Header Image: Club member Simon Smith and his wife Angela were given special ‘behind the scenes’ access to the BBMF’s home at RAF Coningsby as part of the BBMF Experience Day prize. (Photo: Clive Rowley)
Club member Simon Smith from Leicester was the lucky winner of the Club ballot prize of a BBMF Experience Day. He took up his prize on Saturday 12th August and brought his wife Angela to RAF Coningsby to spend a day ‘behind the scenes’ at the BBMF. The BBMF host for the day was Squadron Leader (retired) Clive Rowley, a former RAF fighter pilot and Officer Commanding BBMF, and now the Flight’s publications editor.
The once-a-year BBMF Experience Day is a fantastic, ‘money cannot buy it’, chance of a lifetime for Club members to win a very special day with the BBMF. The winner and their guests are permitted escorted access onto the RAF Station at Coningsby and inside the BBMF HQ, which is not normally open to the public, to experience the activity during a typical BBMF flying day from behind the scenes. There is also the chance to get up close to the BBMF aircraft, those involved in flying and others in the hangar, and to watch the Flight’s aircraft coming and going from a very privileged standpoint.
Even accessing the RAF Station through the guarded main gates with the high level of security at RAF Coningsby, and having their car checked by the guard force, was an interesting experience for Simon and Angela. The fickle British weather affected the BBMF’s planned flying programme for the day, and witnessing the decision-making process and the re-planning that was needed to achieve any of the planned events for the day was eye-opening.
They watched from yards away as BBMF pilot Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece climbed into Spitfire Mk IX MK356, started the engine and taxied out to take-off for a sortie of flypast events in Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Monmouthshire, before landing away at Gloucester Airport, to return later in the day.
The Lancaster with a Hurricane and a Spitfire were planned to appear at the Blackpool Air Show, but in the event the weather over the western side of the country prevented them from being able to get there. The Lancaster crew re-planned their sortie to complete planned flypasts on the eastern side of England, at Alford, Lincolnshire, the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, over the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington and a display at Whitby Regatta, before returning to Coningsby. Simon and Angela were able to watch from close range as the Lancaster engines were started and she taxied out and took off. Later, they were astonished by the Lancaster’s low-level arrival back home over the BBMF hangar, right over their heads, and they then watched her taxy in and shut down. The Lancaster captain, Flight Lieutenant Seb Davey, declared that the strong and gusty wind was making it incredibly bumpy and this and the weather en route led to the cancellation of the trip across to Blackpool for the Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire.
In between the flying action, Simon and Angela were given a tour of the BBMF headquarters, meeting and chatting with some of the BBMF’s pilots and ground crew, who they thought were very welcoming. They also had a special close-up tour of the aircraft in the BBMF hangar.
Angela said that they had not known what to expect from the day and what they would see, but the experience exceeded any expectations and gave a really good ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of how the BBMF operates. She also commented on how relaxed all the BBMF personnel were as they went about their business, such as the pilots and crew walking out to fly these amazing aircraft with apparently not a care, as if they were simply going for a drive in a car. Things that are routine for the BBMF are certainly not for most people.
Simon said that he and Angela had a fantastic day and felt so lucky to see everything that goes on behind the scenes that the public don’t normally get to see. He said he felt honoured to have had the experience of such a fantastic day and thanked the BBMF people who took the time out for just him and Angela.
Hopefully, we will be able to offer another BBMF Experience Day next year for a lucky Club member to win.