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A debt we owe

By Dave Eade & Gary Parsons

Since her arrival in the UK at the 1975 Biggin Hill Air Fair, the B-17 Flying Fortress – 'Sally B' to us all, has, at airshows all over Europe, represented the crews of the United States Army Air Force lost to the Second World War European campaign. In doing so, she has increased public awareness to this sacrifice, and become a favourite with families and enthusiasts alike. We are reminded of those youngsters, who came to the fields of East Anglia, to fight a war that was not theirs to fight – many thousands not to return to their homes.

Whether enthusiasts like it or not, it is the appearance of favourites such as 'Sally B' at shows that bring in Joe Public. Star billing to him is not two Turkish F-4s or a Flanker from the Ukraine; it is 'Sally B', the Red Arrows, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the like. Without that interest, our future as airshow-goers is threatened. The news then, that the future of 'Sally B' is jeopardised in this country should be viewed by all aircraft buffs with concern. Elly Sallingboe has indicated that unless sponsorship is found, her future may well lie in foreign skies, probably American. If this was to happen, it would be a tragedy.

B-17G 'Sally B' remains grounded after a draconian EU Regulation came into force on 1 May 2005. Regulation (EC) No 785/2004 requires all operators of large aircraft to have sufficient level of Third-party insurance, and determines the level on the maximum operating weight of the aircraft. In the case of 'Sally B', this equates to it being classified along with types such as the Boeing 737 and consequently an ultimate liability of some £65 million, resulting in an increase of insurance charges to the order of 500%. The Regulation does not consider the operation of historic and vintage aircraft that may only operate a few hours a year - unlike a 737, 'Sally B' is on a 'Permit to Fly' and can neither fly commercially, carry passengers, fly for hire and reward or fly over built-up areas.

Elly Sallingboe has been lobbying hard for a change in the Regulation or the Government to grant an exemption - sadly all requests to the CAA and Government have been met with indifference, bordering on the insulting. Hence Elly had to take a drastic step - not fly on the 60th anniversary of VE day, which should have been one of the B-17's starring roles this year. 'Sally B' is fully able to fly, but the Group cannot finance the extra £1,000 per flying hour required by the new insurance rules, so Elly has taken the decision to remain on the ground until a solution can be reached. It is particularly sad that this should happen during the B-17's thirtieth year on the UK display circuit and on its sixtieth anniversary.

So, what can we do about it?

Is it not possible to dedicate a day to a "Sally B Airshow"? Costs could, on this occasion, be kept to an absolute minimum by airshow acts donating their fees and, for once, doing it for nothing! They need an airshow future as much as we do. We appreciate that many costs would have to stand - insurance, policing, toilet facilities etc., but most of these are already in place at her home, Duxford.

Ice cream companies and fast-food outlets have all profited by the airshow. Every car that attends an airshow fills up at Esso, Shell or even Tesco! It’s a way to put something back – into something that represents so much.

An alternative is large sponsorship. Think how many shutters click at every aircraft pass at the airshow. Why then, could not Canon or Nikon put up the money to hold this show?

Where would this airshow be held? I suppose Duxford is a natural for this – with so much airshow infrastructure in-house, so-to-speak. The Imperial War Museum also owes a debt to 'Sally B', as a crowd-puller to all the shows they have put on since her arrival.

So – 20,000 people paying 10 per head average – net receipts 200,000. Free advertising from the magazines, video receipts donated to the cause, a chance for us to save this star of our airshow scene. Who are we? – Everybody that has attended an airshow in the last thirty years.

These are not the thoughts of war-bird freaks. It is just the murmuring of those who have spent time at airfields all over the UK, often the very airfields from which those youngsters flew, although many are hardly recognisable now. Maybe the USAFE could acknowledge its heritage and support this fine old aeroplane into the next millennium, in the country that is very much her spiritual home. America needs to remember its heritage across the globe, and celebrate past achievements with its allies and friends. So if you are in a position to help, please contact Elly at:

B-17 Charitable Trust
PO Box 92
Bury St Edmunds
IP28 8RR

Visit the website

It's not just the USA that owes a debt, it’s one we all owe.


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