THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN MEMORIAL FLIGHT
As another great British summer draws to a close, we on the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (RAF BBMF) can look back and reflect on a very busy and challenging display season
The Lancaster, Dakota, five Spitfires and two Hurricanes of the Flight graced the skies throughout both the British Isles and parts of Europe in what was to be a season of many highlights, tinged with sadness following the tragic loss of our Red Arrow friend Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging.
Following the herculean efforts of the Engineers throughout the winter maintenance season, the early spring requires the aircrew to prove to the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) 1 Group that they are competent to display the aircraft safely in front of the general public. At the end of April the Flight hosted the then AOC, AVM Bagwell, to perform what is termed the Public Display Approval (PDA). Needless to say that he was suitably impressed, signed the appropriate documentation, and the display season was officially underway.
The highlight of the season in terms of media coverage was of course the flypast by the Lancaster, Spitfire PM631 and Hurricane LF363 over Buckingham Palace at the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The fact that this happened only 4 days after PDA, in front of an estimated worldwide television audience of 2 billion, certainly got the season off to a memorable start. It was also a fitting tribute to the couple, owing to the fact that Prince William is Patron to the RAF BBMF.
The beginning of May saw the Lancaster visit both Holland and Denmark to perform flypasts at 14 different memorials to the Bomber Command Aircrew who perished during operations in WWII. The weather was unkind to us in the early part of the summer and unfortunately we had to cancel several sorties due to high winds, either at Coningsby or at the intended venue. After last year’s 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the conscious effort to perform in front of a predominantly British crowd this season we tried to reach a wider audience throughout Europe. To that end, the Flight performed at Sion (Switzerland), Arnhem (Holland), Groningen (Holland), Pardubice (Czech Republic) and St Dizier (France). In the UK we displayed at the usual locations on the airshow circuit including:- Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Duxford, Biggin Hill, Fairford, etc….As of 16 September, the Flight’s overall success rate had been 73% of sorties accomplished (626 out of 856 programmed), with 22% cancelled due to the weather, and 5% due to aircraft being unserviceable. However it does not end there! The last flypast of the season is not until 20 October, and we hope to display the Dakota at the Malta airshow on 24/25th September.
We had several personality changes over the summer:- We said goodbye to Bing, Di, Percy and Jim. And we welcomed Grizz, Carlos and KP (who is now on his 2nd tour of RAF BBMF)! We also welcomed OC Ops, Wg Cdr Godfrey, into the fold as a newly fledged RAF BBMF fighter pilot. It was also a pleasure to eventually welcome the Station Commander, Gp Capt Sampson, (post Op Ellamy duties) as the latest fighter pilot to qualify as a Hurricane operator. Other duties not withstanding, he will be participating fully in next season’s programme.
Unfortunately the season was marred by the tragic death of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging during the Bournemouth air show. Jon flew as Red 4 in the Red Arrows Display Team, and whilst he was not part of RAF BBMF, several of us knew him and admired not only his skill as an aviator, but his warm and generous personality. The air show circuit will miss him and our thoughts and condolences go out to his widow, Emma.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those personnel on the Station who support the Flight in our responsibilities of displaying these iconic aircraft that are a living testament to the Nation’s aviation heritage. For those station personnel who wish to come and have a closer look at the aircraft, please give us a call and we will try and accommodate you. For those of you off-station who wish to pay us a visit, contact the RAF BBMF Visitors Centre on 01526 344041.