Reports of three meetings in 2000 follow.
Spring Meeting: 10th March 2000, Farnborough.
A total of 36 people attended this one day meeting with 29 touring the AAIB and 28 attending the Friday evening dinner.
The meeting started at the Farnborough Post House Hotel. Some will remember this as the Crest Hotel, some, even older, as The Queens. I believe the latter refers possessively to a monarch, not to the orientation of the guests, although it has no apostrophe.
We convened for a sumptuous lunch on Friday before driving to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (of the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions) new dedicated entrance gate. There we were welcomed by Mr Ken Smart CBE, the Chief Inspector of Accidents, who gave us an hour long briefing. He traced the origins of the organization, always independent and reporting direct to government, from Royal Flying Corps to Royal Air Force, incorporation post-war civilian flying, on through the second world war (more deaths in accidents than due to enemy action) until it was absorbed into the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It now reports direct to the Minister for the Environment, Transport and Regions (John Prescott at the time of writing), investigates about 400 UK incidents a year as well as assisting many foreign governments and provides a 24 hour service. All its publications, including reports, are available on the AAIB website. The service is provided by a team of 31 inspectors who are either pilots (about a third) or engineers (the other two thirds). The pilots are all current and the between them cover anything that flies. There is a tentative movement towards harmonizing accident investigation practice across all transport modalities (air, sea and rail).
Following our briefing we walked the short distance to the hangars for a tour of recent and current investigations. The details are, or will be, published as reports available on the website. The messages were not original. What goes up must come down, the manner of the descent being all important. The fundamental rules for flight continue to hold sway. Common things occur commonly. If anything can go wrong, sooner or later it will (this is not Murphy’s Law, which concerns components being fitted wrongly). Included in this tour was an introduction to flight recorders of all vintages and the astonishing amount of information that can be found on a piece of stainless steel wire, electro-magnetic tape or these days a ubiquitous ‘chip’. For me the two most striking aspects of the visit were the pains taken to arrive at the cause(s) of the crash, not merely a cause, and the poignancy of the personal effects neatly collected together – necktie torn off just below the knot, glasses twisted but intact, a book covered in mud and similar artefacts, which brought home that these wrecks had contained fellow pilots who had not had our luck.
In somewhat sombre mood we returned to The Queens for preprandial drinks and conversation before a dinner which matched the lunch in scale and excellence. Some members then used the proximity of London to go home or to friends. The rest of us slept off our dinners before leaving the following morning.
Summer Meeting: 16th-18th June 2000, Shenington.
The Summer meeting at Shenington was, as advertised, held from Friday 16th until Sunday 18th June. I am pleased to be able to report, as you will see below, much better weather than last year with 27 members and their guests attending, fourteen of them by air in seven aircraft. In addition a further two gave us the benefit of a slow, (in places very) low Tiger moth fly past on Sunday morning but found the crosswind more than they could cope with. The Jubilee meeting of the Shenington Kart Club was held next door but there were no balloons.
The first arrival was undoubtedly the President who flew from Coventry early on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, using a common glider frequency means that messages may land in the wrong ears and his landed in unfriendly if geographically remote ones. Concluding that the natives were hostile, he retreated to regroup at Wellesbourne and then made a further approach the following morning to find that far from ambuscade he and his party were welcome. The secretary arrived on wings of ply and fabric later on Friday. He knew the (human) natives to be friendly and therefore didn’t try to talk to them. Our hosts had thoughtfully erected an electric fence to ward off cows, inveterately curious animals who will have the covering and paint off anything given the chance, and the secretarial ground party with dogs, camping bus and caravan got there shortly afterwards.
Five more ground-borne attenders appeared on Friday and introduced us to a Thai restaurant in Banbury. The majority of the rest came on Saturday, a few on Sunday. Our choice of runways was limited by the go-kart event since stray launch cables from 16, the closest to the strongish wind, have in the past landed across the Karting area. However, apart from to the Moth, this was not a major inconvenience and the sun shone mightily on our endeavours. All who wanted to go gliding, except one, were accommodated. The one was prevented by his own gravitas and bore the deprivation stoically. The balloons were again deterred by strong winds. Their ringleader was anyway otherwise engaged in national competition at Ludlow. Saturday’s barbeque was entirely up to expectation (as far as I can remember) and the event was informal, cheap, and as far as I was concerned, fun.
Sit back, relax and enjoy was the order of the day at the millennial Summer meeting. The members, families and friends rallied under a banner constructed especially for the occasion, which acted well as a meeting place to chat, greet friends or just view the proceedings. The weather was excellent with people reaching for their factor 25. The wind, although a little gusty, was straight down a runway. The weather was most definitely flyable and almost soarable. Four groups arrived by air on Saturday, and as many on Sunday. Trial glider flights were offered to all who put their name on the list, some coming back for seconds and thirds, suggesting that there may have been one or two converts to the no-engine style of flying. The launches were by aerotow as the wind direction was such as to preclude the cheaper winch launching because of the crowds at the go-kart race meeting on the adjoining track. Last Summer it was the BMPA who were karting round this track, and hopefully again soon?
On Saturday afternoon a small splinter group set off to explore the delights on offer further afield. A short drive found us at Upton House a National Trust property. We partook of tea and scones on the lawn while listening to a wind ensemble playing jazz and then on to the painting and art on display inside the house which was just as delicious. The collection is one of the finest art collections assembled in England in the 20th century; heaven knows how much of the profits from “Shell” went into buying the stunning pictures which fill the house.
The Saturday evening bar-b-que lived up to the memories of last year, except this year we could eat outside and bask in the evening sunshine.
Unfortunately, the go-kart race meeting meant that accommodation locally was difficult, only those organised souls who had booked well in advance or brought their own, secured a bed for the night.
Overall the weekend had a relaxed informal atmosphere, lots of time for chatting, renewing friendships and making new ones.
The BMPA should offer an enormous ‘thank-you’ to the members of Shenington Gliding Club who extended such a warm welcome to us, making us feel part of the scene. (Done – Secretary) I very much hope they will allow us to invade their Club again next year.
Janet Gibson, 24th July 2000
Autumn Meeting: 1st-3rd September 2000, Cambridge.
Fifty members and their guests attended the meeting, based at Downing College, Cambridge.
Downing College is an unlikely collection of quintessentially Cotswold classical architecture in the middle of the fens. That is the stones are mellow, light, lime or sand stone with thin jointing put together in classical styles. The rooms we used were typically modern college, grouped around common kitchenettes with en suite bathrooms and unlike some of its contemporaries maintained and furnished to a high standard. The extensive lawns, mature trees and freshly brushed gravel with motor cars banished to out of sight parks gave the impression of space and quiet contemplation necessary for the proper enjoyment of good food, well matched wines and excellent company. The weather wasn’t bad either! As a focal point we had the sole use of the Howard Building, a separate venue with lounge and bar on the ground floor and lecture theatre above stairs.
Saturday morning produced a choice of outings, one to Audley End to see Spitfire restoration and the other to Great Dunmow to view Rolls Royce cars of all ages and conditions.
The Audley End airfield and workshops are the hobby of one of the biggest makers of car exhaust systems in Europe, so next time you pay for one, offset the cost with the notion that you are subsidising a most worthwhile enterprise. On arrival we were met by the workshop chief. He took us through the stages of a restoration bit by bit, starting with the acquisition of a project. They come from diverse sources – often gate guardians here and abroad, but also found abandoned in other sites, restoration then being commissioned by the new owner. Each one is dismantled either to small sub-assemblies but more often to individual pieces of metal for cleaning, inspection, reassembly and re-priming. One surprise was the excellent condition of much of the aluminium which had been fashioned and mass assembled with a life expectancy measured in weeks rather than decades and then woefully neglected for many of those decades. Missing pieces are built from scratch to pattern or drawings and completed assemblies stored until the makings of the whole aircraft come together again. Merlin engines, having been used in many other aircraft, some boats and a few other ground based machines come from a wide variety of sources, often USA. The basic airframe design was so much developed and modified that most projects are individual and there is now little interchangeability of parts. It was great to see enthusiasts of that calibre working for the love of the job without a clock in sight. The cost? Think in seven figures once you have delivered your wreck!
[Stephen Gibson reviews the trip to Great Dunmow below.]
When our tours were over we took coach for the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and made our individual ways to lunch and round the artefacts which as always were well demonstrated and described. There is a new Army vehicle hall for those for whom aircraft are not enough, and some flying going on to add a touch of authenticity to the static exhibits. Members filtered back to Downing by a variety of transports to tea and biscuits in the Howard building before the Annual General Meeting.
After the A.G.M., the day was rounded off by a Gala Dinner in Hall and general chat, relaxation, and dare one say, more drinking in the Howard Building.
Sunday morning was devoted to a tour of Newmarket its environs and the National Racing School and even a visit to some horses. To most of us this was an eye opener. Newmarket is a self sufficient, in parts extremely affluent, apparently a self (the Jockey Club) governing community. We started with coffee at the National Racing School, a new building with every modern teaching aid. It trains Jockeys rather than horses, getting successful students a NVQ. They are therefore financeable by local authorities. The course covers all aspects of horse management so that even if graduates fail to ride a Grand National winner, they have a chance of finding work somewhere in the industry – for let there be no doubt a massive industry it is. Our two guides, sisters with an encyclopaedic knowledge of that industry, used the lecture theatre to brief us and then gave a running commentary on the sights, sounds and even the private lives of some of the personalities of the district. Being a Sunday there was little horse training activity but at one point we saw hare coursing in full cry(another example of self-governance?). The visit was rounded off with an excellent roast lunch at the National Racing School after which we returned to Downing, dropping air borne members off at Marshall’s (airfield) on the way.
Great Dunmow trip
P & A Wood, welcomed BMPA members, family and friends with coffee in a well appointed waiting area with magazines, prints and pictures of Old Rolls Royce and Bentley cars. Attention to comfort and no-expense-spared detail was evident throughout our trip. Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic host, one of the two founder/owner brothers, let slip that to achieve all the space, workshops and showroom which so amazed us had involved selling a much loved aircraft at one stage, to fund this expansion of the first love; the restoration of older and Vintage Rolls Royce cars.
We saw and discussed in intimate detail restoration at all stages, from metal and wooden chassis and bodywork components, beautiful paintwork and upholstery to finished unique cars. The time, care, skill and experience involved were immense and impressive. I would have no hesitation in turning to the Woods if ever I had a Rolls or Bentley needing care, and indeed at the end of our trip we were amazed and even tempted by the surprisingly manageable price of some of the more modern used cars (explained by the running and service costs thereafter perhaps). However there were also unique exemplars of the earliest and rarest cars where working in medicine or surgery would never of itself pay well enough, even were they to be for sale. Some cars had come across the world to be worked on.
I recall one amazing hangar sized room full of perhaps 40 very special cars. Restorations could take years, with archival research leading to individually made parts often followed by special testing and adjustment apparatus, for example for the shock absorbers and springs. The greatest affection was for the older cars, when the RR lead over the rest of the automotive world was least challenged, but we saw the very latest also. RR Merlin Aero engine restoration/rebuilding was also in progress.
My two regrets are that we did not have had longer there, and that we were not able to welcome our host to join us at the BMPA gala Dinner later.