On the 19th June 1945, Boeing B-17G-105-VE c/n 8698 rolled off the Lockheed-Vega production line at Burbank, California as one of the last B-17s to be built at that plant. With the war over 8698 was converted to a training and eventually a trials role aircraft which probably contribute to its continued survival before being acquired in 1954 by the French Institut Geographique National for survey work. Sixty-six years later, 8698 is still flying and can be seen on the UK display circuit currently in the markings of 124485/DF-A/Sally-B & Memphis Belle. With Duxford being Sally-B’s operating base for the last thirty-six years, B-17 Preservation and the Imperial War Museum held an informal open day honouring that association with the B-17, and its many friends, at the Cambridgeshire airfield.
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Along with the general public, a variety of World War II Re-enactors, period vehicles and visiting aircraft descended on the former Battle of Britain airfield at Duxford on a very warm summers Sunday to attend the Sally-B & Friends Day. Although billed as not being an air show, there was in fact a very good mini air show during the afternoon and possibly a format to be followed for future themed events. On the ground there were two tented encampments either side of the control tower. One was the Pitsford Home Guard as in ‘Dad’s Army’ and the other, much more substantial tented city, was dedicated to the ‘Friendly Invasion’ of British soil by US Forces with WWII period vehicles and personnel. On the hangar base outside Wing Co Joe’s café, was ‘Room 21’ an orchestra providing music from the war period big band style and ‘The D-Day Darlings’ a female vocal group singing 1940’s songs in the style of the Andrews sisters. Very good they were to. Throughout the morning there were various other events, talks, tours and demonstrations taking place around Duxford.
The flying was split into three periods starting on the hour at two o’clock and lasting thirty minutes but invariably over ran a bit. Sally-B was first up and flew around for a few circuits and then in formation with the Mustang & Spitfire of the OFMC. With the B-17 landing, the OFMC pair did individual displays and they were followed by the Fiat G-46-3B finished in a World War II Libyan desert camouflage scheme representing fighters that the G-46, first flown in 1948, was descended from.
After a short break the flying continued. The pair of SA1100 Silence Twister aircraft of the SWIP Team performed an aerobatics routine over the airfield trailing smoke. Lots of smoke. They were followed by a Beechcraft D17S Staggerwing of the Duke of Brabant Air Force, having flown over the day before from its home base in Holland, which took off from the grass strip for a short solo display. The yellow and blue biplane is in the colour scheme of a YC-43 Traveler liaison aircraft as used by the US air attaché in London during WWII. As its display was drawing to a close a Douglas C-47A Skytrain, L4-D, in the 1944 markings of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron/439th Troop Carrier Group/9th USAAF, operating out of RAF Upottery in east Devon in support of the Normandy D-Day invasion, also took off the grass. This was followed by civilian registered Volper (Beechcraft) H18 from the hard runway. These three aircraft flew around in a loose vic formation before Sally-B took off again. The four aircraft then flew a diamond formation over the airfield a couple of times followed by a well spaced line astern tail chase and finishing with a well spaced run and break before landing.
During the intervals, Classic Wings appeared to be getting as many flights and aircraft into the air during the half-hour window of opportunity as they could. The Harvard flew in for a run and break with its wheels partly down following some aerobatic manoeuvres as it held to the west. The pair of crash trucks stationed at the ARCo compound sparked into life as the Harvard did another pass to check the undercarriage was properly down and then landed safely.
The final half hour of flying was running about fifteen minutes late and John Romain, who had taken off earlier in the T-28 Trojan, roared in for a very nice solo display. Mark Jeffries was up next and flew some incredible manoeuvres, with even more smoke, in his Extra 330SC. Finally the SWIP Team took off again followed by Sally-B for its third flight of the day. The B-17 flew in from the east with the little Twisters, trailing smoke, following a little way behind. On their return pass the Twisters pulled up and headed west and Sally-B performed a final solo display routine of the day.
All in all a very enjoyable day out with a flying format that seemed to work very well for a small themed event. Although no where near as packed as it is on a normal air show day, the Sally-B and Friends day was well attended by the public with the added bonus of it being a very warm and sunny day.