It was somewhat disappointing and rather concerning as we made our way north on the M6 towards Manchester last Friday morning where the City Airport & Heliport (formerly Barton) was to be the venue for our Young Aviators Day on Saturday 21st July. The clear blue skies and bright sunshine which had become such a welcome and regular feature over the last few weeks, slowly gave way to the more familiar grey clouds which seem to arrive in tandem with school summer holidays. The car radio was tuned to local stations as our motorway journey slowly progressed and each incoming weather forecast did little to lift spirits. Roadworks and heavy traffic reduced our speed to little more than a crawl and then splot, splot, splot on the windscreen …… rain!! Whilst many, particularly the gardeners, would be welcoming the sight of the wet stuff it was really the last thing I needed; so long had it been since we had seen any that I had to think exactly where the wipers were on the car!!
As we checked in to the hotel a text from Emily, event co-ordinator at the airport, informed me that all was in place for tomorrow and that there would be a 09.00 briefing of pilots and volunteers; there was no mention of the weather in fact the text was very positive. As we turned in on Friday night there was just a little drizzle, nothing dramatic but not at all what we wanted.
Saturday morning, 06.30, no drizzle, no sun just grey skies but the weather guy on the breakfast TV programme promised that things were going to improve as the day went on; so a quick brekky and off to the airport where a multitude of hi-vis clad people were already gathering for the briefing scheduled for 15 minutes time. There were the usual introductions and then the yellow clad band split into two groups, pilots following Mark, airport duty manager of the day, for their flight planning briefing and the vast number of ground helpers mostly drawn from the voluntary group “Friends of Barton” all of whom, despite having already been allocated specific tasks, seemed perfectly willing to offer help anywhere.
By the time we got to 09.45 and the first of the Bader Braves began to arrive the skies had lightened quite a bit. Once checked in and formalities completed it was over to Commander Kath who was allocating the youngsters to aeroplanes; stewards were called and the passengers for the first flight of the day were quickly ushered through the gate, escorted to the waiting aeroplane and introduced to their pilot for the day. It was all a very slick operation and continued with the same well organised efficiency throughout the whole event. Braves were now arriving thick and fast but with such a great team on the ground nobody had to wait too long before being called for their flight.
Pilots were returning to report that visibility was not ideal and so flight plans were adjusted to give the youngsters the best possible views over the surrounding countryside and urban areas that conditions permitted; it seemed that one of the favourite routes gave views of the Macron Stadium (formerly the Reebok Stadium) home of Bolton Wanderers FC then returning with views across the whole of Manchester. But any change to flight planning had little effect on the enjoyment of the flight on the Braves for, judging by the enormous smiles on their faces when they returned to base, each had enjoyed an unforgettable experience. Things were now running so smoothly that pilots were now offering the Braves a second flight and some of the youngsters were brave enough to don a thermal flight suit and take to the air in a flex-wing microlight aircraft that one of the pilots had made available for the day … he was kept very busy indeed!!
As the Braves returned from flights they were able to take tasty meals prepared by the catering team in the Runway 26 restaurant and provided as part of the day by the Foundation. As they took some down-time more Braves were arriving to take flights in later sessions, some have travelled from as far away as Solihull and Hull.
As lunchtime slipped by the weather seemed to be getting slightly better and the local pilots’ yardstick of a visual on the distant landmark of Winter Hill gave encouragement as it was now in clear view. And so the day continued until around 16.45hrs the Winter Hill marker had once again disappeared in the mist and skies were darkening once more, but no matter, the last of the Braves was airborne and scheduled to land around 17.00; bang on time the final flight of the day touched down and disembarked it excited young passenger. The last certificate presentation was made and the five aircraft that had provided such a great day for the Bader Braves had fallen silent and were being readied for operations the next day.
As we cleared away the paraphernalia of the day, loaded it back into the car and set off to bid farewells to our friends and generous hosts of the day at City Airport & Heliport Manchester one could feel just a little drizzle in the breeze again; by the time we got back to our hotel in Warrington it was raining really quite hard. Now it didn’t matter and I felt smugly pleased for the frustrated gardeners; fantastic day Barton and perfect timing!!
Thank you all so much and, I hope, see you next year!!
Please click on the link to see all previous Young Aviators Day reports from 2018 by Keith Delderfield: /bader-braves-news?future=false