The Packet Inn mooring is the perfect place to go and see the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, as that’s where they hang out. And from Monday to Friday volunteers will take you on a Hanger tour at RAF Conningsby. Being summer not all the planes are on base as they try to get out for displays, but we were lucky. The Lancaster was on the runway just about to take off on its way down to Southampton.
The Lancasters played a vital part in Britain’s war effort. They were the huge heavy duty bombers, capable of night flights, and often, if they had been hit, able to limp home on only 2 of their 4 engines. Sadly being part of a Lancaster crew was still one of the most dangerous places to be in the RAF. Out of the 7377 built, 3249 survived and only 35 completed more than 100 sorties. The crew of 7 had only a 15% chance of being able to bail out if hit, and due to the cramped conditions in the turrets, the gunners would often have removed their parachutes. Life expectancy of a rear gunner was rummered to only be 4 weeks, exposed and unable to escape they were very vulnerable. Unlike today’s stringent rules with supervised flying hours before obtaining a pilots licence, some of these men were lucky if they got 2 weeks training. Consequently a lot of the tragedies occoured when landing back on home ground due to sheer lack of experience. Probably the most famous Lancaster mission was delivering the Dam Busters bouncing bombs. The Spitfires were midgets compared to the Lancasters. They were the short range high performance single seat fighters. They often flew photo reconnaissance missions unarmed because they could fly higher and faster than the enemy. Their design was streamlined and although costing a lot more, the air force insisted on flat rivets because it allowed an extra 15mph. We wonder if some boaters realise this, as there is a trend for having raised rivets added to hulls purely for the aesthetics. Going 15mph faster might not actually be possible but going 15mph slower would have a very negative impact….
Although the Spitefires have captured the public’s affections, the Hurricanes were responsible for 60% of the enemy losses during the Battle of Britain. They were essentially a fore runner of the Spitfire using tried and tested cheaper manufacturing methods. They were straightforward and easier to fly, also easier to repair, but the agility and speed of the Spitfire was too beneficial to ignore. The Douglas Dakota was used primarily as a military transport plane but looks equally impressive when seen as part of the team.The BBMF has to undergo strict and rigerous maintenance throughout the year. The cogsand pistons gleamAnd each time the planes are repainted, the colours of the various countries that played a part in the allies victory are chosen, this shows the Polish Boxing Bulldog. The French Spitfire is silver with the French Flag but this plane isn’t flying this season. The pilots also undertake many hours of additional training before they are allowed to fly any of the BBMF. There is only one Lancaster left in Britain that is able to fly and the RAF is doing their best to preserve it for as long as possible. It certainly gave us a huge thrill every time we saw it flying over. The deep rumble is quite unique. And as we were in Lincolnshire for nearly a month we got to see and hear it many times. It’s been a highlight of our summer and in true narrowboat life totally unexpected experience.