Thirty two Braves and their families attended our great Young Aviators Day at Newtonards Airport, home of our hosts and old friends, The Ulster Flying Club, for what was to be yet another enormously successful event.
At our customary pre-event organisation meeting with our event co-ordinator and long serving loyal supporter, Barry Wallace, on Friday afternoon I was briefed on the procedures of the day and was informed that met reports indicated that we were in for “a promising day but it may worsen later!”; just a precautionary note I hoped but it was confirmed on the late night BBC regional news that we should be OK until around 16.00hrs – just right I thought as we should be pretty much through by then.
And so it was with great optimism that we left the hotel on Saturday morning for the fairly short drive to the airport; it really was a most promising start to the day for as we crested the hill before dropping down into the town of Newtownards the early morning sun was glinting off of the waters of Strangford Lough, it really was a splendid sight. As we parked outside the clubhouse the airport staff were busying themselves in preparation for the day and we were greeted by old friends from previous visits to this very friendly club.
Since last year’s visit they had clearly been very busy there for the inside of the clubhouse had been transformed by some very smart and comfortable modifications; all very “posh”!! There, still in all its glory, was a timely reminder of the long association between the flying club and Douglas Bader.
In no time at all we were set up and all ready to go. Once again the marshalling was in the very capable hands of Nora and her team. Outside the “Bouncy Castle” was fully inflated and awaiting the arrival of the first Bader Bouncer, the club aircraft were lined up on the apron all ready to go, safety vehicles were on stanby and there was just time for the traditional early morning cuppa before the first Brave arrived.
Formalities were quickly completed, briefings delivered and, unlike our Luton experience the previous day, a very quick and easy passage through check-in and departure to be introduced to their pilot for the day who escorted them to the waiting aeroplane. It wasn’t long before Brave No 1 was strapped safely in, had been taken through the flight safety briefing, doors checked and we heard the shout “clear prop” then after the shortest of pauses, our first flight of the day coughed into life and taxied out to the end of the runway before the throttle was opened and it sped off along the tarmac and gently lifted off, gradually climbing over the Lough until it disappeared from view, or at least from my view (must get my spec’s checked!!)
By now the Braves were arriving thick and fast and the procedure was repeated throughout the morning. If there was a short break it gave us the opportunity of grabbing another cuppa. Everything was running like clockwork. Flights were coming and going at a steady pace, it appeared that none of the Braves were experiencing too long of a wait and everyone seemed very happy. Some of the waiting Braves were trying very hard to wear out the bouncy castle and others visited the nail bar and face painters kindly provided by members of Barry’s family
Catering at UFC is traditionally provided by Barry and a great team of club members in the form of a BBQ and towards midday that unmistakable BBQ aroma was becoming increasingly evident and once the “Open for Business” cry went out an instant queue appeared. The morning session was now almost through and the pilots were ready for a well-earned break but as the huddled together it was clear that the weather was becoming something of a concern. To me it still seemed quite bright, a bit more cloud than earlier for sure and possibly a tad more “breezy” but OK. But of course that was only how I perceived things from the ground. From on high the pilots were aware that cloud was building quite rapidly in the distance and it was “getting a bit bumpy up there!” A quick check on the met radar showed a stronger likelihood of a shower or two later.
As some of the afternoon Braves had already arrived as morning ones departed the pilots decided to cut short their break limiting their relaxation to the obligatory cuppa and the essential pitstop and fly on with the object of avoiding any disappointment brought on by the weather.
And so operations continued. Noras’ troops were on top of their game in getting Braves organised for their flights and keeping everyone informed as it became increasingly obvious, even with my spec’s, that the weather was as forecast, closing in. The dramatic local landmark, Scrabo Tower which stands atop a nearby hill, was now looking a bit faded as drizzle began to engulf it. As each incoming flight disembarked its passengers, pilots held a quick conflab but all agreed that for now it was still flyable.
Sadly at this point it became clear that we may not get through everyone and so a couple of Braves who were travelling the furthest distance were advised of the situation and one chose not to come, an understandable decision as I know only too well what it’s like driving for a couple of hours with a car load of miserable disappointed youngsters!! Despite the poor weather all around us there was no rain, well no more than the odd spot or two, and the BBQ was still doing a roaring trade although, personally, I was becoming concerned that the sausage supply appeared to be going down quite quickly …… would it hold out until it was my turn?? The local MP and regular supporter of Bader Braves, Jim Shannon arrived around midday to chat to the families and volunteers and enjoy the BBQ (blast! Another sausage gone!!)
All the Braves we were expecting had by now arrived and as we only deal in smiles it was decided that flights needed to be shortened by a few minutes each thus increasing the chances of getting every Brave into the air. It was a well-conceived plan that worked perfectly for before we got to the point when flying would have had to cease the last flight of the day taxied back onto the apron and the engine was switched off bringing something of an eerie, if short lived, silence; short lived in that once out of the aeroplane a very excited Brave was very vocally conveying his delight to his waiting mum who was some 200 metres away!!
And so our 2017 Young Aviators Day with The Ulster Flying Club came to a close. As always the club had provided a whole load of smiles, spread so much happiness and provided so many great memories for our Bader Braves. Once again Barry Wallace and his band of willing volunteers along with the super airfield staff team had worked tirelessly ensuring that we all had a brilliant day and we are indebted to them all.
Sadly however, this was Barry’s swansong for after being with Bader Braves from the very start all those years ago, Barry has decided to stand down. We will all miss Barry enormously as he become such a loyal and staunch supporter of the Bader Braves programme in Ulster and to me he has become a good personal friend. However before leaving Barry has recruited someone to whom he will pass the baton and I am now looking forward to working with Julie in 2018 as not only is she far better looking than you Barry but I do not think that she is the sort of lady who would pinch the last sausage!!!