Our monthly meeting in April saw an increase in attendance, the numbers going beyond 50 for the first time.
This month’s visit was our third trip to observe the maintenance of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and an Airbus A330 at Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow hangar, the trip made all the better by the incredible co-operation afforded us from the Hangar Management team.
May: This month we had our second speaker of the year. Chris Henkey told us of his life as a Captain with both British European Airways (BEA) and the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC), both of which morphed into British Airways in 1978.
Chris’s penultimate flight in September 2015, prior to his retirement was probably the most unforgettable flight of his whole career. Flying a BA Boeing 777 out of Las Vegas home to London the left hand No ! engine burst into flames and began to burn its way into the cabin. Chris calmly called May Day stopped the aircraft on the runway and saved the lives of the 157 passengers and the crew of the aeroplane. Chris’s last scheduled flight before his retirement was to Barbados the following week but he decided that maybe taking early retirement was probably now the better option for him. All in all a great talk from Chris who lives at Aldermaston Wharf and has himself decided to join us in the group and we are very pleased to have him with us to gain the benefit of his long career flying commercial airliners
Our visit in May was to the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Although this was a weekday visit and so therefore not an air display day, we had a great time looking at the exhibits at the airfield, with the added bonus of watching some aircraft being put through their paces ahead of the scheduled weekend air display.
June: saw us making another of our visits to the BA Heritage Collection at the BA Headquarters at Waterside, Harmondsworth, along the A4 just outside of Heathrow. An extremely interesting collection of artefacts from the long history of BA in its many re-incarnations through the years. Although we have made several trips to this Collection since the group started we have so many new members that we are giving every one the opportunity to either re-visit or visit our trip locations for the first time.
July: Boring month. No visits or guest speakers. Just our regular monthly meeting. Bit of a rest really.
August: Middle of the summer but we certainly made up for a slow July. Our guest speaker was Paul Shepherd, a retired RAF Wing Commander who gave us a talk titled: “H-Bombs and Hula Girls”. A historical trip through the somewhat controversial British journey in developing our own independent nuclear capability. An extraordinary talk with so much information on the whys and wherefores of why we had to go down that road and the issues associated with the very limited knowledge that the scientists had on the long term outcomes of the testing at Christmas Island which is in the South Pacific about 5,000 miles north east of Australia and about 1340 miles south of Honolulu.
We also managed another tour of Farnborough Airfield with TAG the owners. Enjoyed by all who went along, but TAG has now sold the airfield to another aviation company called Mira so the future of these extremely interesting free of charge public relations visits may or may not continue in the future.
Probably the most successful trip that the group has had was to the Bournemouth Air Festival on Friday 30 August. A trip organised by Lynda of the Travel Group and by the Aviation Group saw 54 people arrive at the Marsham Court Hotel on the sea front at Bournemouth early in the morning to what was to become our base for the whole day. Lunch, afternoon tea along with snacks took us from arrival at 10.30am through the day/night airshow and fireworks to round off the day before we left for the ride back to Tadley at 10.30pm. A truly magnificent day despite the fact that the Red Arrows had just started their seven week tour of the US and Canada.
Enjoyed by all.
September: saw three visits. The first to the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Airfield near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. The Shuttleworth Collection is a private collection of aircraft from the very earliest days of flying up until the late 50’s. Some of the original aircraft have been restored to flying condition and do so at the Shuttleworth air shows, whilst a number of faithful replicas are in operation to show us just how they looked, sounded and flew. Again an astonishing visit.
We also made another visit to Solent Sky at Southampton. A small but very enjoyable museum chronicling, primarily, the aviation manufacturers around the Solent. The main manufacturer was of course Supermarine of Spitfire fame.
And then a fourth visit to the Virgin Atlantic Hangar at Heathrow to observe maintenance of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Sadly that brings our visits to an end as security changes at Heathrow means that that access to the hangar floor now requires “airside” security clearance and the hoops that have to be jumped through to obtain that for visitors means that it is just not a viable option for Virgin. However a letter of thanks has been sent to the Maintenance Manager expressing our thanks for his company’s exceptional help and hospitality during our visits over the last couple of years.
In to October we have made two visits. The first to FAST, (Farnborough Air Sciences Trust). The Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough was closed in 1991 and with astonishing short-sightedness it was proposed that the original Aircraft Factory built in 1910 would be demolished and the remainder of the site razed. The historical engineering and other aeronautical artefacts charting the history of aviation in Britain along with the original wind tunnels were salvaged by an extremely motivated group of volunteers who created the FAST Museum which opened in 1993 resulting in the preservation of a hundred years of British Aviation heritage.
Our last visit in October was to a private Avro Lancaster Simulator Project being built by Leon Ellison in the grounds of his property in Binfield.
What’s next: Our future programme for the rest of this year and the start of next year includes a visit to the “Grandma Flew Spitfires” exhibition at Maidenhead which is the Heritage Museum for the courageous men and women of the ATA, (Air Transport Auxiliary). This organisation is most famous for the women who delivered aircraft from the factories to the front line squadrons. It also has a Spitfire Simulator which should be fun.
Our Christmas lunch will again be held at the Old Mill at Aldermaston Wharf which we are looking forward too.
Next year we have the return of Paul Beaver to talk to us about the “Forgotten Naval Few”. The story of Fleet Air Arm pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. Later in the year we will listen to a talk on the “History of Silver City Airways”.
So we expect to be busy with our usual range of visits and talks as usual.
If you have even a slight interest in aeroplanes then why not come along and see what we get up to. You will be made most welcome. We meet in Heath End Village Hall on the 2nd Tuesday of each month from 3-5pm.
If aircraft interest you, come along to a meeting to see what we get up to. You will be made most welcome.
Group report by Roland Higgins
Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.