A couple of weeks ago, some of us from the R/E team had an awesome day when we were invited to visit the BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. We met with Spitfire Pilot Justin Helliwell and were introduced to the BBMF’s Squadron Leader Andy Millikin.
We knew we were close by when a Dakota flew low in the sky above us in preparation for its landing. Great start to the trip.
The BBMF hangar is massive with many iconic vintage warbirds such as, the Spitfire, Hurricane, Chipmunk and the Lancaster, not forgetting the Dakota that we’d seen on arrival. The Pigeon also made an appearance... not so vintage but still an important war bird for carrying messages!
A couple of the planes were in maintenance or outside, so we made a beeline for the Hurricane and Justin prompted us all to jump inside the cockpit, which was completely unexpected and as you can imagine, a dream come true. Clambering in – which we quickly realised is not as easy as the BBMF team make it look - the first thing that hits you is the smell of oil, leather and aviation fuel.
Justin pointed out the various flight instruments and talked us through what they were used for. After a moment or two experiencing being in the same seat as those guys who bravely fought in the aircraft - particularly during the Battle of Britain, it was hard not to get emotional!
These planes are true classics and the hangar was busy with full time BBMF engineers working hard around us keeping them in perfect airworthy condition. Interestingly, BBMF pilots themselves are fully trained mechanical engineers for complete understanding of the aircraft... something which you no longer have to think about with modern-day, computerised jets.
As we were getting out of the cockpit and sliding down the wing, (our Joe proved to be an expert at this (!)), Andy Millikin appeared and told us that the Hurricane and Spitfire would soon be taking to the air to practise a display.
Andy chatted with us during the display telling us some amazing stories and facts about the planes, at the same time as instructing both pilots via a portable control tower.....as you do! Each aircraft has a strictly limited number of hours it’s allowed to fly each year – to ensure their flying lives are as prolonged as possible – this includes all training exercises as well as, getting to and from air shows, which reiterates just how lucky you are to catch one of these icons airborne.
The BBMF is a cracking commemoration to the RAF’s wartime flying power and if you are in the area, there are guided tours organised by the Council in partnership with the RAF. Find out more here.