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RAF's new display colours

ClickA few new markings can be seen on the display circuit this year from the RAF, but you'll need to look hard to find them! First, the Red Arrows have followed on from their 1998 marked tails with a special design for 2000, based around the RAF Benevolent Fund's logo for RIAT. Applied in February, all twelve Hawks have received the logo, which will be retained for the whole season.

ClickSome of the BBMF's aircraft are sporting new colours for the 2000 season; most notable is the new scheme applied to Lancaster B1 PA474, which now represents the wartime markings of 61 Squadron airframe EE176/QR-M, complete with famous 'Mickey the Moocher' nose-art. Based for most of its life at Syerston in Notts, EE176 is credited with 128 missions, although only 115 were ever marked on the cockpit side. Coming off the production line in the spring of 1943, EE176 was a Manchester-built Lancaster Mk III fitted with Merlin 28 engines, part of contract B69274/40. Initially assigned to 7 Squadron at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, on 11 June, within ten days it was reassigned to 97 Squadron (Straits Settlements) Squadron based at nearby Bourn, although the squadron's C Flight was detached at Oakington where EE176 had joined it.

With 97 Squadron it carried the unit code OF. Its individual letter was 'N', possibly a legacy from 7 Squadron, but by early August this had been changed to 'O'. EE176's first trip of fifteen with 97 was to Cologne on 3/4 July, others including the famous raid on Peenemunde, three to Hamburg, one to Milan and two to Berlin. EE176 was then on the move again, this time to 61 Squadron at Syerston, Notts, on 20 September. Here it adopted the more famous code of QR-M.

QR-MAircraft codes suffixed with the letter 'M' were usually know as 'Mike' or 'Mother', but one of EE176's crew called it 'Mickey' and so on its nose Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse character was painted, walking along pulling a bomb-trolley complete with bomb. Beneath this was the name 'Mickey the Moocher', a parody of the popular song of the time 'Millie the Moocher'. Mickey was depicted walking towards a signpost on which is written '3 Reich' and 'Berlin'. Bomb symbols began to appear behind the Mickey character.

With 61 Squadron Mickey became the regular aircraft for Flight Lieutenant J. E. R. Williams and crew, who took it to Germany thirteen times between October 1943 and February 1944, out of its first twenty-eight sorties with the squadron. During this period Mickey went to Berlin fifteen times, although it had to abort the mission on 1/2 January 1944 when the starboard outer engine suddenly caught fire. Williams then went to 617 Squadron and two captains, Pilot Officer J. A. Forrest RAAF, and the flight commander, Squadron Leader S. J. Beard DFC began to fly Mickey.

On the fateful Nurnberg raid on 30/31 March 1944 under the captaincy of Forrest the aircraft was blown off track to the north owing to wrong winds being broadcast. With petrol getting low, the skipper decided to head for home on the 'B' Lattice Line. Reaching the North Sea Forrest headed for Coningsby only to meet violent electrical storms off the Norfolk coast. The Lancaster was hit by lightning, the shock passing right though the machine, stunning and temporarily blinding Forrest who lost control. Believing they had already crossed the coast he ordered the crew to bale out, EE176 diving earthwards. The WOP and the rear-gunner were the only two crew members who recovered sufficiently to do so, but when just 1,000 ft from the sea Forrest regained control and quickly landed at PA474 carries a tribute to all the men of Bomber Commandthe nearest base he could locate. Once they realised they had still been over the sea, an immediate search was made, but neither of the two men who had baled out were found. Forrest and the rest of his crew were to die in action on another mission shortly after this.

In May, Pilot Officer D. E. White RCAF and Beard shared most of Mickey's ops, Beard flying the aircraft on D-Day. Mickey flew all through the summer of 1944, attacking V1 sites and communications points. Beard took the Lancaster on the Caen raid that heralded the Allied break-out in Normandy. By August Mickey was fast approaching its hundredth trip, flown on 12/13 Delbert White, to Russelsheim. In all White flew twenty-eight trips in Mickey and won the DFC; Sidney Beard flew seventeen, receiving a bar to his DFC.

Flying Officer Norman Hoad, who had flown several trips in another hundred-plus veteran on 61 Squadron (ED860) took Mickey to the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 23/24 September, noting "Bombed from 7,800 ft to attain accuracy needed to hit this precision target". He also had to take evasive action from a Ju88 which attempted an attack, although the enemy fighter did not get into a firing position. This was EE176's 110th op.

A stormy day at ConingsbyMickey's last combat took place on a trip to Brunswick on 14/15 October. Nearing the target area the mid-upper gunner spotted a fighter approaching from the port quarter, then side-slipping into position behind them. He ordered the pilot to corkscrew as he opened fire, while also giving the rear-gunner the fighter's position and who, upon seeing it, opened fire. The fighter dived quickly away, the mid-upper giving it a final burst as it disappeared out of range.

EE176 left the squadron at the end of November, going to 1653 Conversion Unit where it was marked H4-X, but became Cat AC on 21 April 1945. In May it became 5260M at BOAC Whitechurch and was converted to an instructional airframe before being incongruously scrapped with little ceremony or recognition of her achievements.

Also adorning PA474 are two poppies, commemorating her participation in the D-Day and V-Day flypast celebrations of 1994 and 1995. Instead of the gloss finish normally applied, a silk finish now adorns the Lancaster, being more representative of a wartime machine. Modern paint technology has provided a silk finish that is durable enough to afford protection to the fifty-five year old aircraft over the next six years before another major refurbishment will be due.

ClickAs well as PA474, the two Chipmunks have received a new colour scheme, adopting the familiar overall black that typifies the modern-day training fleet of the RAF. Certainly not an authentic period scheme by any stretch of the imagination, the Chippys qualify as 'official' trainers as they are used for prospective Spitfire and Hurricane pilots, as well as keeping those already proficient current with 'tail-draggers'. The venerable Chipmunk could well see out its successor the Bulldog, now being steadily replaced by the Grob Tutor!

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Caroline & Sandy, the Coningsby PR team.


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