RCing around at Rougham
Dave Eade takes a look at the first of many aviation related events at Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds
As usual, it was a case of parking the car, grabbing the camera bag and heading for the static. A brisk wind tore across the airfield, luckily along the runway so providing little problem for the aircraft in the flying programme. Ground crew seemed somewhat concerned, however, as there seemed to be somebody checking an anemometer everywhere you looked. A quick visual scan showed the Burger van conveniently placed at one end of the static, so when the wind-chill made its mark one knew where to head for!
Fire-crews were to be seen practising their skills just in case they were needed but a feeling of total relaxation pervaded the airfield. A quick glance at the assembled static display showed the promised variation of types, with immaculate examples of Skyraider (from the US carrier Intrepid), piston Provost (WV605) alongside the famous 'Grace' Spitfire and, from just over the county, the Duxford-based B-17 'Sally B'. Spitfire, Mustang and Me109 were parked alongside the CAP, showing the famous 'Breitling' sponsorship logos.
Pride of place, biggest surprise and the possible award of longest traveller, was the immaculate F-15J Eagle from the JASDF. Groundcrew were climbing all over this particular jet, promising a flying display to remember. Pilot Mick Burrell (surprisingly very un-Japanese) was checking everything from fuel to electrics under the constant gaze of an enthusiastic public. Obviously well versed in the art of displaying the Eagle, Mick seemed oblivious to the low cloudbase and high wind as, with the crewchief in charge, the beautiful airframe left the static park and headed for the runway.
Aviator's Colin Hannant (commentator for the day) announced the commencement of this particular gem in the programme - the turbines were throttled up and she launched down the runway before completing a zoom-climb to rival the best. With masses of power available in all dimensions, and within the airfield confines, the F-15 was hurled round the airfield in an incredible display of complicated aerobatics, sandwiched between both fast and slow (dirty) fly-bys. All too soon the display concluded and Mick brought his mount over the threshold and flared for an immaculate landing. The groundcrew surrounded the jet at once, reminiscent of the F-117A performances at RIAT.
As soon as the jet-noise subsided all eyes went to the magnificent 'Sally B'. So right in this airfield environment, after all this was one of the largest of the 8th AAF bases in WWII which launched its B-17s on many a fateful mission. Pilot Richard Rawle, with his crew-chief, was totally engrossed in pre-start checks which, when completed, allowed the massive engines to be started, as always, with starboard inner smoking into life first. Close scrutiny was the order of the day as all four engines were taken up to full throttle before she was taxied to the runway in somewhat ungainly fashion over the rough ground. With clearance given (and a final full-throttle check) 'Sally B' rumbled and lumbered into the sky that is her true environs. Richard showed his dramatic edge in some of the lowest flybys ever seen by a B-17 and a fitted smoke-generation system allowed for the 'limping-home' flyby, bringing many memories to those assembled on this airfield.
Once safely back on terra-firma, Richard spoke to Air-Scene UK and gave some insight into the origins of this particular airframe. Used in the remake of 'Memphis Belle' she is also the star of TV documentaries on the Fortress. All credit should be given to Richard as he handled this big beast with fighter-like ease and managed a perfect landing in a very strong head wind, which seemed destined to stop the B-17 wheels from actually finding the runway.
Next was a dogfight demonstration in which the Luftwaffe Me109 was well outclassed by a Spitfire/Mustang duo, but the Burger van beckoned and it was time for refreshment and some reflection on what was a superb air display - where else in the UK would you see an aerobatic display by an F-15, except the annual air display of the Bury Model Flying Club? Held at the wartime airfield at Rougham, on the A14 just east of Bury St. Edmunds, this display was held over two days (26 and 27 April). Never before has your scribe been so encouraged to get amongst the airframes by their owners.
Richard Rawle's B-17 is one of four models built for the Memphis Belle film and is a composite of two, the fuselage of which was used in the film. Another aircraft that looks right in the air! An F-15, gas-turbine powered, will set you back serious money (in the region of £5,000) but for that you fly a model that not only looks right, but flies right!
The day's disappointment (apart from iffy weather) was not seeing a repeat of Saturday's Fortress/Liberator formation. Congratulations go to the BMFC for a well-organised friendly display - we are looking forward to next year already!