Friday, July 18, 2008

Return of the Mighty Eighth's Girls

Our last couple of days in the UK were timed to allow me to go to TFC's Flying Legends airshow at Duxford. The premier event of its kind in the world, it's three hours of concentrated warbird flying, with some of the best restored aircraft entrusted by their engineers and owners to some of the world's best pilots, from Europe and North America. There are many highlights to the show, but this year the strafing pass by a bunch of P-51D Mustangs over the two flying B-17's was a standout for me (and I don't even like Mustangs...)

Back in 1944, this scene would have been for real, with the young men heading off for day-long raids over occupied Europe. As a vintage aviation writer, it's easy to become over-familiar with the facts and overlook the technology these teenagers were expected to tackle a new dark age with. And the reasons why as well as the sheer terror of such wars at 20,000 ft.

In 1944 Duxford was Station 357 of the United States Army Air Force's 8th Air Force, rightly remembered as 'The Mighty Eighth'. Sadly, Duxford's own B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B was grounded with a failed engine, but (in Olive Drab) Pink Lady attended from France, while the silver Liberty Belle came in from the USA just for the show.

The three girls - Sally B, Liberty Belle, and the Pink Lady. W.W.II recreators add a touch.

Smoky start from the French.

(Tragically it is possible the French team may be stopped from flying their commemorative bomber because of new, irrelevant EEC insurance regulations.) When Pink Lady departed for Paris, it was reminder that those skies were not so friendly.

We therefore present a short photo-essay as a tribute to the engineers (and aircrew) who keep them flying today, and those who at war back then.

Dressed for then, and (below) the real pilot. (Interestingly, Liberty Belle was previously called Outhouse Mouse - a name I rather like.)

1930s curves on this old girl.

Coming through, tailchase...

And today they all come back for tea and medals. Back then, they didn't.

At Duxford, outside the American Air Museum is a glass memorial with representations of all the US aircraft that didn't return, etched in. There are a lot of panels.

Thanks and goodbye.


1 comment:

RB&CB said...

Hia - nice pics from Legends! mmm.... B17s! (I had forgotten she was formally 'Outhouse Mouse' - saw her in Toms Reilly's place in 98 coming along nicely then. Bit gutted I missed her in the UK... oh well I feel a trip to the states on the cards!

Hope all goes wel in Canada - and see you soon before we depart!