Our guide, Barry, was just about to speak when a loud spluttering noise caught everyone’s attention. A Spitfire, located just outside the hangar doors, had just started up its engine and as the throbbing roar filled the air, there was a cheer from the mechanics who had been working on the aircraft, and from the visitors who had come to see this magnificent machine.
We were at RAF Coningsby, the base for RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) and this was a thrilling start to our tour. A unique partnership between the Royal Air Force and Lincolnshire County Council ensures the public has access to a collection of treasured aircraft. Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dakotas, Chipmunks and a majestic Lancaster are expertly maintained here so they can regularly fly across our skies.
A current issue with Merlin engines means that affected aircraft are currently grounded, however, this does mean it’s the ideal time to pay a visit.
As this is a working RAF base, you can only have access to the aircraft as part of a guided tour, but this is included in the admission price (£7.90 for adults, £6.40 concessions) and it lasts up to 90 minutes.
Barry filled those minutes with fascinating tales about the planes and, more importantly, the crews. The BBMF motto is Lest We Forget and it’s the people who risked and lost their lives who are remembered in his engaging narrative.
Once Barry could be heard, he proudly told us the Spitfire we had been observing was P7350, the world’s oldest airworthy example of its kind. A veteran of the Battle of Britain, it had appeared in the famous film of the same name, performing a victory roll.
During the tour we learned about the role of the Dakota transport planes during the D-Day landings and the huge importance of the Hawker Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain.
I loved the story linked to Spitfire AB910 involving plucky WAAF flight mechanic, LACW Margaret Horton. As was customary on some take-offs, she was sitting on the tailplane to give extra weight as it taxied to the runway but the plane was airborne before she had a chance to jump off. Margaret cleverly draped herself across the tail, holding onto the elevator to make her presence known. The pilot executed a circuit and landed safely with Margaret coming to no harm, apart from being reprimanded for her unofficial flight.
The tour finished with the mighty Lancaster PA474 and I was left with a true sense of the courage and heroism shown by the men taking this beast into battle, with a 50:50 chance of survival.
I can highly recommend a day out to RAF BBMF. History comes to life via the captivating accounts from volunteer guides like Barry and, at the end, you can take a look in the gift shop or treat yourself to tea and scones in the 1940s tearoom.
There’s more information on the Lincolnshire County Council website or the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Official) Facebook page.
RAF BBMF is now in its 60th year and it’s certainly worth celebrating.
• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk