As a reward for their hard work during the winter maintenance season, Cat Pack members get the opportunity to take part in the airshows over the summer. With various weddings, stag dos, birthdays and the like, I was only available for a few. The places at the airshows are limited (there’s a typical crew size of six, including the two pilots and crew chief, so only three places are available to the ordinary volunteers like me) and so I was very pleased to be picked to help out at Flying Legends this summer.
Flying Legends claims to be the largest airshow in Britain. It certainly attracts a large number of visitors (estimates put the figures at about 80,000, possibly each day over the weekend). I will happily admit that I was a little daunted by starting at the very biggest show I could possibly attend, but at the same time, I knew that if I could survive this, I could survive anything!
It promised to be a long weekend – the show itself ran from 8am to 6pm both Saturday and Sunday, and I was warned that I would need to be there earlier to help set things up! As it turned out, there wasn’t as much urgency as has been suggested and the days weren’t too long.
Essentially, the work at an airshow is split into three main areas. The first thing we had to do was set up the sales stall. This sells a range of Catalina merchandise and is also a point of contact for anyone interested in getting involved in the future.
The second main area is the walk-throughs. With these, the plane is opened up to the paying public for them to wander through and take photos. There’s always one crew member taking money at the steps near the tail, and another up by the cockpit to make sure nobody touches anything important. Sometimes, there will be a third in the rear fuselage talking to punters as the enter and leave about the plane.
Finally, as the plane is there to display too, the third main task is to prepare it for flight. The walk-throughs are stopped about an hour before the display time and the pilots are given time to prepare themselves. The ground crew help by removing the gust locks (metal blocks which hold the control surfaces still so that aren’t damaged by gusts of wind, hence the name), the pitot tube cover, and, at the last moment, the chocks from the wheels. As a complete newcomer, I only helped remove the chocks and held the ladder while a braver man than I removed and afterwards reinstalled the gust locks. (In a daft, contradictory way, I am perfectly happy flying, or walking around on the wing twenty feet up in the air, but not too comfortable standing eight feet up on a ladder sliding a metal block into place. I do intend to give the gust locks a go in th future, but it was quite a blustery weekend and I gladly let one of the others take charge of that task!)
The two days ran to the same pattern, and overall everything went really well. I feel like I learned a great deal from the crew about pretty much everything concerning the Catalina.
The main perk of being involved with the display is the ‘flightside’ access. As a result, at the end of Sunday we had the chance to have a peek at a couple of the other aeroplanes which were displaying – ones which weren’t open to the general public.
First up was a Norwegian Douglas Dakota, in beautiful condition and fitted out as a rather retro passenger plane.
Finally, we had the chance to admire a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, one of the few still airworthy in the world, which had been brought over from Salzburg by its owners Red Bull. The Lightning, as you may have read in my post from 2010, is probably my favourite aeroplane of all. It combines an unusual design with great elegance and beauty, and, as I saw over the weekend, is pretty quick and manoeuvrable.
The chance came about early on Sunday morning as the Red Bull team’s chief popped over to the Plane Sailing portacabin to borrow a key to get some stuff out of storage. We got chatting and he invited us over to have a look if we got the chance. As it turned out, he knew our chief engineer Garry from a few years ago, and used to help out on the Catalina with the more techinical tasks. So, at the end of the day, the crew chief Shaun and I popped over, and were allowed to crawl all over it, much to my delight. So I took some more photos!