The lecture also went into some of the more technical details and Darren showed examples of components in their before and after states.
The future of this unique relic of the Second World War is being planned and it is most likely to remain at the RAF Museum at Cosford, due to its fragility. In order to preserve the mostly delicate remains an enclosure will be designed with environmental controls, e.g. humidity, temperature etc. to ensure no deterioration will occur. The target date for the Dornier to go on public display is in 2017.

Our thanks and that of the Midland Air Museum to Darren for an interesting lecture.

For more information on the Dornier Do17 project visit the RAF Museum Cosford website where you can find a rgularly update blog:

Brief history of the Dornier D017

Dornier Do17
The Do17 was designed as a high speed freight and mail place for the German State Railway and Lufthansa respectively based on a specification issued in 1932 by the German Ordnance Department. Work began the same year resulting in a full scale mock up the following year.

The specification called for an aircraft with special features to conceal the fact that the design was in fact a medium bomber for the future Luftwaffe. After the First World War Germany was not allowed to have armed force, but with the Nazi party coming into power with Adolf Hitler as its leader, the armament build up was conducted in great secrecy.

Dornier Do17 Three View Drawing
The original design had a single fin and was to have been powered by two Daimler Benz DB-601 engines, but as they were in short supply and given as a matter of priority to Willi Messerschmitt  Me109 and Me110 designs. Also, the first models had a round nose in front of the stepped cockpit, but following experience in the Spanish Civil War the nose was changes to the distinctive faceted glazing as shown in the the three view drawing.

Some versions had BMW engines, but the Do17Z, the most prolific version, had Bramo engines, which left the aircraft short on performance and combat range although later versions of the engines provided some small improvements.
With the latter versions of the Bramo engines the aircraft could reach a maximum speed of between 217 and 255 miles at sea level and 5000 feet respectively with a bomb load of 17,000lbs.

The Dornier D017 remained in frontline service throughout the Second World War, but its role as a fighter was quickly taken over by the more capable Junkers Ju88 and in the medium bomber role by the Heinkel He111.

Having a slender fuselage ending in a pointy tail earned the aircraft the nickname "Fliegender Bleistift" or "Flying Pencil" was said to have been hard to hit in air to air combat in by flak.

24 September 2015
Theo Claassen

Monday, 21 September 2015

Vulcan at Coventry Airport on 13 September 2015

As most aviation minded people know, this year will see the grounding of Vulcan XH558 after 8 years on the displays circuit. Sad, of course, but more so, happy that we had the opportunity to see this icon in the air drawing crowds by the thousand to every appearance it made.

On Sunday 13 September 2015 was going to be the last Vulcan To The Sky Club's members day with the Lady herself still flying. The visit to the Classic Air Force was a fitting one as a potential Avro future flying successor made an exceptional appearance. The Avro Shackleton of the Shackleton Preservation Trust made not just an appearance on the flightline to run up its Griffon engines, but performed a taxi run along the crowd line. On its return "leg", John Corley, who was at the controls, stopped in front of the crowd, put on the brakes and made the Griffons produce the sound that made the Shackleton famous as the "Growler".

Avro 696 Shackleton MR2 WR693 taxies out from her parking position on the flight line

The day started under glorious sunshine, but as the time went on more and more cloud appeared and by the time the star of the day, XH558, appeared it was decidedly grey. 

The Vulcan To The Sky Trust was represented with the Vulcan Village as well as a number of people, including VTTST Chief Pilot Martin Withers, seen in the picture on the right after a visit to the flightline. Several other V-Bomber crew members were in attendance, which included AEO Barry Masefield and Bob Tuxford, and in the main hangar each related their own story to those gathered. Those stories, as expected, were entertaining, full of history and humour, which were very much appreciated by those gathered to hear them.

Vulcan flyers relate their stories, 

The Classic Air Force was represented with many airframes, some airworthy, some less so and there was plenty opportunity to take a "discounted" flight in either the Proctor or the Dove, though the former was fully booked very early in the day. Both aircraft flew non-stopped between the various displays.

Here are a few pictures of what was on show on the ground.

Gloster Meteor T7, should have flown but was grounded with a fault

English Electric Canberra B2 Record Breaker, not likely to fly again

Miles Gemini, seen flying in the July Air Pageant

De Havilland Venom, one of two airworthy airframes.

Ex-Swiss Air Force Vampire T-55

Douglas DC-6B G-APSA

One of a trio of Jet Provosts

Second ot a trio of Jet Provosts

Third of a trio of Jet Provosts
Vampire T-11

C-47 Dakota G-AMRA

C-47 Dakota G-ANAF

Gloster Meteor T7 - Note the rather complex rudder/elevator arrangement

Auster WE569

Dan Griffith piloted Gloster Meteor NF11, his favourite aircraft and took Tim Skeet for a check ride during the morning. Here he can be seen ensuring that Tim has been strapped in correctly.

Percival Proctor - Had a busy day performing pleasure flights

The De Havilland Dove was no less busy, eager passengers forming a long queue for the experience

The flying for the day was opened by this beautiful 1937 built De Havilland DH-87B Hornet Moth.

John Corley start the De Havilland Venom's Ghost engine and she becomes a fire-breathing dragon

Dan Griffith lead John Corley in a number of close formation passes

One of several great topside passes by the Meteor NF11

The Venom was also displayed with great panache

Dan Griffith returns to the flightline at the end of his display

And so does John Corley
And then, as the Venom was taxiing in, the final display item having made her way down from Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster (better known to most of us as RAF Finningley) made her entrance, Avro 698 Vulcan BV2 XH558, the aircraft everyone on the airport and well beyond its fences had come to see. This has become known as the "Vulcan Effect" and clearly, from reports after the show and video clips posted on social media and YouTube, thousands of people had found somewhere to see, photograph or video XH558, but more importantly had come to bid her farewell in her last few weeks as a flying.

XH558 completed her first pass over the Baginton runway

Topside pass? This is not something the Vulcan is very good at, much better at pulling the crowds

Bomb doors open in this pass, but no undercarriage down pass.
The final display at Coventry Airport by XH558 was not a full one. Although the commentator quoted Shoreham as one of the reasons, but we know that the aircraft does not perform any high energy manoeuvres so is not restricted. The second reason given was perhaps more plausible that being the vicinity of housing areas close to the airport.

Only twice was the roar of the Olympus engines heard, ones when the aircraft arrived over the runway, the second on its final pass when it climbed out for its departure back to base at the conclusion of her display at Coventry Airport. 

The atmosphere in the crowd during her display was one of strong emotions and, to use a cliché, "not a dry eye in the house", including mine. Having joined the supporting club back in 1993, shortly after XH558 was delivered to Bruntingthorpe, there have been many great moments, many pennies invested to keep this lady flying and many friends made, most of whom were present on this memorable day in September 2015. I am proud to have been associated with this beautiful lady and with my name printed somewhere on her bomb bay doors that association lives on together with many others, whose names are also displayed on those same bomb bay doors.

Just a couple more opportunities now to see XH558, Gaydon (4 October) and somewhere along its southern route over the weekend of 10/11 October 2015.

Theo Claassen
21 September 2015

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Victory Show, Cosby, 6 September 2015

The annual Victory Show is a great military spectacle that combines military exhibits and mock battles with an air display of mainly vintage aircraft, some of which taking part in the main battle of the day. This year saw exceptional crowds with the prospect of the Vulcan To The Sky Trust's XH558, but helas she could not make an appearance have experienced an undercarriage issue the previous during her displays in Northern Ireland (Portrush) and Scotland (Prestwick). This made for a welcome gap in the flying display mid-afternoon to put down the cameras and have a drink.

Your author had made the decision to attend on the Sunday (because of the planned display by Vulcan XH558), which turned out to be a fabulous day with ideal lighting conditions for photography, especially in the latter part of the afternoon.

Participation in the flying display is growing year on year and on the flightline were some of the old favourites the Hardwick Warbirds P-51 Mustangs "Marinell" flown by Rob Davies and "Janie" flown by Maurice Hammond, Peter Vacher's original Hurricane I, Bückers Bestmann and Jungmeister from Breighton to name but a few. Another frequent visitor is the Grace Spitfire, flown by Richard Grace, this year accompanied by the new and beautiful Seafire III, flown by Dave Puleston, the pair flying some excellent close formation sequences as exemplified by the picture above.

Other first were the newly restored Bristol Blenheim I expertly displayed by ARC's John Romain, the ARC HA-1112 Buchon, Hardwick Warbirds Stearman, German registered Yak-3M, D-FLAK, now owned and flown by Will Greenwood and Gloster Meteor T7 of the Classic Air Force shown off to superb effect by Chief Pilot John Corley. There were also a few interesting visitors in the shape of Richie Piper's camouflaged T-6 Texan, a red and silver DH-82 Tiger Moth and lovely looking  butterfly-tailed Beech Bonanza.

Here are some of the images of the day in no particular order.

North American Formation of RNLAFHF Mitchell and Hardwick Warbirds Mustang
Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight TB-25M Mitchell operated out of Bruntingthorpe
Hardwick Warbirds North American P-51D Mustang "Marinell" flown by Rob Davies

Hardwick Warbirds North American P-51D Mustang "Janie" piloted by Maurice Hammond
"Janie" and "Marinell" in close formation
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Sally B"paying tribute to the fallen WWII USAAF crews

Will Greenwood takes off in his Yak-3M to defend the Allied ground forces in the main battle.
ARC's Hispano Ha-1112 Buchon sets off to attack the Allied ground forces in the main battle.
BBMF Spitfire Vb AB910 made several passes.
TRIG (Richard Grace and Dave Puleston) are regulars at the Victory Show and never fail to impress.
Richard Grace and Dave Puleston again as a different duo, but just as close in formation.
ARC's John Romain lifts Bristol Blenheim I off the Cosby runway
Peter Vacher's Hawker Hurricane I takes off to display alongside the Blenheim

The Blenheim and Hurricane made a several passes in formation showing off both aircraft to good effect.
Here the Hurricane breaks formation for each aircraft to perform some solo passes
Bristol Blenheim I flown by John Romain against a beautiful clear blue sky
From piston power to jet propulsion, Classic Air Force's Gloster Meteor T7, skillfully displayed by John Corley

A unique formation of RAF and Royal Navy cousins, Spitfire and Seafire.
After the formation passes a few minutes of pure magic presented by Richard Grace
Seafire magic delivered by Dave Puleston.
Hardwick Warbirds North American T-6 Harvard departs for home in the hands of Leah Young-Hammond.
Another Hardwick Warbirds leaves for home, the Boeing Stearman.
Yak-3M D-FLAK, owned and flown by Will Greenwood sets off for home 
Another Cosby regular Breighton-base Bückers Bestmann
Amongst the visitors was this rare radar-equipped Beechcraft Bonanza with its distinctive butterfly tail.
Unfortunately this North American T-6 Harvard did not display. It is owned and flown by Richie Piper.
This brightly coloured De Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth was also amongst the visitors
Yakovlev Yak-52 trainer G-BXJB was also a visitor seen here departing Cosby at the end of the air display.
This Piper L-4 Grasshopper is a regular acting as a spotter for the main battle.
And finally, standing behind the flight line is not always good for taking photographs of landing and departing aircraft, but it can provide other opportunities such as the small image at the start of the blog that shows the nose of the Blenheim with "Sally B" approaching Cosby.

Dave Puleston in Seafire LFIIIc PP972 takes of for Leicester Airport to refuel. Oops Blenheim got its nose in.
Following through, maybe cropping can rescue this one.
Just caught Hurricane I  in this shot of the Blenheim taxiing in after its solo display.
Flightline action: Richard Grace and ground crew member assist Dave Puleston parking Seafire PP972.
The final selection are some of the pictures reproduced in black and white, like the Buchon earlier, which can give the image a period look. Provided the background is "ageless", this works well and Cosby provides opportunities like that.

Bristol Blenheim I...the modern fence and gate could be "removed" from the image.
Not a clue in this image of the era
If you have not been to Cosby, you not just like vintage/WWII aircraft and you like to be close to the action, then you should make you way there next year. 
I'll be back.

Theo Claassen
19 September 2015