Well as far as birthdays go, this year’s was a week long celebration and probably the most epic to date. Not since my mum bought me Daws Moranna (my hugely successful show horse) for my 18th birthday have I had so much excitement to mark the anniversary of my birth.
It all started last September when a dear friend of mine, James Wheeler, contacted me to say he had recommended me to model for a photography day in Duxford for Darren Harbar. The style would be vintage and he thought it would be right up my street. I’m going to blog separately about this experience as I feel some of you reading this may be interested in the course as it covered a wide variety of skills and techniques that budding and experienced photographers alike could benefit from. Anyway, why I mention this here is because the photography day would put me in Duxford for my birthday, which leads nicely on to the next thing to happen in February 2018….
It was the middle of the night and I wasn’t sleeping well. The sleep demons were starving me of any rest and I had a millions plans and thoughts whizzing through my brain. I had just started raising money for my half marathon and wing walk adventure when my phone pinged. The person messaging wasn’t being anti social by messaging in the night for they were in a different time zone across the Atlantic in America. It was my friend, Mark Streit. He had seen my post on Instagram about my charity page and as he also had personal experience with a loved one having had Lymphoma, he was messaging to say he had made a lovely donation to the account.
With my insomnia at its peak, I took the opportunity to chat with Mark for some time: about life, about illness, about aircraft. Mark happened to mentioned he had visited the UK and had been to Duxford where he had photographed a “Texan” called the Wacky Wabbit… yes we did the potato/potato joke when I reminded Mark we call it the Harvard over here. Mark shared his picture from his visit to Duxford onto my Facebook wall where I tagged in Andrew Goodall, the pilot of the Wacky Wabbit. Conversations continued resulting in Andrew offering me a flight the same weekend as the modelling gig and of course, my birthday!
Now those of you who know me well, know I often turn down offers of flight because I have a little fear. Having never flown in anything smaller than a Dash 8 and never without a G&T, small aircraft always felt risky to me. But you will also know that after my mum’s cancer diagnosis, I promised to take more chances in life and thought, “lets do this!” So the day arrived…
Let’s start by meeting the team:
When I arrived at the airfield, the team were busy cleaning the Wabbit, polishing her to a glowing sheen. Well when I say the team, I mean Donny, Tim and Sue as Andy was busy filming it all for his first live feed!
Donny, Tim and Sue look after the old girl when Andy is out of the country, making sure she is well cared for and maintained. They do this all voluntarily and with journeys of up to an hour from home, this is a real labour of love for them. When speaking to them, their passion for the aircraft and aviation in general is evident. Tim,in particular, has wonderful knowledge of all the aircraft at Duxford and those at Shuttleworth and Sue has previous experience with working with other aircraft such as the Shackleton.
Andy is an enigmatic soul who’s passion for the history of the aircraft feeds his desire to have things just so, even down to having kit as close to that used back in the day. He has a military background linked to freefall display teams and his ambition to one day fly the iconic Spitfire drives his motivation to continue furthering his experiences as a pilot.
The banter between the team was rife and they immediately made me feel at home. It was great to get to have close access to the aircraft to take images you just don’t get at airshows, even when on static display.
Andrew and the team form part of a large group of people who commit time to the Harvard and admin many groups dedicated to the aircraft and her history. On this day, Andrew had friends arriving from Portugal. The father of the family was a former Portuguese Air Force pilot and had flown Harvards in operation.
He told some wonderful stories about his time in service and I hope to write a follow up article dedicated to his experiences in coming months. His sons and he enjoyed a flight in the Wacky Wabbit and it gave me a nice chance to capture some shots with her in flight.
With all this activity going on, I didn’t even have time to think about my own forthcoming flight and it struck me as I laid my camera down for the last time that I wasn’t feeling any nerves.. it was most odd. Perhaps the banter from Donny was keeping them at bay! Tim helped me climb up in to the Wabbit and helped me strap in.. still no nerves.
He fitted my headset and ran through comms… still no nerves and then it dawned me. I was comforted by the solid sturdiness of the Harvard. It was like a trojan horse, certainly feeling like it had a leg in each corner.