Fod for thought
Derek Mason reports on Kemble's Battle of Britain Open Days, held over 13-14 September 2008
Kemble was open again for its annual Open Days commemorating the Battle of Britain, attempting to recreate the atmosphere of the old RAF At Home Days, common on service stations until the 1970s. Certainly the atmosphere was relaxed, ideally suited to the dedicated and enthusiastic - some of us temporally challenged reporters were glad of that too!
Those used to the more major event earlier in the year and who arrived at the main gate discovered that the entrance was on the far side of the runway on the Tetbury road. The flightline, stalls and all the action were based around the control tower and 'AV8' restaurant.
Arriving at the airfield in heavy mist was not an encouraging start, with your intrepid reporter almost not finding the tower! It was persistent stuff too - many of the visiting pilots were weather-bound all over the south of England, quite a number being delayed.
Kemble Air Services, who organise the event, has also taken the Great Vintage Flying Weekend under its wing (sic) and many G-VFWE pilots were there. Redrow the builders were partly sponsoring the event and brought along their fine red balloon as well as some of their girls!
The morning passed happily enough with spotting various happy campers under the wings of their rather damp aircraft. There were frantic phone calls from a pilot who couldn't go anywhere because of the mist as he tried to re-arrange his social life.
Commentary was enlivened by Terry Booker of G-VFWE fame, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of all things aviation and endless tea-breaks kept us up to date with the situation. Terry, of course, had to cancel the G-VFWE earlier this year for personal reasons, but happily Kemble Air Services has secured the event for the future and it'll be back next year in all its glory.
Finally the mist cleared, the cloudbase lifted and people started to arrive. And depart too; some of those who were delayed were glad that the weather eventually cleared. There were fine displays by various pilots and it was a pleasure to see the Pembroke C1 displaying well. The DH89 Dragon Rapide was superbly finished and of course Air Atlantique had the de Havilland Devon there for pleasure flights. There was some fine flying from the DC-3 and the de Havilland DH87 Hornet Moth, both of whom took advantage of the clearing weather.
One of the day's highlights for me was to see both the Piston Provost and the Jet Provost flying in formation. Certainly a touch of nostalgia there! Of course it can't be a Battle of Britain day without the BBMF can it? And there they were, as polished as ever, the Hurricane and Spitfire. Having once heard a Merlin can you ever forget it?
The Red Arrows were based at Kemble for many years and, being fairly locally based, I often get little factoids about their time here, the senior Met office at that time and my own personal Station Manager being prime sources. Well, the Reds weren't displaying for us, but did do a fine flypast before landing-on for a drink (both the aircraft and aircrew I guess) after their transit from France to display just down the road from Kemble. And yes, even the Reds were slightly late because of the weather!
In fact it seems that the only display on time was Peter Teichman's P-40 Kittyhawk from his Hangar 11 collection. And in keeping with all the flying this day it was exemplary, showing off a fine aircraft to good advantage.
Finally, and to round off my thoughts on a most enjoyable day, perhaps not the highest profile jobs on the airfield; I was pleased to find one of the marshals watching the show, but still mindful of the ever present dangers of letting the public near aircraft, i.e. FoD. He'd managed a fine collection of plastic bottles and crisp packets when I caught up with him!