Imperial War Museum, Duxford - 6th May 2011

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I was going to visit Duxford on the Saturday but with rain forecast for that day and Friday looking the better weather wise, I took the chance it wouldn’t be the other way round and booked a day off in advance. As I arrived on the Citi7 bus from Cambridge, two things caught my eye. The Historic Aircraft Collection Hawker Nimrod II was parked on the grass out on the airfield minus a few fuselage panels but with a small gaggle of people buzzing around it and the Catalina was missing from its usual parking slot outside Hangar 2.


Having been signed in at The Friends of Duxford desk at the main museum entrance,             I started my Bimble in Hangar 2 with a quick reconnaissance to make a mental note any changes from my last visit before I got my camera out to start shooting. The Rolls Royce Merlin 55 engine for Spitfire Vb/EB120 had returned and was having bits added to it before being installed back in its airframe. The camouflaged Dragon Rapide and Piper Cub, from the north side, were parked at the west-end of The Fighter Collection Hangar beside the      P-47G Thunderbolt that was being prepared for painting. In the north side, the Catalina was back under cover and having some of its white paintwork touched up. Opposite on the other side of the public walkway, B-17G ‘Sally-B’ has now got its engine covers on but alas will not be flying until at least the 24th June when crew training is advertised as taking place.


The Nimrod II had been outside for an engine run and was now on its way back to its parking space in Hangar 3 so time to get my camera out. Note to self: Must remember to extract my camera from out of my back pack as soon as I arrive so not to miss opportunities like this. The HAC Spitfire Vb/BM597 had to be brought out into the sunshine before the Nimrod could be shoe horned back into its usual corner slot by the hangar doors. It was a quick point and shoot of the two aircraft while they were briefly out in the hazy warm sunshine before they disappeared back inside Hangar 3.


As I was walking up to Hangar 5, to my left on the airfield side of the crowd barrier near the Classic Wings booking office was Harvard IV/KF729. This aircraft is finished in the silver and yellow training colour scheme of Harvard IIB/KF729 that was flown by The Duke of Edinburgh in 1953. It had its Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial engine ticking over and after a while it departed for Rochester as a temporary replacement for the all Yellow America ANG colour schemed Harvard used by Classic Flight Experiences which I was later told was unserviceable. Harvard IV/’Taz’, had now been parked out on the grass down at the Aircraft Restoration Company compound as it was to be used over the weekend at Duxford by Classic Wings as a replacement for their Harvard which was at Rochester. Confused?


Hangar 5 South, the Restoration Hangar, is starting to fill up with bits from the American Air Museum of B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Mary Alice’. The flying control surfaces that have been in there for a couple of weeks have now been stripped of paint and fabric. They’ve been joined by the ball turret on its pallet cradle and three of the four Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial engines mounted on purpose built stands. On the other side of the public walk way; the fuselage pod of Vampire T.11/WZ590 has now received a coat of silver paint.


Inside the American Air Museum, the outer wing panels of ‘Mary Alice’ have been detached and lying in temporary cradles beside the airframe. You can clearly see the stain on the port wing from the oil that had been dripping from the engine of the Douglas C-47A Dakota hanging above it. Many thanks to the member of the museum staff who let me across the barriers for some front view shots.


I had a long, brisk walk from the AAM down towards the ARCo compound as I could just about see a Spitfire outside which was moving and turned out to be the T.IX. Terence the Tug was towing it around in circles on the grass as it was having a compass check.             I managed to catch Buchon/G-AWHE, finished in the Desert colour scheme, being wheeled around to the far side of the ARCo workshops to be tied down for some ground engine runs. The rumour was that there would be a slim to nil chance of it going for a first test flight that day. There were a few engine runs that we could hear throughout the afternoon but it stayed firmly out of view behind the workshops. The T.IX was moved from the grass onto the hard standing and having completed the pre flight checks and strapped in; Cliff Spink pressed the starter for the Rolls Royce Merlin 66 engine and departed to Sywell for the afternoon.


With that bit of flying over, I sat on one of the benches outside AirSpace and had my lunch.   I take me own sandwiches and drinks with me now as the on-site catering facilities have become too expensive and the quality and choice of food available has gone down in my opinion.


As it was a bit quiet on the flying side, I had another wander through Hangar 2 again.            I thought I heard what sounded like a muted Harvard flying around so really didn’t take much notice. I should have. As I ventured back outside, the twin engined Beech 18 that had been a long time resident in Hangar 2 North was taxiing towards ARCo. I quickly followed and apart from comfort break, spent the rest of the afternoon loitering around the fence at the M11 end of Duxford with a few other photographers. The Beech was in for a bit of minor maintenance and was parked on the grass next to ‘Taz’ who was being fussed over by engineers making it ready for the weekend flying.


Although it was still warm and the sun was still shining, the hazy conditions had given way to high thin clouds that were now diffusing the sunlight. Mid afternoon and John Romain could be seen wandering around in his flight suit and eventually he climbed into the Battle of Britain schemed Buchon/G-BWUE and fired up the Merlin 500 engine for a very nice aerobatics display over the airfield. Was this a precursor to him taking the Desert Buchon for its first flight? We small band of photographers had come to the conclusion that JR would wait until after the museum had closed and no one was around, apart from the ARCo engineers and staff, to watch or photograph it. Sure enough, about half an hour after the museum closed the Desert Buchon went for its first flight. It also flew again on Saturday.


With the BoB Buchon safely on the ground the Beech 18 fired up its pair of Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engines, but there was not as much smoke as I had hoped for. ‘Taz’ joined in radial cacophony as its Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine sprang into life. Cliff Spink returned in the T.IX with a nice run and break, but no aerobatics, and we got the usual wave from him as he taxied in to park up on the grass. The Beech 18 took off from the 24R end of the grass strip and flew off into the west and ‘Taz’ headed north for a test flight and on its return performed a short aerobatics routine at height over the airfield.


Many thanks to Greg from TFC for the lift home after a very enjoyable day out at Duxford