Our trip north on Friday 21st July was pretty arduous, battling our way through seemingly endless road works on the M1 and then the M6. It seemed to take an age before, at last, we arrived at junction 21 and were able to dive down a traffic free slip road. Being worried about our snail pace progress I had taken the precaution of phoning ahead to warn our friends at Barton Airport – actually it really is City Airport & Heliport Manchester but retains its former name amongst the locals – of our potentially late arrival for our site meeting. But now the traffic appeared to have evaporated, I breathed a sigh of relief as we now had just 8 or 9 miles to go along the A57 to our destination; it was now a breeze!
Until, just half a mile from the creeping motorway we came to a queue of stationary traffic, oh no, more road works! You know what it’s like when you are in a hurry and stuck in traffic going absolutely nowhere; every minute seems like ten. There was nothing we could do other than switch on Steve Wright in the Afternoon and stick it out whilst we gently edged forward until we were on the front row of the grid waiting for the green light. The twenty minute delay had seemed like two hours but the light turned green and I was off like Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone. Nothing to stop us now ……. or so I thought for just half a mile into lap one I saw the red brake lights of the Eddie Stobart truck whose diesel fumes I had been enduring throughout our last twenty minute wait, glaring in front of me! At this point we could see miles down the road and stationary traffic all the way; you’ve guessed it – more road works!!
Back to dear old Steve only to become even more despondent when the weather lady announced that Saturday was looking pretty grim. My heart sank but there was nothing we could do about the weather or the traffic come to that. So eventually, in a rather crestfallen state, we arrived at our destination to be met by our hosts for our Young Aviators event. In no time at all my gloomy attitude lifted as a cuppa was thrust into my hand and I was assured that everything was ready for the following day; even when I mentioned the dreaded “weather” word I was told that all should be OK, no rain expected until later on Saturday afternoon.
We ran through the paperwork whilst taking cuppa No2 and then through the operating procedure. Unfortunately we would be two aeroplanes down due to technical problems (aviation speak for “busted”!!) but that was unlikely to present a problem as Manchester had turned out loads of support. And so, now feeling much happier about things, we set off to check into our hotel in Warrington but it was straight back into the queuing traffic for the road works. By the time we eventually arrived at our final destination of the day I was thinking that I really shouldn’t have gone for cuppa No3 before leaving the airport!!!
I couldn’t help myself but just had to have a quick look at the late night forecast before turning in; not bad but would have to keep our fingers crossed it seemed.
Saturday morning was not too bad at all, not exactly a blazing mid-summer day but certainly most encouraging. We were scheduled to be at the airport to deliver a 09.30 briefing to pilots and ground volunteers and as we wanted to put up banners and be well prepared in advance we had set ourselves a 09.00 arrival target. Taking the wretched road works into account we decided on a very quick breakfast to allow ourselves a good hour plus for the twelve mile journey. Guess what, there was not a single sign of road works, workmen, diggers or temporary traffic lights the consequence being that when we arrived at the airport we had to let ourselves in!!
09.30 soon rolled round though, time for the briefing and goodness, what an enormous band of fantastic volunteers. Apart from all of the pilots who had already prepared their aircraft for Bader Braves operations there were an enormous number of ground steward volunteers form The Friends of Barton, a voluntary organisation of aviation enthusiasts and, in particular, aviation at Barton Airport. Once we had explained what today was all about, how we intended to operate and where we would like their assistance they very quickly organised themselves and took up station. By the time the first of our Braves arrived to check in everything and everybody was all set to go.
After completing their paperwork and visiting Jess’s tee shirt fitting room it was straight into action. The first flight, which was scheduled for 10.30, actually took off around 10.25 with flight number 2 not so very far behind. The weather was much better than I had dared to hope for after hearing Fridays forecasts, not quite clear blue skies but not bad at all and, thankfully, pretty good visibility which is a great bonus for the Braves! Thanks to the efforts of the volunteers and the preparation by the City Airport management team, two of whom had given up their day off to help (actually Mark (Airport Operations Manager) had popped in for the 09.30 briefing for a couple of hours to make sure that everything was OK – he was still here at 17.00 and Nick (Airport Director) nipped in to see if all was OK and ended up flying his 172 all day long!!), everything was running like a well oiled machine and bang on our notional time schedule.
Bader Braves Squadron comprised the usual mixture of Cessna 172’s and PA28’s but also had a number of interesting extras such as a fully aerobatic RV7, a lovely bright red Eurostar, and a very pretty Jodel (if you have no idea what I am talking about have a Google!!). Take offs and landings were constant; there was plenty to see for those waiting for City Airport and Heliport Manchester is, as its name may imply, a very busy place without operation Bader Braves and is a great place to come and “plane watch” if that’s your thing; there is also a great Runway 26 café/bar which is well worth a visit!! Whilst we were there countless comings and goings took place, there was a big corporate event taking place on another part of the airfield, commercial helicopter flights as well as the police helicopters based here being kept very busy. Operators in the control tower must have had their hands full today.
On the lawn in front of the café the waiting Braves were able to watch what was going on or play games and enjoy an ice cream or two; it was by midday even nice enough to have their meals outside!! There were countless happy smiling youngsters around and even more appreciative parents and carers.
And so the day continued to run so smoothly, the odd hiccup when one of the PA28’s refused to start but it was a problem quickly and efficiently resolved by the volunteers, until at 16.00 flight number 32, the last of the day, took to the air. The pilots, apart from the briefest of comfort breaks, had flown continuously throughout the day treating everyone to half an hour in the air and giving each a very special day. By the time flight 32 taxied back to disembark its smiling youngster 96 people (including pilots) had been flown. It had been an enormously successful day, not just operationally but, judging from the amount of votes of thanks and appreciation from Braves and parents, for the Bader Braves themselves.
Jess and I packed the bits and pieces away in the car before nipping back to the café. As people drifted away from City Airport, most of the volunteers, be they ground crew or aircrew had also disappeared before I had the chance to thank them but I hope that they took our gratitude and that of all of the Braves with them in the form of smiley faces; there were so many and each of the volunteers played an invaluable part in putting them there so a big thank you to everyone at City Airport And Heliport Manchester.
It was a truly great day and despite the gloomy forecast of Friday afternoon, the weather just got better as the day went on ……. Come on Steve Wright my boy, get your weather woman sorted!!!!!!