Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Wings and Wheels

P51 Mustang and Spitfire. Nice sound!

Not much to report on the painting front as I spent a few days in Cowes watching the powerboats and yesterday went along to Dunsfold Park aerodrome (better known as the home of Top Gear) for a car/air show yesterday called Wings and Wheels. It was blooming freezing but I had to stay until the bitter end as my daughter, Charlotte, is joining the school (or, rather, my old school) CCF this term in the RAF section. She now is very keen on learning to fly and maybe even joining the RAF, especially after she met the Red Arrows over lunch at the Royal Yacht Squadron last month. Given that her best subjects are Maths, Physics and Geography that all looks worryingly attainable. Actually, her best subject is German but hopefully she won't be joining the Luftwaffe. In her first year she gets at least one flying lesson and later in the school she does a parachute jump. I can't say I am very happy about this!

I have always had jobs that mean a lot of international flying. I would guess that I do around 40-50 flights a year. And I hate every one of them! I really, really hate flying. In fact, it terrifies me. Only the consumption of huge amounts of Champagne enable me to fly at all and as soon as the plane starts juddering around I become immediately sober and grab hold of the seat in front in terror. One day I will get to an airport departure gate and find that I am unable to get onto the plane. It will then be a very long boat trip home. I have a lot of travel coming up this month (not very good on the painting front). I'm off to Poland in a couple of weeks followed by one of my grand tours of North America. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Toronto, again and then Philadelphia. Far, far too many flights. I have worked out today, however, that I can get from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto by train which is much better than the coffin-like Embraer aircraft (do I really want to fly in a plane made in Brazil?) that Air Canada operate on those routes. OK the train rides take four and a half hours each (there is no high speed rail in North America-everything clanks along at twenty miles an hour) but at least I'm not stuffed in a tiny tube (I'm mildly claustrophobic as well!) banging around in turbulence 30,000 feet in the air.

That said, I have always been interested in planes but only from a visual point of view. Much like my interest in cars really. I'm not at all interested in how they work or what engines they've got. I just like them to look nice.

Recently I ready Harry Pearson's entertaining book Achtung Schweinehund!, which really should be required reading for any wargamer my age. A lot of it mirrored my own experience but then a lot of it didn't. I did have a resonably large selection of toy guns and I was particularly fond of my cap gun Luger. My favourite was a Gatling gun into which you dropped those teeth-cracking silver balls which we used to put onto trifles. You cranked the handle and they shot out wreaking havoc amongst my Britains Red Indians. Initially all my toy soldiers were 54mm plastics. I had cowboys and indians. Some American Civil War and some rather strange WW2 Germans in soft hats who looked like the Nazis in the Sound of Music or at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was aware of the HO/OO Airfix figures and my friend David Marsden had a lot of them but my Airfix fix was always aircraft. I din't get into the figures until I was about eleven.

A Fairey weird choice

My father had sat me down when I was quite young, eight or nine I guess, and I sat with him whilst he made an Airfix Stuka. I was amazed by the process that turned this bag of plastic bits into a fully formed and (beautifully) painted model. Of course my first attempts were dire and I always built them first and then painted them (leaving painted planes but ghostly grey crewmen inside the canopies-which I could never paint the lines on anyway). The first model I remember making was the Sikorsky helicopter as it was the one used to recover astronauts from the Apollo capsules and I was very interested in space and rockets. Oddly, I didn't follow the normal Spitfire/Hurricane route. My choices were based on interesting shapes and availability in Johnson & Clark department store in Staines. I remember early kits I built were a Trident, the Lunar Module, some WW1 dog fight doubles, the Starfighter (which I painted copper and blue gloss) and the really weird Fairey Rotodyne. I then did build some WW2 planes but they were an odd mixture: Me 110, Vought Kingfisher, Me 262 and my favourite, and the first one I finished which came out looking OK, the B25 Mitchell

Buy me ! Buy me!

So I was delighted to see a B25 flying yesterday at Wings and Wheels albeit missing the top gun turret and in Dutch colours and not the magnificent silver colour I painted mine based on the wonderful Airfix box art by Roy Cross. If ever a painting shifted kits then that painting was it!

It's always good to see a Hurricane and a Spitfire fly but the Battle of Britain memorial flight (the best bit of which is the Lancaster, of course) had to cancel due to the bad weather. Fortunately I had seen them last summer when my father in law arranged a Dunkirk Little Ships and Rolls Royce event at Eton last year. He arranged for the Lancaster and Spitfire to do a fly past which involved closing down Heathrow Airport for 75 seconds! In fact it was because of him that we attended Wings and Wheels as one of his friends invited him to join the Rolls Royce display (he is a member of the Bentley Drivers Club but for some reason thinks that the Surrey Bentley Drivers Club branch are a complete shower-far too many members driving modern Continentals for his liking!).

Charlotte looks forward to the aerobatics whilst Grandma retires out of the cold. Grandpa's car is a 1961 Bentley Continental S2 Flying Spur.

I wasn't very interested in the cars (although someone had a Singer Gazelle like the one we had when I was little) but the planes were good. I hadn't seen a P51 in flight before and the Eurofighter was certainly noisy but the real reason I went was the AVRO Vulcan.

It's big. Really big!

My grandfather, who was in the RFC in WW1 (flying SE5As), went on to work for AVRO after the war. There was some concern that they would have to cancel but they did make it through in the end, thank goodness. My daughter, however, was most excited by the aerobatics display by the Grob Tutor: "the very plane I'm going to fly!" Oh dear!

Don't even think about it, Charlotte!

Finally, we had a rather restricted show by the Red Arrows (low cloud and worrying proximity to Gatwick) but Charlotte insisted on staying to the bitter end. She was excited because the Red Arrows flew in from Poland so they had all 11 planes with them rather than the usual display 9.

All the Red Arrows!

From my point of view the really worrying thing was how many of the aerobatics pilots were British Airways 747 pilots! One thing the whole event has got me thinking about is making another plane kit (of which I have a fair few in the loft). Of course the one to wait for is the imminent Airfix 1/24 de Havilland Mosquito. But how on earth will I find the time to build a 617 part kit and, above all where am I going to put something with a 27 inch wingspan?


  1. Excellent ramble , tally ho!! look flying is terrifying stuck in a massive elongated tube with a couple of jet engines and a computer flying the dam boring heap crossing the atlantic ad infenitum etc I hate it. Flying is aerobatics in a grob Tutor, beach hopping in tiger moths, 4 seater PA28's to channel islands, Piper Cub 2 seaters to farm strips...its fun, exhilerating etc your daughter would love the RAF also they can help sponsor her through university! Roy crosses artwork was superb you can buy a book of it from Amazon or Airfix website well worth the investment, he lives near Tunbridge Wells super artist he signed a book 'celebration of flight' for me a few years ago.also look at Duxford Flying Legends 2009 - video report at http://www.spitfiresite.com/photos/video/2009/08/duxford-flying-legends-2009-full.html 3 B25's flying in formation, JU52, Sea Furies etc great videos

  2. Thanks for the tip on the Roy Cross book. Duly ordered!

  3. Great post. I wandered down to the Eton Brocas last year with the dog to have a look at the MTB on the Thames, the Dunkirk little ships and the cars. They had a fantastic merlin engine on an A frame which they fired up creating that very distinctive noise and lots of smoke. My father is also a member of the RR club and has a 1931 doctors coupe. He however is finding it increasingly difficult to drive as its a bit of a heavy beast and so it is sitting in my brother's garage in kent.

    I know of 2 sisters both in their early 20's who joined the RAF CCF and are now pilots, one flying VIP's and the other in and out of Afganistan regretfully often carrying casualties back. My elder daughter has joined the marines section of the school CCF for some reason.


  4. I doubt that anyone who isn't in the practical side aviation business doesn't have at least some fear of flying. Whenever I'm in a plane I always recall how apparently takeoff and landing are the two most dangerous times. And it never reassures me when people say "statistically, flying is the safest form of travel", as that phrase is actually meaningless given that the only statistic that matters to me is what happens to the flights that I'm on!


  5. Flying worries me not at all. It is the manner of the interface between being airborne and being in contact with solid ground that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    Unfortunately, Japan is an island, and the Pacific is far too big to swim, so a constant supply of red wine keeps me sane on long flights.

    I was reared on Airfix too. I remember as a kid, I must have had every kind of RAF night bomber hanging from my ceiling, along with a balsa wood SE5a, Monogram Spitfire and a Sunderland.

    And that top picture, the one of the Mustang and Spit, just gives me goose-bumps. Two of my favourite fighters!

    When I lived in Vancouver, I often used to go to the Abbotsford Airshow where the Vulcan was a regular visitor. That, along with the CF-101 Voodoo, was always a real crowd-pleaser.

    Wonderful divertimento of a post! Love these trips down memory lane.