The basic premise of the Project Propeller scheme is to match up WWII RAF air crew with current pilots and to gather together for a day at a significant location.
So runs the introduction on the Project Propeller website. I’d heard of the project before and the year gathered myself to actually venture forth and take part. I can’t think of very many better reasons to fly , after all!
Nevertheless the challenges it presented had me in state of high “dither” for several weeks beforehand. My passenger for the day, a former Liberator airgunner and wireless operator, was down in Dunkeswell, and the Project was taking place at the lovely site for Old Warden, home of the Shuttleworth Collection.
This was a new airfield for me, and between it and Dunkeswell sat some of the most complicated airspace I’d ever been in vicinity of. I therefore choose myself an utter coward’s route, picking my way north of Lyneham and Brize, and selecting turning points consisting of unmissable landmarks like Bath, Stroud, and Milton Keynes! Google Earth again proved its value in allowing me to run the route on there and sort out which of the chart features actually showed up decently and which were going to be hardly worth looking for. VRPs in particular were handy to look at. A label saying “Bath Race Course” on the chart doesn’t tell you nearly as much about what to look for as a pic! (And I had no idea Silverstone was so huge!)
I did have my shiny new GPS on board, but between unfamiliarity and concerns about the battery life I in no way wanted to rely on it. I studied and planned in more detail than I have since my QXC. It would not do to embarrass myself with a display of “positional uncertainty” in front of my veteran passenger!
The was a certain about of talk about the state of the grass and length available at Old Warden but having being comfortably in and out of the definitely more cramped Rosemarket recently, that was the least of my concerns.
One of the items that did feature in that list of concerns was the sheer number of aircraft I’d be mixing with. Old Warden were expecting around a hundred aircraft and we’d each be given a slot time to keep. Mine called for a 6.30AM rising in order to catch have time to get the weather, NOTAMs, and catch the first bus of the day to the airfield. Even then I found myself puffing at speed towards the bus stations — only to discover it was already running ten minutes late! How can the first bus of the day be late? One of the mysteries of Swansea Public Transport I suppose.
There were a surprising number of people already at the airfield when I arrived. The parachute club were gearing up for a busy day and one of the microlight school Ikaruses (Ikarii?) taxyed out to depart as I pulled the cover off TOMS, kicked chocks aside, and did my walkaround.
The wind was almost nonexistent and air/ground weren’t at work yet, so I followed the lead of the Ikarus and headed for runway 22, the longest and relatively flattest of Swansea’s selection. As I prepared to take off, said microlight called up to warn off a fog bank to the south of the airfield. I looked up at blue sky, then south and the misty horizon. Fog? Indeed there was and I gawped open mouthed at it as I sailed into the air and climbed away.
The sea was quite simply gone. Altogether vanished beneath a solid blanket of fog with the morning sun dazzling on the surface on it. It started as soon as the land stopped and flowed up into the valleys and bays, distorting the familiar coastline into new shapes, turning headlands into islands.
I skirted east along this strange, changed coast, acutely aware of my VFR limitation of “in sight of the surface”. Eventually the fog thinned to mist and across the narrowing strip of water I could see the Devon shore and was able to strike out towards it. As for Dunkeswell itself, I was almost convinced TOMS could find the way there without me in any case. It’s a regular jaunt and we’re now started going down there for maintenance as well.
There too, it was busy today. The LAA Regional Rally was already in full swing when I arrived and slotted myself into the circuit, landing after another Project Propeller participant.. I located my passenger, Erik, with no trouble, and after failing to convince the folks on the LAA booking in desk that Air Westward had agreed to waive the landing fee, I quickly paid up and got on our way again.
The fog it seemed had followed me and now wreathed the base of the Mendips, causing much radio chatter as people called Bristol right left and centre, trying to find a way around it. One or two attempting to come the other way and get in to Dunkeswell failed entirely and turned for home. I again opted for tracking east hoping to find the edge of it.
The GPS did come into its own here, and was more reassuring than my compass-and-stopwatch attempts to keep track of which half-fogged-in town I was looking at. The fog finally pettered out somewhere near Castle Cary and I unabashedly adopted the follow-the-railway technique to locate Frome-pronounced-froom, where several other aircraft had reported clear air, and which had the advantage of seeming to be a popular reporting point for Bristol.
Back on track and Erik completely undeterred by the weather — it meant a longer flight!
The rest of the trip was uneventful, inasmuch as any flight is, and we chatted about this and that. I mostly listened as Erik had some great tales the tell. Riding backseat in a Perceival Proctors flown by bored fighter pilots on rest for airgunnery training tended to end in unwanted aerobatics it seems! He followed the navigation and radio chat and we talked about how the transponder worked and who I was talking to and way, and he generally proved himself very good and knowledgable flying company.
The amount of fog dodging meant I did miss our slot time by about ten minutes but no one told me off, and we got lucky with our join, arriving in a rare moment where we were one of only two in the circuit. The full length of the runway extension was available and I touched down there, only to bounce over the slightly raised path near the normal boundary, in a rather undignified manner. I really could have thought that through better and landed after it — the would have been plenty of room really.
It was just past midday by now and there were aeroplanes parked in every direction. I taxyed cautiously on the damp ground until a marshaller indicated a spot for us. We climbed out and were immediately joined by several Flyer forumites who also flown in. A landrover helpfully came out to run us back to the big marquee where lunch and a much needed coffee were up for grabs.
Following coffee and a quick catch-up with some of the other forumites, I left Erik chatting with a former crewmate ( a bubbly chap full of jokes and laughter) and trooped back down the parking lines to sort out fuel for TOMS. As I waited for the bowser to join me I ducked under the nose to have a quick glance at the nosewheel. I didn’t have any real worries, but between a slightly rattling landing and nodding my way along the soggy taxiway for a fair distance it seemed to warrant a quick looksee.
All was well there in any case, but as I straightened my eye was drawn to a loop of wire protruding some inches through the gap in the cowling where the exhaust sticks out. It had not been there when I did my morning walkaround and I gaped and swung open the cowling to investigate. A thin, white-sheathed wire, it ran from the battery to disappear somewhere up front. I found later it was for the landing light but at the time all I knew was that wires of any sort resting against hot exhaust was unlikely to be A Good Thing. It had obviously been fastened to the inside of the cowling at some point, several cable ties and patches of duct tape were clearly visible — as was the fact that one of them was dangling loosely, having come adrift. I re-secured it and closed the cowling back up as the refuellers arrived.
Back up at the marquee things were now in full flow, a talk on the development of the V-Bombers underway, followed by a wonderful selection of aerobatics displays, some from the museum’s own collection. We even made some time to have a look around the museum too. I can’t say enough about the day or what a privilege it was to meet these veteran flyers and share some of their experience. When Erik thanked me at the end of the day I couldn’t find the words to say that I thought the thank yous were all due the other way around.
Neither can I begin to list and comment on the amazing stories and conversations that filled the air. Full of “Do you remember” and punctuated by both laughter and quieter moments because these were the survivors and not everybody had.
At different times, dictated by weather and home airfields and other issues people eventually started to disperse. We were among the later departures. Dunkeswell was open late for the rally, and I could happily slip back into Swansea after-hours so was in no rush.
Reluctantly and slowly, we said our goodbyes, made promises for future years and headed back down the dwindling line of parked aircraft. Looking at the growing queue now forming at the hold, I dawdled over the checks, and we taxyed out to a briefly empty hold before departure. Somehow I’d managed to turn the PDA on by accident while jamming it back in my flightbag so was batteryless and GPS less for the hoewards run. Good chance to compare the old fashioned way with my new toy!
We were airbrone quickly and as we climbed away and prepared to change frequency, I was sent on my way with a cheerful,”Good to see you, Leia,” (Even the FISO was a forumite!)
The weather had cleared somewhat and we encountered no fog on the homewards trip with the resul tit was a good twenty minutes shorter. As I pointed out the airfield, Erik exclaimed in slight dismay, “We’re here already?”
I could hardly believe that bit myself! I landed (a shade more smoothly this time) and taxyed off the runway where in a fit of tired illogic I managed to park myself somewhere I couldn’t get back out off without the removal of a handful of temporary bollards! I could have sworn there was a gap… 😉
I considered hanging on a bit and having a look around the rally where the beer was already flowing, but decided that since I was already feeling tired I’d best make a move for home.
It was an easy run and in the evening haze very peaceful and an opportunity to reflect on the day.
Certainly the most rewarding day’s flying I’ve done in some time.
My snaps are below but there are more and better ones on the various Flyer threads discussing the day.
- Project Propeller 2008
(Discussion and pictures)
- Project Propeller Old Warden
(Photos from one of the FISo including some great aerial shots)
- Project Propeller Does Old Warden
More of Ollie’s great clear photos. Also individual aircraft shots.
- Pics from Project Propeller
Phots from the Carlisle contingent