Category Archives: UK Tour

Follow the adventures of the HAFU team as they wend their way around England during their 2014 UK Tour!

UK Tour: Naval Aviation and Tanks (again)

After our short detour to Heathrow to drop one of our number off for his flight back to New Zealand, we headed south-west again into the Somerset area for a look at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.

2014-09-02 10.00.35 HDRThis museum is dedicated to everything that the aviation wing of the Royal Navy has done and achieved in the past 100 years, beginning with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War, through the Second World War, and into the age of jet aircraft and helicopters operating from massive aircraft carriers during the Cold War and beyond.

As with many of the museums we’ve visited, the Fleet Air Arm Museum has a great collection of aircraft, many of which (such as the Short S.27) we’d not previously seen anywhere else.

Sopwith Pup - one of the first aircraft to be launched from and landed on a ship.

Sopwith Pup – one of the first aircraft to be launched from and landed on a ship.

Additionally, just like the R.A.F. Museums in London and Cosford, the display halls in Yeovilton are well lit and spacious, allowing visitors to have great access around most of the aircraft—it’s possible to view most of the displays from multiple angles (including overhead in  a number of some cases), making the experience that much better and more enjoyable.

One of the unique displays at the museum is the mock-up of the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal as it would have appeared in the 1970s. You enter this display area via a simulated helicopter ride, and you then spend the next 35 minutes or so being led through the display area (the flight deck and island) by simulated flight deck crew who tell you about the displays and the activity on the deck. It’s a great way to portray the aircraft and the workings of an aircraft carrier.

Concorde 002

Concorde 002

It’s interesting to note that the Fleet Air Arm Museum also has some aircraft on display that don’t fit strictly within what you would expect of a naval aviation museum—the prime example of this being Concorde 002—the first British-built Concorde to take to the skies in 1969. There are also a couple of other experimental jet aircraft in the same hall—the Handley Page HP115 (built to explore the performance of low delta wings at low speeds) and Hawker P117 (built as part of the development process that led to the Hawker Harrier)—interesting aircraft in their own right, but we’re still not sure what they have to do with naval aviation!

FAA_Martlet

Grumman Martlet (a.k.a. Wildcat) in original Fleet Air Arm colours.

All in all the museum is another good facility to visit if you happen to be in the Somerset area, and the fact that you can get a 12-month Gift Aid pass (allowing you free entery anytime in the 12 months after your first visit) is certainly good value if you’re able to make a repeat visit or two—as with many of the museums in the UK, taking everything in on a single visit is a daunting task, so a free repeat visit is a great option.

One of the main battle tanks on display in the Bovington Arena.

One of the main battle tanks on display in the Bovington Arena.

When we’d had our fill of naval aviation we decided that as we had 12 month passes to the Tank Museum at Bovington, and given that we were only a one hour drive away, we’d go and have a second visit to that fabulous museum as well.  It was a good chance to take a good look at some of the things we’d not had time for earlier in the trip, including Tiger 131, the first Tiger tank captured by the Allies during the Second World War.

Tiger '131' at the Bovington Tank Museum.

Tiger ‘131’ at the Bovington Tank Museum.

Now that we’ve had a chance to take a look at a greater number of military museums in the UK, we’d certainly have to say that the Tank Museum in Bovington is one of our favourites.  If you’re going to visit make sure that you’ve set aside a good few hours to take a thorough look around—it’s certainly needed.

 

UK Tour: A (Slight) Disappointment at Duxford

Having finished up (at the Steam Gala) in Norfolk we washed the soot from our hair and eyes, and headed south once more, toward Heathrow (so we could drop one of our traveling companions off for his journey home). This gave us the opportunity to stop off and have a look through the Imperial War Museum Duxford—one of the best known warbird aviation museums in the UK.

Spitfire Mk.1 in the Air and Sea display hall.

Spitfire Mk.1 in the Air and Sea display hall.

Duxford is Britain’s best-preserved Second World War airfield and it has a history that stretches back to the First World War. A number of historic hangars and buildings sit alongside a couple of more modern exhibition buildings and the museum also has a significant collection of tanks, military vehicles and artillery in a Land Warfare exhibit. There are a number of shows on at Duxford throughout the year, with the annual Flying Legends airshow being one of the aerodromes most famous flying events.

Hawker Hurricane in the Air and  Sea display hall.

Hawker Hurricane in the Air and Sea display hall.

Entry into the museum is not cheap at £17.50 and so our expectations were set pretty high. Unfortunately we’d have to say that the reality didn’t quite live up to the hype (or the cost). There are certainly some fantastic (and unique) aircraft at Duxford, and we’re quite happy to have visited the facility once, but it’s fair to say that we’d struggle to justify a second visit, particularly when entry into the two RAF Museums (London and Cosford) are free.

Bristol Fighter F.2b in the Battle of Britain display hall.

Bristol Fighter F.2b in the Battle of Britain display hall.

The first thing that struck us with the museum at Duxford was that some of the displays didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, the building labelled as the Battle of Britain display hall does contain a number of aircraft from the summer of 1940 period, but also contains a World War One-era Bristol Fighter F.2b, along with a collection of more modern jets. Yet the main AirSpace display hall contains a number of World War Two aircraft (Lancaster, Mosquito, Swordfish etc) that have much more in common with the Battle of Britain aircraft than the Bloodhound Missile, Hawker Hunter and the modern jet aircraft that are housed there.

Lancaster in the somewhat cluttered AirSpace display hall.

Lancaster, Vulcan and Sunderland flying boat in the somewhat cluttered AirSpace display hall.

The other problem, mainly in both the AirSpace display and the American Air Museum exhibit, is that there are simply too many aircraft in too small a display space. This means that it is not easy to see the aircraft well, and in many cases it’s not easy to actually compare and contrast the different aircraft that are on display. In the American Air Museum we were two-thirds of the way around the display hall before we realised that there was a Boeing B-29 Superfortress on display—one of the largest operational aircraft during the Second World War and it was virtually hidden because of all the other aircraft on display alongside, above and beneath it. Hiding a B-29 is not an easy feat!

Having said all the above, we must point out that we did enjoy our visit to this historic airfield, and as noted there are many unique aircraft on display, so it is worthwhile taking a look if you’re in the area.  You just need to be prepared for the fact that some of the aircraft are not displayed as well as we’ve seen at some other museums. As it turns out you also need to be prepared to do a fair amount of walking—the various display halls are spread out over a considerable distance—but it is always good to get out of the car and get a bit of exercise!

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortess on the airfield at Duxford during our visit.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress on the airfield at Duxford during our visit. Unfortunately she didn’t fire up her engines while we were there!

 

UK Tour: Steam Gala In Norfolk

Having spent nearly three weeks running around the UK looking at aircraft and staying in various hotels, the next few days were certainly a major change of pace.

Once again we were in the Norfolk area, though this time we were right on the coast at Shearingham and Weybourne, rather than further inland as we had been a week or so past when we stayed in Norwich.

Weybourne

A view looking toward the village of Weybourne as seen from the North Norfolk Railway.

Additionally this weekend there was to be no two-star hotel accommodation, it was five-star camping all the way at a local camp ground! Our good friend, photographer Rob Leigh supplied all the essential camping equipment, and kitted out his own ‘canvas’ hideaway with all the essentials of modern camping, including the beer fridge!

10660125_901664289848531_4356747315578954265_nWe were in the area for the weekend to attend the North Norfolk Steam Gala—a three day event featuring a number of steam locomotives plying their trade back and forth along the railway line between the coastal towns of Shearingham and Holtabout a twenty minute train journey if it’s done non-stop. For steam afficianados this is one of the big annual events in the area, with six different locomotives running this year (four locals and two visitors).

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We had the chance to walk along the track (with a special pass) and watch the trains coming past at very close quarters, and we were also able to buy a day pass to ride the trains back and forth between the stations at Shearingham – Weybourne – Holt.

This is a great way to spend a weekend, particularly because the carriages attached to each train were of quite different designs and eras—you could easily spend all day going up and down the line on completely different trains. While this gala weekend was a feast of steam for enthusiasts, the North Norfolk Railway operates year round so if you’re in this area it’s certainly worthwhile checking out their website and going for a ride.

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Field gun display at the Muckleburgh collection.

Field gun display at the Muckleburgh collection.

The other surprise we had was finding the Muckleburgh Collection right next door to the camping ground we were staying at. This military vehicle collection and museum is a bit like the Norwich Aviation Museum—a bit rough on the outside, but actually pretty impressive on the inside. With a total of over 150 tanks, guns and other vehicles (many of which are still operational) the collection is a very worthwhile visit, particularly when you consider that there are also a significant number of other high quality exhibits (local military history, light weapons, ammunition, local naval history etc).

The fact that many of the vehicles of the collection are still operational means that in the school holidays during the display season (April – November) the Collection will usually display one of the main battle tanks in the outdoor arena at 2:30pm — luckily we were their in time to see the Soviet T-55 tank put through its paces.  Note that this was not two-three minutes start-her-up-and-drive-100m display—the tank was demonstrated for almost 15 minutes, and at times it probably got close to reaching her to speed! This was a great display.

Soviet T-55 main battle tank demonstration.

Soviet T-55 main battle tank demonstration.

If you have the chance to visit Muckleburgh, you should do so, just make sure that you’re not put off by the somewhat shabby appearance of the outside of many of the (historically significant) buildings on  the site. Inside the collection is great.

One small part of the naval history displays.

One small part of the naval history displays.

 

 

 

UK Tour: Off To The Wild West, Then Back East

Scout Rudder

Original Scout rudder bar in David’s aircraft.

After we’d been to the air and car show at Little Gransden, we decided that we’d head out west to Shropshire to visit David Bremner in Ludlow. David is building a replica 1915 Bristol Scout aircraft, based around some original parts that he has from his grandfather’s Scout aircraft (including the original joystick and rudder bar. We first met David and his wife Sue, and co-aircraft builder Theo, when they were in New Zealand early in 2014 to inspect a Le Rhone rotary engine for the aircraft.

Our original plan on Monday the 25th (a bank holiday in the UK) was to head toward Rugby, to go and take a look at the Trucks, Tanks and Firepower show which was being held there — this being the final day of the three-day show. However when we got up we realised that the weather forecast was correct and that it was a rather grey, wet and dismal day – not even worthwhile considering trying to film anything in this sort of weather. So instead, we programmed the coordinates for our hotel into the GPS system and headed straight for the Shropshire area.

Chruchstretton

The old cemetery at Church Stretton which contains a number of Commonwealth War Graves — generally from the 1917-1922 period.

We found our hotel on the side of a hill in a small village called Church Stretton about twenty minutes drive from Ludlow, and then we headed into town for a coffee and bite to eat, and then a look around the shops and the market for a little while (in the raini). It’s a very nice little townespecially the church which is almost cathedral in sizequite impressive. Some of the other buildings in the centre of the town were built in the 14th and 15th centuriesthey’re also impressive! Ludlow Castle is quite famous and being a bank holiday there was some medieval re-eanactment and competitions going onunfortunately we only found this just as it was finishing up (and two guys were beating on one another with some rather large swords).

Scout SeatThe following day we went and took a look at the Bristol Scout. Work is progressing wellthe wings are on, and all but the fuselage is now covered in fabric. There’s a bit of plumbing work to be done on the engine before it can be run again, but all in all it’s looking good that the aircraft may be fully serviceable, on schedule, toward the end of 2014. We wish David and Theo all the best in getting the aircraft ready to fly in time for the 1915-2015 commemorations next year.

The BBMF Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.

The BBMF Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.

After a couple of days out west we then had to head east once more, back to the Lincolnshire area as we were quite keen to be able to film the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster taking off from its base at RAF Coningsby. Unfortunately this just wasn’t to bethe Lancaster’s departure for a show at Bournemouth was repeatedly put back throughout the day due to inclement weather, and by 2pm we couldn’t afford to hang around any longer as we needed to leave the area in time to pick up some tickets for our next event in Norfolk. However we did have a chance to have a good look around the BBMF Visitors Centre at RAF Coningsby—it’s worth a look if you’re in the area.

Ludlow Castle on a wet day.

Ludlow Castle on a wet day.

 

UK Tour: A Winner At Little Gransden

Amazing! We woke up early on the 24th August to find that the weather looked pretty good for an airshow—this is the first time in the couple of weeks that we’ve been here in the UK that the conditions look good for filming and taking photographs. To say that we were relieved that the weather would be good for the Little Gransden Air and Car Show would be an understatement!

Little Gransden: Classic Ferrari

Little Gransden: Classic Ferrari

Airshows in the UK seem to work differently from the way that they do at home in New Zealand. You can get into the car park from about 8:00am onwards, but the gates to the show don’t actually open until 10:00am. So by 9:45am there’s usually a long queue of people waiting for the gates to open. At precisely 10.00am they do open, and then there’s plenty of time to look around the trade stalls and get food as the flying displays don’t start until about 1:00pm—in New Zealand half the flying displays are over by 1:00pm. In the UK flying runs through until about 5:00pm so there’s a good four hours of flying, and on a day like today when the weather was pretty good, and the flying programme can keep pretty much to schedule, they’re able to fit quite a bit of flying into the aerial display time, so it works out to be quite a good day.

Little Gransden: The Vulcan departs.

Little Gransden: The Vulcan departs.

Little Gransden is just a small airfield, and there were approximately 7500 tickets sold which meant the place was pretty much at capacity. They’ve never (since 1992) had a sell-out crowd before, and the fact they did this time can be pretty much put down to the appearance of the two Lancasters, although another significant highlight of the day was the flypast of the Avro Vulcan jet bomber. At RAF Marham it just flew over with the Lancasters and then departed, where-as today it did three flypasts on its own and it was impressive— it was great to be able to see and hear this huge beast of an aircraft in the flesh.

Little Gransden: PIper Cubs

Little Gransden: PIper Cubs

There were plenty of other things happening in the air to keep everyone entertained throughout the afternoon—Supermarine Spitfire, North American P-51 Mustang, Hawker Hurricane, Fiesler Storch, North American T-28 Trojan, more de Havilland biplanes, Spartans and a whole host of highly skilled aerobatic and formation pilots showing of their aircraft and skills. On the other side of the field there were military vehicles, buses, vintage and classic cars and all sorts of other things to see and hear. All in all it was a great show and a worthy cause (the show is designed to raise money for the BBC Children in Need Appeal)—if you ever have the chance to visit Little Gransden sometime, then do it!

Little Gransden: Some old buses on display

Little Gransden: Some old buses on display

Little Gransden: Lauren Richardson in her Pitts Special

Little Gransden: Lauren Richardson in her Pitts Special

Little Gransden: American Half-Track

Little Gransden: American Half-Track

Little Gransden: Sparten Executive

Little Gransden: Sparten Executive

Little Gransden: Bird Dog

Little Gransden: Bird Dog

Little Gransden: P-51 Mustang

Little Gransden: P-51 Mustang

UK Tour: Small Museums and Small Airfields

After seeing Just Jane at East Kirkby and the three Avro bombers in formation at RAF Marham in Norfolk mid-week, our next couple of days were relatively low key as we first took a break and then repositioned from Norfolk back to Bedfordshire ready for our next airshow.

Norwich Aviation Museum: Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star.

Norwich Aviation Museum: Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star.

On Friday (22nd) we had a couple of hours wandering around the City of Norwich Aviation Museum which is located just to the north of the main airport at Norwich. It’s a small museum and all the aircraft exhibits are (once again) outside in the weather, but there were a few types there that we hadn’t had the chance to see before: Hawker Hunter, Sepecat Jaguar, Lockheed T-33 ‘Shooting Star’ and Hawker Siddeley Nimrod amongst others, along with the apparent favourites of many UK museums, the Meteor and Vulcan. The museum also has a significant amount of display information and artifacts inside which are related to the operations of 100 Group squadrons who flew from a variety of local bases during WW2 and into the post war era. This includes a great little display on the electronic warfare operations conducted from the base during the war.

Norwich Aviation Museum: Nimrod

Norwich Aviation Museum: Nimrod

Again, it’s a worthwhile little museum to stop in at—entry is cheap at less than five pounds, and for a couple of pounds extra you can have a guided tour of the Vulcan and/or Nimrod.

 

Norwich Aviation Museum: Red Arrows Arrive

Norwich Aviation Museum: Red Arrows Arrive

An unexpected bonus of our trip to the Museum was that shortly before we left the RAF’s ‘Red Arrows’ display team arrived overhead and landed at the airport just next door. We had a good view of all this activity and it was a nice way to finish the visit.

StowMaries_01The following day (Saturday 23rd) we needed to head south through Norfolk, on our way back to Bedfordshire to be able to attend the airshow at Little Gransden the following day. On our way we made a short detour toward the coast to go and find the Stow Maries Aerodrome. This is the only World War One-era aerodrome left in Britain that has any of the original buildings remaining. As we’ve done previously we didn’t check the website before we went there, and so when we arrived (on Saturday) we found that the opening days were only Thursday, Friday and Sunday. However we’d come this far so decided just to call in quickly to see what the place was actually like and what’s there.

Again it was a bit of a surprise—we knew there were quite a few buildings from the Aerodrome’s WW1 history still in existence, but we didn’t realise quite how many are still there. While quite a few of these buildings are currently not open for public access (due to safety concerns), the whole area never-the-less gives one a real sense of history. The airfield itself was only used during the First World War and was closed shortly thereafter. It was not re-opened as a base during the Second World War as the relatively wet airfield conditions were not suitable for the newer, heavier fighter aircraft in use by then. This means that the original WW1 architecture and history has never been adulterated by subsequent events, again giving the place a real sense of history.

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Latrines (toilets), a Mess Hall (cafe), a small museum and a couple of other buildings are open to the public on the days the facility is open, and again, if you’re in the general area, it’s well worth a look—just make sure you check the website for opening days and times before you start your journey. Many thanks to Russell and the crew at Stow Maries who opened up the facility for us anyway, and who were quite happy to talk about the aerodrome and old aeroplanes for an hour or so.

Once we’d finished at the aerodrome, it was back in the car for an uneventful trip to Ampthill in Bedfordshire, ready for the airshow the following day. Hoping that the wind will drop and that we’ll have a great day for filming….

UK Tour: Three Lancasters and Another Avro

The next part of our tour featured a trip deeper into ‘Bomber Country’ to see yet another Lancaster (on the ground this time), and possibly a chance to see the two flying Lancasters once again.

East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre:  .Lancaster 'Just Jane'

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre: Lancaster ‘Just Jane’

For those non-aviation buffs reading, ‘Bomber Country’ is the generic term that was given to the flat areas of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and the surrounding areas that were the home of many of the RAF’s bomber bases during the Second World War (large heavy bombers requiring much larger and longer runways than the fighter squadrons that were based in the South of England). One bomber, and parts of a base that remain is the Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ which is based at East Kirkby. The aircraft is all but airworthy, and during the summer months it runs up it’s four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, and taxis up and down the strip several times.

East Kirkby:  Lancaster 'Just Jane' running all four Rolls Royce Merlin engines.

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre: Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ running all four Rolls Royce Merlin engines.

If you’re feeling wealthy enough you can even pay to be on board the aircraft as it does its runs. To say that being able to stand in front of four Merlin engines running less than 25m away is cool is certainly an understatement—the sound and the feel of the throbbing engines is just awesome. It was so good in fact that we waited around for a couple of hours just to see the second run of the day as well.

As it is there’s more of East Kirkby than ‘Just Jane’—they have a large display hangar with lots of information about the base, a DC3 aircraft, military vehicles, and a couple of smaller restoration hangars with the remnants of a Wellington bomber, and a Hampden bomber that is slowly being restored. Again, it’s a worthwhile stop for any aviation enthusiast, and certainly has an additional (noisey) attraction that the usual static museum displays can’t boast.

We’d heard through our network of contacts that the following day, there would be a chance to see the two flying Lancasters at the nearby RAF Marham base in Norfolk where the air force were holding a Family Day show on the base.

RAF Marham:  Three Avro bombers in formation - Vulcan flanked by two Lancasters.

RAF Marham: Three Avro bombers in formation – Vulcan flanked by two Lancasters.

Our little birdy also told us that the two Lancs would be accompanied by the only flying Avro Vulcan jet bomber (the same type that bombed the Falkland Islands back in 1982), and that this was likely to be one of the only opportunities to see these three big Avro-built aircraft together in the sky. We knew that most people were going to head to RAF Waddington further north to see the three aircraft take-off, but we hoped that the fact that they were going to be at RAF Marham wasn’t so well known. Turns out it was not a total secret as details of the flight of the three aircraft had been released on the internet the day before, so when we arrived there were already plenty of cars (and photographers) starting to park up in the fields surrounding the base, trying to get a good viewing position. Thankfully while there were quite a few people around (several hundred in our general area perhaps), there was still plenty of room for everyone and we all had a chance to find a good viewing spot.

RAF Marham: Two Lancasters in formation.

RAF Marham: Two Lancasters in formation.

The only blot on the day was the fact that yet again the wind was blowing relatively strongly, and it wasn’t all that warm—the temperature was not really a problem, but the wind does adversely affect us when we’re trying to shoot video. Ah well, we make do with what we get. Around 2:30 the two Lancasters and Vulcan turned up overhead — a very impressive sight, and certainly one that hasn’t been seen before I suspect. Unfortunately the Vulcan only did a single pass and then headed off to the airshow at Clacton further along the coast. The two Lancasters did a somewhat sedate display as they’d done at Shuttleworth last week, but it was still a real treat to see and hear them together again.

Watch out for the video footage on our YouTube channel in a few weeks when we get a chance to edit it up and publish it.