Archive for July, 2015

English as a Second Language

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Friends ask how the 2015 air shows tour of England compares to the display and formation flying we enjoy in North America. I answer “very much the same, but for the language.”

Most of the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary commemorations include “BBMF,” or the “Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.” Last week, a few European pilots and I joined the BBMF at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Britain’s largest air show. Our tribute included twelve Spitfires, five Hurricanes, two Me 109s, a Blenheim light bomber, and in a second phase, a Vulcan bomber and the Red Arrows, Britain’s military aerobatic team. BBMF features RAF officers taking a break from Tornados and Typhoons to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes. Good chaps to the last one, each with a nickname. Our leader, Duncan, is “Dunc.” Most take four letters from their surname and add a vowel to the end, so Parkinson becomes “Parke” with a long “e” and Milliman becomes “Milli,” pronounced as if the last “i” also is a long “e.” My surname poses problems so I became “Yank” or “Red 3,” the latter referring to my position in the lead element of the Battle of Britain demo formation.

Having sorted nicknames, you next need a dictionary to translate the pre-flight brief and verbal exchanges in the air. BBMF pilots favor oblique expressions and speak as quickly as possible. And if one word works, use three.

The engine start time is “spark up.” Doing a good job draws a “lovely” from the lead, though it is pronounced Lawv-el-ly. Tight formations are lawv-el-ly (wingmen looking across the aileron at the lead’s nose, two feet behind his tail), but if they get too close, expect to hear “don’t squeeze the water out of it.” Backing off from the formation a bit to scan panel gages is “minding your tees and pees.” “Gentlemen, continue to speak kindly to your airplanes” suggests aircraft are not breaking down in numbers. Too much backtalk and you might get “It’s my hammer,” meaning shut up and do as you’re told. “Take it forward to do the picture thing” means fly especially well in front of the crowd. Every flight has a “loser plan” for transition to different roles if one or more aircraft must land early. The expression I fear most suggests you can’t possibly miss such a conspicuous landmark. “It stands out like a dog’s bollocks.”

But I will cope as long as they let me land a Spitfire on grass.

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Greetings from Duxford, England and the Flying Legends Air Show.

Last Wednesday and Thursday I flew locally with check pilots, the goal being to earn a “Display Authorization” or “DA” for the shows this summer commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. My check-out included a sortie to Humberside where my examiner, a former Air Marshal of the RAF and good friend, Cliff Spinks, delivered a Spitfire and retrieved an ME 109. On the way home we learned that our arrival would coincide with a visit to Duxford Airfield by HRH, Prince William, so we simulated a dogfight prior to landing. Poor Cliff made the ultimate sacrifice for the Fatherland, once again. Returning to the hangar of Aircraft Restoration Company, we noticed Prince William (a tall chap) through the back window of a black Jaguar at the center of a full-on motorcade. Cliff and I offered “thumbs up” without straying too far from the centerline, a challenge in a Spitfire as one needs an extra hand to control it on the ground.

“HRH” translates to “his royal highness,” and “ARC” is “Aircraft Restoration Company,” but asking to return to “ARC” on the Duxford ground frequency does you no good. Apparently “ARC” is a sailing vessel described in the old testament, but “A-R-C” (the letters) refers to a fine aviation establishment at the east boundary of Duxford Airfield. And “POB” means persons-on-board, which must be confirmed even for a one-hole fighter. So now you’re briefed and ready to fly at Duxford.


Happy Independence Day

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Today we mark America’s birthday with visits to several parades and gatherings. The rules have become more restrictive since 911, but the sensory overload created by the B-25, Bearcat and Texan are sure to please, even from 1,000 feet. After forming up over the channel, we will pay our respects to mature neighborhood parades on Whidbey and Camano Islands. These events feature all the Americana we remember fondly from childhood. Decorated bicyles with flapping playing cards clothes-pinned to a wheel mount, hard candy and taffy thrown from floats, and many hand-held American flags. Perhaps Shriners in go-carts will race about. From there, we have a “time-over-target” date with the City of Everett followed by a more casual visit to the City of Arlington. Heading south, we will assess our time based on our noon rendezvous in Kirkland, likely filling the gap over Seattle, Renton, then Bellevue. Ninety minutes is a long time to maintain a formation, so we may “relax” in trail or with a bit of separation in the leg to Seattle. Hope you enjoy the visits. 239 years and counting.

Tomorrow I have the privilege of visiting England on behalf of HFF to participate in several commemorations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The events are listed on our schedule. Should you attend one, please introduce yourself. It will be wonderful to see someone from home, or at least someone with a connection to HFF. Who knows? There may be a stray crew pass to share.