The following article, written by the previous Chairman Stuart Stephenson MBE gives a comprehensive insight into the achievements of the Association over the years
Over the past years we have helped the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight financially many times.
In the very early days the Lancaster did not have a mid-upper turret fitted. The turret had been found in Argentina and had arrived in the UK but funds had not been available to manufacture the deflection cam which had to be fitted before the turret could be put into place. The deflection cam can be seen on the aircraft, it fits round the bottom of the mid-upper turret. When the turret rotates, small rollers below the guns lift them at the right moments to stop the gunner shooting into the back of the cockpit or into the rudders.
The word came from HQ Strike Command engineering asking, would we like to undertake this work, which also relied on us to finance the job. We said yes, arranged the production of a postal cover, which we hope would cover the cost, found an engineering firm to do the work, and from plans supplied by the RAF the work was done - paid for by the money we had raised from the sales of the covers.
In a few words this sounds very easy, but the job took about 2 years and generated hundreds of hours of work for the few of us who were involved at the time. When the cam was eventually put into place on the bomber it was such a good fit that one could not get ones fingers underneath it to lift it off. A marvellous achievement by the engineers who worked only from the plans, the fuselage tapering to the tail and curving down at each side from the centre line.
It was only found in 1999 that the wrong drawings had been given to us, and a new one was made as part of the Lancaster’s major service undertaken during the winter of 1999/2000 - but this time not at our expense.
Through our growing public image we were able to help by locating spare parts which were still lying around with various bits and pieces coming from farmyards and garden sheds. We were able to secure engine spares and tyres on the commercial market. In the early days we supplied a fax machine for the office. GPS electronic satellite navigation equipment has been purchased for the Lancaster and Dakota, and both have now been up-dated with the latest types as technology has moved on.
As the years have moved on we have become involved in more expensive projects. We had dummy cannons made for one of the Hurricanes, which gave it a completely new image. During the following season we were asked where the new Hurricane had come from, and the pilots had to get used to the barrels sticking out of the wings - no accidents were reported!
Many parts, which cannot be seen, were made which have been fitted into the Lancaster; the biggest being the ammunition tracking that fits inside the rear fuselage and supplied ammunition to the rear turret from a point below the mid-upper. This took a year to make and complete with blank rounds can just be seen inside the aircraft when the door is open.
Up to the end of 2000 the most expensive job has been the transfer of all of the manuals and associated information onto CD ROM. All the manuals date back to the war years and with constant use have deteriorated badly. The large fold -out diagrams being badly affected where they fold. They are all historic documents and should be in an archive not in every day use. It took almost 2 years to do the necessary work. The documents, which had almost filled a large room, were reduced down to about 12 CD ROMS, which do not fill a shoebox. We also supplied the necessary PC and a special printer.
With the introduction of this system it now means that any information that is needed can be found in seconds. Under the old method it could easily take half a day going through book after book to find whatever was needed - today it takes seconds. The necessary page can be printed out for use in the hangar without the worry of damaging it beyond future use. This system alone has cost us just under £44,000, but it has proved invaluable to the Flight. The time it saves during a year is estimated to be equivalent to giving then almost two extra engineers. We have only being able to finance this work with the help, and generosity of our members. We have received bequests and donations, which along with the money raised from souvenir sales, have made all of this possible.
2014 Update from Stuart Stephenson MBE
In 2012 we were asked if we would cover the cost of repainting the Lancaster into 617 Squadron markings to commemorate the anniversary of the Dams raid during 2013. We agreed and the job was done at a cost of approx. £17,000.
During 1999 the remains of two Spitfires both Mk XV1e’s serial numbers TE311 and TB382 were allocated to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Both airframes were in a terrible state and I understand that they had arrived for the Flight’s engineers to harvest any spares that they could use.
From time to time I used to ask Chief Tech Paul Blackah MBE if there were any projects coming along in which we could help the Flight.
It turned out that that the plan was to try to make TE311 suitable for static exhibition.
Paul and his “sidekick” Corporal Andy Bale began the restoration work undertaken mostly in their own time on days off and at weekends.
LLA were soon involved providing finance. I remember that the first items that we paid for were formers for the rear section of the fuselage.
Many vital items come to mind that we financed especially the wings and engine bearers. After 12 years the job was done and we had contributed over £100,000.
During those 12 years as the work unfolded the decision was taken that she should be brought up to flying condition which illustrates the outstanding engineering work which had been achieved by Paul and Andy and other members of the BBMF engineers who had become involved as the job neared completion.
My proudest moment came when I was one of the very few in December 2012 who, under great deal of secrecy was invited to witness the very first air test flight of TE311 in the safe hands of Squadron Leader Ian (Smithy) Smith.
Our financial input had helped put another Spitfire in the air, which helps reduce the flying hours of the other fighters thus helping to prolong their lives.
During n the autumn / winter period of 2012 – 2014 we have further paid approx. £17,000 to paint Spitfire AB910 into the markings MD - E which she wore in Operation Jubilee when she flew over Dieppe during the Dieppe raid in August 1942.
During the 2014 visit of the Canadian Lancaster to the Uk mechanical problems struck one of its engines. The engine had to be changed and BBMF came to the rescue with the loan of one of their spare engines so that the UK tour could continue without too much disruption. An appeal for financial help to cover the cost of repairs to the engine was made by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and we made a donation of $10,695 Canadian Dollars for this cause. The reason for the figure of 10,695 is to symbolise the number of Canadian Airmen who lost their lives while serving with Bomber Command during World War 2.