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Jul 17

Project Propeller

A slightly delayed post here as I’ve been very busy with work over the past few weeks, however at the end of June I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in Project Propeller. This is an annual reunion for 150+ WW2 aircrew, which they are flown in to by current volunteer private pilots, such as myself.

I’d volunteered some time ago, and at the end of April I had a call from Graham Cowie (who was organising the rostering of pilots) asking me if I could take a veteran from Cranfield to the event, which this year was being held at Gloucestershire Staverton airport.

I booked an aircraft (G-MEGS) for the day with the aero club, and hoped for great weather. As the event drew nearer there was some organisation to be done around landing slots and the like (with over 100 aircraft arriving in a few hours spreading them out is quite important!), and sorting out arrangements at Cranfield for picking up and dropping off my veteran (Frank) etc.

I woke up on the day to absolutely perfect weather, and so headed to the airfield, aiming to leave as early as safely possible in order to arrive at Cranfield as they opened, and then make the slot at Gloucester. In the end I wasn’t able to get away until a little later than would have been ideal, however not disastrously so.

The flight to Cranfield was uneventful, with a pretty nice landing. I found Frank in the cafe, and after a quick phone call to Gloucester to get a revised landing slot as I wasn’t going to be able to make my original one, we headed out to the aircraft.

After helping Frank in, I gave him a short safety briefing, and then we fired up and taxied out, departing fairly promptly.

The route from Cranfield to Gloucester was slightly difficult as there were a number of things to try and avoid (gliding competitions and the like), however I’d spent a reasonable amount of time in advance planning it out etc so it was easy enough to actually fly.

Frank had been a navigator, so I gave him the chart to follow on the way. As I mentioned the weather was perfect, so we had really good visibility, and lots of interesting things to look at along the way. I got a traffic service from Brize Radar, who called out a few things to me, but nothing of any concern.

During the flight Frank was telling me about some of his recent experiences with some aerobatic gliding and the like – I was somewhat surprised to hear about these, and hope that when I’m that age I’m still able to do activities like that!

Due to the volume of arrivals, Gloucester had implemented some special procedures, which involved reporting at a point a reasonable distance away (there were four points, we had the Northleach VRP as we were coming from the East), and holding there until told to head to the overhead. They’d also given us some instructions about abbreviated RT calls to try and reduce congestion on the radio.

I had to do one orbit at Northleach (which was eyes on stalks time as I knew there were at least two others in the area), and then was told to head in. While routing in I was asked to do another orbit as the tower had got a little busy, which I did, and then continued in to do my standard overhead join.

As I completed my deadside turn and joined the crosswind leg, I was aware I was fairly close to another aircraft – to avoid any conflict the tower asked me to turn downwind when I was at a point a little earlier than I would have done and fly a tight circuit. I complied, but was fully aware I was quite likely to have to go around as I probably wasn’t going to be able to set myself up properly. As expected I ended up very high on final, and once it became apparent I was going to have a very long landing I decided on a nice early go around.

The next circuit was normal, and the landing fairly smooth. I kept the speed up on the runway to avoid holding up anybody else – one good thing is being an airfield with full ATC they can make use of ‘Land After’ clearances to make things a bit more efficient.

I followed some marshallers to park, after which a photographer appeared to grab a photo of the two of us and the aircraft:

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Then it was into a car to be driven to the Jet Age Museum on the airfield, where the event was being held. A few bits of administration to sort out, and then we were into the marquee. A buffet lunch was then served, though Frank and I made the mistake of thinking we’d wait until the initial queue died down, which it never really did!

After lunch we had a flyby by a Spitfire and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight:

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There was then a talk by the guest speaker

Obviously throughout the day there was a lot of informal chats going on, and I bumped into a few other pilots I’ve met at fly ins and the like before.

As we went to leave, there was a nice surprise that Thwaites brewery had decided to give every veteran and pilot a special edition bottle of Lancaster Bomber – it was a challenge to resist the temptation to drink it given it was such a nice day, however I wouldn’t have then been able to fly back which would have gone a little wrong!

To speed up our departure, I walked back to the aircraft while Frank waited for a car, so I could get the pre flight checks etc done ready for him. Seeing the line of aircraft was quite impressive:

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Departure was a little slow due to the sheer volume of aircraft wanting to leave (I think at one stage the airport may have had a movement rate higher than Heathrow!), but once up it was basically a case of reverse the route from earlier. As a demonstration of quite how many aircraft there were, here is an overhead shot someone took during the day – as you can see Gloucester closed a runway and used that for parking otherwise they’d have rapidly run out of space:

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Arrival at Cranfield was once again uneventful, though we were closely followed by another Project Propeller aircraft, so once parked up we had a chance for a brief chat, though I had to leave fairly promptly however to make it back to Cambridge.

All in all it was a really good day, and something I’ll certainly be volunteering to help out with again next year. Obviously these events will only continue for so long as the number of possible attendees is reducing, and it seems something like this is the least I can do to show my appreciation for the sacrifices they made for us all.

I’d like to express thanks to the Project Propeller organisers, Gloucester airport and the Jet Age Museum for hosting the event, Cranfield for waiving landing fees, and Cambridge Aero Club for being generally helpful and flexible etc.

There’s lots of additional photos of the event available here.

A couple of notes for next time:

  • Expect everything to take a bit more time, so as not to have to revise slots on the day etc
  • Bring a stool to make it a bit easier for the veteran to get in and out the aircraft

GPS tracks for the various legs:

 Cbg - CfdCfd - Glr Glr - CfdCfd - Cbg