BBMF Members Day, RAF Coningsby

BBMF Members Day, RAF Coningsby

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight closed their 2018 display season with their traditional day of flying for the members of the Lincolnshire Lancaster Association and the Memorial Flight Club. With the 75th Anniversary of the Dams Raid and the Centenary of the Royal Air Force being celebrated in 2018, it was been another very important year for the flight which has supported events up and down the country.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

For over 60 years, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (previously known as the Historic Aircraft Flight) has commemorated those who have fallen in the service of this country and promoted the modern day Air Force and inspired future generations. Throughout the Royal Air Force centenary year, the flight has been at the centre of the celebrations with highlights including the unique four-ship “Trenchard Formation” performed at Torbay (without the fighters), RAF Cosford, Weston-Super-Mare and the Royal International Air Tattoo plus the main RAF100 Flypast over London. The other main highlight of the year was the commemoration to mark the 75th Anniversary of Operation Chastise otherwise known as the Dams raid. Though the weather disrupted the public events at Derwent Water, the flight were able to take Squadron Leader George Leonard “Johnny” Johnson, MBE, DFM, the last British member of 617 Squadron which took part in the raid, flying in the Lancaster during May 2018.

The Flight is a regular unit of the Royal Air Force. It is commanded by a full time Squadron Leader and supported by a further full time operations officer. The flights engineers and ground crew are also all full time but the rest of the pilots and aircrew (including navigators, flight engineers and loadmasters) are all volunteers. There are currently six aircraft on the flight with the Avro Lancaster B1, Douglas Dakota, six Supermarine Spitfires, two Hawker Hurricanes and two de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10s.

Though the flight is funded by the Ministry of Defence, the tightening budgets mean the flight does face some challenges not only to keep its aircraft flying, but also facilitate the running of the Squadron. For many years, the Lincolnshire Lancaster Association has supported the flight financially for various projects including donating the sum of £100.000 to help the complete rebuild of Spitfire Mk XVI TE311 plus the LLA even own two airframes at Newark Air Museum, a Shackleton and Vulcan. More recently, an official Memorial Flight Club was formed also to help the flight financially. Both organisations have helped improve facilities on the flight in the hangar and associated support office.

At the end of the flying season, the flight holds a special day of flying at its base at RAF Coningsby for the Lincolnshire Lancaster Association and the Memorial Flight Club membership. There are only a limited amount of tickets on offer and they often go very quickly. The event is held around the BBMF Hangar which is opened up for the occasion with various stalls and of course some of the flights aircraft on show. Outside was one of the last chances to catch the RAF Museum’s complete Hawker Typhoon 1B MN235 at RAF Coningsby before it returns to Hendon. The aircraft was loaned to Canada in 2014, but returned this year for the RAF100 celebrations. It arrived at Coningsby in July and appeared in BAE Systems photoshoot alongside its modern counterpart, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. Since then it has been on display in the BBMF Hangar which is opened for guided tours throughout the year as part of the BBMF Visitors Centre. Alongside the Typhoon was Supermarine Spitfire XVI TE331 which was not taking part in the afternoon’s flying.

The entertainment at the event was not restricted to just the BBMF. On the ground there was live music from singer Kelly Ann plus an incredible large scale radio-controlled model of a Vulcan.

During the afternoon, the flight presented a number of different display profiles involving different aircraft flown by various members of the flight. Flying opened with the traditional three-ship of Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 leading Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 and Supermarine Spitfire IX MK356. The formation initially disappeared to the north for a photo-sortie over the International Bomber Command Centre before returning for their display. Later sequences included a Hurricane Synchro pair with Hurricane IIc PZ865 taking to the air, a further solo display from Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 and a Spitfire Synchro pair with Spitfire IX MK356 joined by Spitfire Vb AB910. A final pairs display saw Hurricane IIc PZ865 and Spitfire IX MK356 perform a tail-chase display.

It was an emotional afternoon for two members of the flight who both performed their last displays. The flight’s Bomber Leader, Flt Tim Dunlop, signed off after 10 years with the flight with two displays in the Lancaster. 2018 also marked the final season for Sqn Ldr Andy ‘Milli’ Millikin as he completes his three year tour as Officer Commanding of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. ‘Milli’ flew his final display in his favourite aircraft, Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 to conclude the event.

On a beautiful late September afternoon, it was the perfect closure to a momentous season for the flight. 2019 promises to be another busy one for the BBMF with major commemorations planned for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Arnhem Landings planned during the year. Lest we forget.