Three meetings were held in 2001.
Spring Meeting: 9th-11th March 2001, RAF Henlow.
The Spring Meeting was indeed spring-like with snowdrops, crocu(I)ses and even daffodils in bloom. No one managed to arrive by air, partly because of foot and mouth disease restrictions (although I noticed large flocks of large birds with large webbed feet are given free rein to take off and land wherever they liked).
We forgathered on Friday mid-morning at the RAF Centre for Aviation Medicine on Henlow airfield and were welcomed to coffee in the crew room by Wing Commander Alec Hurley. Group Captain Tony Bachelor opened the formal proceedings by giving us an introduction to the Centre and its origins – an amalgamation of the Institute of Aviation Medicine, Farnborough with the practical facility at North Luffenham RAF CAM. Flying being done by two jaguars from Boscombe Down.
We had an excellent lunch in the Officers’ Mess, a building steeped in tradition and redolent of aviation, especially in the 1930s. The party then split into two groups to visit specialist departments.
Disorientation demonstrations: The modern equivalent of the spinning office chair with computerised sophistication to allow slow spin up whilst blind and a variety of subsequent inputs whilst flying a screen presentation. The results were impressive and those who were subjects were duly confused. Rely on those instruments!
Aircrew Integration Equipment Group: The modern fast jet pilot meets a variety of unusual (to the rest of us) situations, particularly involving G temperature extremes, the need to carry visual aids and possible ejection. Clothing (armour?) is rather unglamorous but a fundamental answer to these conditions. We were shown the various layers that are now required and are going to be required for the Eurofighter and given an insight into their design and function. A sub-section dealt similarly with helmets and their appurtenances.
Night vision Goggle Terrain Training Room: Here we all had the opportunity to try night ‘goggles’, actually more like helmet-mounted opera glasses and experience their usefulness and some of their drawbacks – in the latter category, poor perspective, distance judgement and weight.
Nuclear Biological and Chemical Protective Protection Training Facility: This was the nuclear, germ and chemical warfare field survival section, affording training in positively pressurised tents with integral cooking facilities, changing and decontamination lobbies and, following Gulf experience, a rip out panel for rapid exit in the event of fire.
Accident Investigation Dept.: The RAF equivalent of Farnborough’s AAIB with whom there is close liaison and some shared investigations. They also have similar collections of bent aluminium, fire-blackened bits and personal effects.
Hypobaric Chamber Hall: Here were the depressurisation chambers from North Luffenham, refurbished, computerised and good as new.
On Saturday 10th March the academic programme included lectures:
Aviation Pathology and Toxicology, by Air Commodore A Cullen.
Aviation Noise, by Mr. Darren Humpherson.
Cardiovascular Risks and Flying, by Group Captain A Batchelor.
Aviation Psychology, by Miss Kath Sixsmith.
RAF CAM Aviation Medicine Flight, by Colonel Lex Brown, USAF.
Summer Meeting: 8th-10th June 2001, Shenington.
Report: A first timer’s view
Would you write a paragraph for the newsletter? A seemingly innocent question, delivered by a man of consummate cunning and with the precision of a praying mantis. The victim fuddled by a third of a hague (four pints) nodded imperceptibly and here I am putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) in a very poor attempt to emulate Tom Kemp.
What can I say? I had never attended a BMPA bash before. We arrived with the late larks on Saturday morning at Shenington to a very warm welcome in the form of a cup of tea from the secretary. A succinct briefing was followed by an off the cuff remark that we were the largest aircraft (C 303) to come in since the war. I mentally reminded myself to recheck my performance calculations discreetly later.
In no time at all we were whisked off to the Nuneaton inland waterways for a most enjoyable two hours on a narrow boat. The weather being unsuitable for gliding, previous experience suggested that an alternative was a wise move. Back for lunch and with improving weather, a determined assault on the gliders accompanied by the very friendly and understanding local club instructors. Quad bikes, an innovation since I last sat in a glider, made even retrieval a pleasant interlude. Thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day, we repaired to the club house to a welcome beer and a self service cook your own barbeque. The evening was drawn to a close by a most unusual and, to the unwary, hazardous “firework display” by the flying vegetable pyrotechnic team obviously a local fertility custom.
A short walk to one of the recommended (prebooked) B&Bs for the night, followed by a cooked breakfast that I can only describe as worth dying for, and probably will, found us the next morning at the local Go Kart racing track. If members fly like they drove I will never get into an aircraft again! Like a Grand Prix the competition was fierce, no quarter given. The winners of the combined races duly received their laurels followed by the obligatory hosing of those within range with something fizzy and ended what had been a most exhilarating and enjoyable morning.
Lunch sadly heralded a return to Jersey but not before a circuit with two local members to prove that it was not a fluke and I could get in a second time. On my return I find myself sitting at the kitchen table looking for inspiration and determined to make the next meeting. I can only thank Andrew Clymo and all the others, whose names I am ashamed to admit I don’t know, for their organizational skills for a weekend without parallel.
Until the next time.
An old hand’s view
As you see from the previous article, Shenington took place as advertised with additions and subtractions.
The weather forecast did an injustice to reality, although those coming from the East on Sunday said that they took off in rain round Stanstead.
The secretarial party craftily parked its aeroplane on Thursday evening and then arrived again with bus, caravan and dogs on Friday to be joined by those from Lerwick and the president in his new (to him) Rallye with which he is well pleased. A party of six repeated last years visit to the Thai Orchid in Banbury which must be one of the better Thai restaurants around.
Saturday dawned well and then deteriorated, which didn’t matter, because we were all ensconced on a narrow boat ambling along the cut from and to Nuneaton with tea, biscuits and good company. President and Secretary flew back to Shenington from Coventry, through the last rain of the day, to find gliding well started and the President Elect and family safely arrived from the North. Gliding carried on all afternoon with our members making good, or at least extensive use of the facility and then joining our friendly and gregarious hosts for barbequed supper. Their lamb and mint kebabs are worth going some way for. The evening ended with an impromptu competition amongst the younger elements to make the biggest bang. The rules were simple, place an unopened tin of something in the cooking embers and retire to what seems to be a safe distance. A tin of potatoes was thought to be the winner both on decibels, pitch (low) and damage done. Although it took a long time to go critical, the force was such that further rounds could not take place there being no bottom left in the barbeque.
Sunday was fine and dry for Go-Karting and it was good to have enthusiastic gliding club members with us to enjoy the sport. We were all kitted out in flame proof overalls, crash helmets and industrial gloves, briefed on driving, safety and signals and then let loose to practice. This gave an inkling of the behaviour to come in the next stage which was competition proper. As you have already read, this was, although good natured, fierce and sometimes physical with up to a dozen, depending on how many were hors de combat, karts on the go. Lap counts ranged from fifteen down to twelve at each of three sessions. It was good that the final honours were shared between our hosts, a long distance guest and a member.
Sunday afternoon was again given over to gliding. The organization was commendable with smooth cooperation in running the launch site and consequently little waiting between flights. One enduring image was the President’s Lady in front being instructed by another Glamorous Granny behind all egged on by a small army of grandchildren. There was talk of wills and such like. What else was said I don’t know but faces were wreathed in smiles and the landings were tidy and therefore happy.
A non-aeronaut’s view
Shenington gliding club is extraordinarily friendly and always make us feel as welcome as their own members. I neither fly, glide (once was enough) nor drive Go-Karts, but enjoyed a relaxing weekend reading the paper in the sunshine, watching others being energetic, not having to cook (Lu’s bus and the barbeque took care of that) and above all, in the best BMPA tradition, enjoying good conversation with everyone else be they power or glider pilots.
Autumn Meeting: 7th-9th September 2001.
Tortworth Court Hotel.
Visits to SS Great Britain, cruise on m/v Matilda in Bristol harbour, Bristol Aero Collection Kemble and Delta Jets Kemble.
Saturday 8th September dawned bright and sunny, soon the beauty of the gardens and arboretum of Tortworth Court Hotel was enhanced by a rainbow in the western sky. By the end of breakfast, which was a leisurely affair, as required by the service standards of the hotel, a steady drizzle had set in. Undaunted, our aquanautical (sic) party set off for Bristol and, fortunately, by the time we arrived, the rain had virtually ceased, not to return that day (or the next). The downside was that several of our colleagues who had intended to arrive by air, had to set off early for a surface route.
As we boarded the ship, the precipitation had been replaced by that provided by a flock of small birds that had gorged themselves on nearby elderberry trees. (My recognition of fixed- and rotary-winged ‘thingies’ was never very good and even worse of the flapping variety.) This further challenge was nought to our intrepid gathering, although a few sported purple spots for the rest of the day.
SS Great Britain is a magnificent ship, described as the ‘Concorde’ of the day because of her 25kt maximum speed. She was the first ever, steel passenger-carrying steamship, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was launched in 1845. She began her career transporting passengers across the Atlantic until the Captain, having forgotten his GPS, failed to turn right after passing the Isle of Man and ploughed into Ireland. We heard from our informative guide that this did little damage to either the sands of some Irish bay, or the ship, although it was some time before she could be re-floated.
One problem with the SS Great Britain was that the engines consumed so much coal that there was little space for the payload (sounds like some light aircraft). She therefore had a smaller engine fitted (and more sails) and began the next stage of her career, sailing to and from Australia, making her contribution to the wool trade. Later still, she had her engines removed, making her a pure sailing ship and shortly afterwards became grounded on the Falkland Islands after attempting a stormy rounding of Cape Horn. Her rusting hulk languished there for many years, being used as a coal bunker until she was put on a floating pontoon and, in 1970, brought to the very dry dock in which she had been constructed. Many of us recall the television pictures of her being brought up the Avon, under the Clifton suspension bridge (also designed by Brunel).
The process of restoring her to her 1845 condition was well under way at the time of our visit. We were able to see the beautiful marble-columned interior, replica engines, first class cabins, etc. Because of continuing rusting of the hull, a £10m corrosion preservation scheme is now required, with £7m coming from lottery funds – as long as the remaining £3m can be acquired from other sources. When completed, the hull will be beneath a humidity-controlled glass surface, giving the appearance of her sailing on water.
After leaving the ship, some of us were privileged to see the fine glass blowing demonstration at nearby Bristol Blue Glass before boarding mv Matilda for our lunch time cruise.
Your nautical correspondent has especial pleasure in reporting on the boat trip around Bristol in the good boat ‘(Waltzing) Matilda’ skippered by Mike Fripp with the help of his young and pretty crew, Elise. Not only representing the gliding sub-section of the BMPA, your correspondent also represents the canoeing sub-section. The disciplined nature of the BMPA membership was shown by no-one eating the gorgeous buffet before time. (Made by Liz. Ferguson of ‘Heavens Cake‘). The menu Yum Yum, very drool-making.
A health and safety survey was carried out as the boat set sail. Of the 39 passengers, 8 could not swim, 3 were uncertain as to whether they could swim or not, 1 difficult case, coming from North Of The Border, said he could only swim if there were sharks in the water. He was classified with the non-swimmers.
During the cruise, of special interest to the writer was the park and ruined church, a memorial to those lost in the blitz. The writer, a schoolboy at the time, evacuated to Taunton, remembers the glow in the sky as Bristol burned. All the local rescue and fire services went to the aid of the burning city.
A complicated system of feeder canals, new cut from the river Avon, and locks, keeps the water level steady in the lock 24 hours a day. The previous month, heavy rain and high tides caused the river level to be 6 feet above dock level.
Mud dock was the only part of the dock, when it was still tidal, where boats could settle safely, the rest of the bottom being rocky. The captain said the boats using the docks had to be well build to withstand the rocks, hence the expression ‘Ship shape and Bristol fashion’. I am rather dubious about the origin of the term.
The bollards were called ‘nails’ and were used for financial transactions, hence the expression ‘on the nail’.
A number of attractive Dutch barges had been converted to house boats. They were too small for the magnificent canal system of the continent. They sailed over, full of sand. The sand was sold and the barges converted. Converted from industrial buildings around the docks, some apartments were selling at £75,000. Phew! A fire boat was aptly named ‘Pyronaut’ and a tug boat ‘Il Bordello’ – hm, hm, hmmm.
A lead shot tower, built in 1964 with 147 steps was a listed building. A suggested use was as an indoor bungee-jumping site.
Sixty to seventy swans are fed every day in the summer; 200 a day in the winter. Cormorants eat the fish in the dock, showing the good quality of the water. They eat 7 lb (2 kilos) of fish each day.
One mystery, unsolved, was a narrow boat with crew all in white, flying white balloons. They denied being a wedding party. Being ’round eyes’ they were not a funeral party – they looked very cheerful any way. As we drove past in the coach, they were still to be seen floating gently round the dock.
….. and so to Bristol Aircraft Collection which was seeking refuge in, and occupying the whole of a freshly painted hangar in the SW-corner of Kemble airfield. The welcome and enthusiastic descriptions by our hosts Brian Wren and Chris White gave us the impression that we were being treated more to a personal collection.
After the initial rounding up of stampeding members, we were able to graze through a succession of displays charting the evolution of the Bristol Tramways Company (from horse-drawn trams to aeroplane builders – ancestors of the Airbus). We found that the roots of the first and latest wings (Boxkite and A320) to be manufactured in Britain grew from the early quarter million pounds capital of the British Colonial Company.
Many pre-WW1 photographs demonstrated the amazing scale of the early phase of the development of aviation. The Times of 13th February 1913 (page 5) told us that over 300 aircraft had been produced by the Bristol Aircraft Company and two thirds of pilot training was conducted in Bristol aircraft – but we didn’t find out how long they lasted!
Oh! and the trams? We need no complaints about modern ‘public’ transport. We view d the garden shed awaiting restoration back to a century-old tram – licenced to carry 24 persons inside and 29 out.
Our tour meandered through pictures, descriptions and artefacts from the first three decades of famous Bristol design: Boxkite (design No. Type 2) Pullman, Tourer Badger, Babe, Monoplane (M1C), Fighter (F2B 1918), Bulldog (1928), Bombay (t130 A 1935), Blenheim (t142M 1937), Beaufighter (t156 194?), Buckingham (t163), Brigand (t164) – the fuselage of no. RH746 had to be rescued from a Manchester scrapyard in 1981.
Were Bristol running out of B words? Hardly, we had a few heartstrings plucked by Filton memories of the Brabazon’s maiden flight by G-AGPW on 4th Sept. 1949. The hangar houses the Britannia G-ANFC restoration project and more ideal chicken shed survivals like the nose section of the freighter Wayfarer (type 170) and thoughts leading on to the type 188.
The collection continues with buses, bombs (unexploded from the raid on Filton, 25th Sept 1940), missiles, cars (of course), fire tenders and aero-engines.
Engine aficionados had plenty of scope for drooling over examples of Pegasus (how do you get 635 hp from 72-77 octane fuel and nine cylinders?), Hercules, Centurion, Proteus and then the jet age… ! There we had to leave but only because we had a date with the living ‘Delta Jets’. The BAC seems like a good excuse to visit Kemble again – even on a good flying day.
Delta Jets occupy another large hangar, a long walk or a short coach trip from the BAC one. They are anything but a museum, being, as we discovered at our briefing, an organisation devoted to keeping recent jets (mainly Hawker Hunters) in the air. Once briefed, we had the freedom of the hangar to breathe in the kerosene, marvel at the vast stock of spares and finger the aircraft themselves. Access, as Mr Gates says, was denied since ejector seats were ‘live’. Rocket assisted collision with the hangar roof is known to inhibit one’s thought processes and joie de vivre. Other aircraft there were Gnats and a Buccaneer. Some of our number had been actively involved with them during their (man and machine’s) service lives, which added extra colour to the visit.
Once we had had our fill of sights and stories our fly-in members booked out and left while the rest of us took the coach back to Tortworth Court for lunch, farewells and departure.