Shipdham Bear Faced Cheek Air Day 2009 Review
Sunday 27th September
A fresh face with a familiar family name, Leah Hammond has been displaying Auster V G-AMVD at airshows throughout the summer of 2009 since gaining her display authorisation in June of this year. Leah has also initiated a number of methods of fund raising for cancer research, one highlight of which was the 'Bear Faced Cheek Air Day' held at the picturesque farm airfield at Shipdham, in Norfolk, on 27 September.
sampled the ripe country air to find out more. All photography by the author.
Shipdham airfield was taken over in 2000 by the Shipdham Flying Club, having served as Station 115 and used by 'The Flying Eightballs' of the USAAF 44th Bomb Group and their B-24s during the war. They hold the dubious distinction of losing the most number of aircraft by any B-24 Liberator unit. A museum on the airfield serves as a memorial to those that would never return. Most of the airfield has succumbed to farm usage, and an approach to the entrance for the show brought with it an interesting vista of cows noses buried in their feeding trough, whilst the product from their other ends was being processed along a conveyor system to be disgorged dangerously close to the road, and indeed I think I collected some slurry on the way out. It's not like this at RIAT!
Maurice Hammond will be familiar to airshow attendees as the rebuilder and operator of two P-51 Mustangs; Janie, and more recently, Marinell, both of which are extremely fine examples of the aircraft and of warbird restorations. Maurice's fleet also includes Stearman N4712V, Harvard G-ELMH and Auster V G-AMVD. Not surprisingly with so much aviation surrounding her, Leah's interested in flying was sparked at a very early age. Having first been taken aloft at around three years old, Leah learned to fly in Cessna 172 G-DEMH, going solo at sixteen, with the CAA stamping her licence actually on her eighteenth birthday, with a note saying 'congratulations on getting your licence on your eighteenth birthday'. Leah carried out her tail wheel conversion in the Auster, before also converting onto the Stearman and then the Harvard. She currently has around 300 hours in total, with 60 on the Harvard, 20 on the Stearman and 50 plus on the Auster. To the obvious question of whether she is looking to fly the Mustangs, Leah admits that this would be a couple of years away yet. Leah says 'The Mustang is not a plane that jumps out to me that I want to fly. It's big and powerful and has the presence of nothing I've flown before. I'm more than happy flying the Harvard which I still find challenging. When I've built up more hours on the Harvard maybe then I'll see if dad will let me at the reigns of one of the Mustangs! But I'm in no hurry.' Leah has made a number of airshow appearances in the Auster V this year having made her debut at The Cold War Museum Open Day at RAF Bentwaters, including Little Gransden, Rougham and Elmsett, but wasn't taking to the air at Shipdham, allowing her to concentrate on matters on the ground.
Having suffered the trauma that a family goes through as her mum Diane was treated for cancer, Leah has embarked on a fund raising campaign which will culminate in a hopefully large donation to Norfolk and Norwich Breast Cancer Research Fund. Thankfully Diane received the all clear after four operations and radiotherapy. Since January 2009, 'Janie Bear' has been flying throughout the UK and around the World, thanks to the co-operation of many pilots and a number of airlines, all the time keeping a flying logbook of her exploits. Both Janie and her logbook will be won by the winner of a raffle that has been running throughout 2009, and which is to be drawn at a 'Party in Pink' on the 16 January 2010. Raffle tickets are still available from the Bear Faced Cheek website at www.bearfacedcheek2010.co.uk . The title of the website alludes to another facet of Leah's fund raising efforts; that of a 2010 calendar featuring a number of well known air display pilots. This offering isn't the usual aviation themed calendar, as the brave souls within are 'bearing' their all for charity. This calendar can also be purchased from the website. It was also being sold from the main marquee at Shipdham, within which Janie Bear, Leah, Diane and family and friends were 'manning' the stalls, whilst visiting pilots such as dad Maurice, and Carolyn Grace popped in for very friendly 'meet the pilots' moments.
Out on the airfield a number of visiting light aircraft were parked up and available to be inspected by the public, with no barriers, alongside a show of various types of automobiles, motor cycles and military vehicles, a 'bouncy castle' and small food and drink outlets. All indicative of a small, friendly fly-in event. There was one drawback of the farm environment, which became evident upon the arrival of the 60 Sqn Griffin ZJ238 being flown by Tony McGregor (60 Sqn CO). The DHFS helicopter hover-taxied into its initial parking spot, engulfing its marshaller in dust and husks, left-overs from the harvested maize field on which the display was being held. Although the runways and other hard standings had been swept clear for the show, the natural wind, and that created from turning props had a habit of lifting much of it back into the air. The Griffin spent much of the morning giving experience flights to the attending Air Training Corps cadets. Amongst a number of visiting light aircraft, the days' display acts began to arrive, and were parked in a nicely accessible, public-side apron. The Griffin signalled the approaching display kick-off time by hover-taxiing to its parking spot for the duration of the flying, near to the display aircraft on the apron, and there was some consternation from the Dukes of Cassutt team pilots whose little racing aircraft were taking a bit of a battering from the helicopter's down-draught, as well as a coating of dust.
First to take to the air were Nigel Willson in his yellow and white Yak-52, and Dave Evans in the Hammond Harvard G-ELMH 'Fools Rush In'. The sky blue Harvard is another of Maurice's immaculate machines, and formated with Nigel before each gave a solo routine. Nigel has a habit of being involved with mixed-type formations, sharing airspace with such aircraft as Chipmunks, Stearman, a Spitfire, and even Cessnas, as seen at the Elmsett fly-in a few weeks before. The aforementioned Dukes of Cassutt were clearly unharmed; carrying out their highly entertaining display in these tiny little aircraft for what was the very last time. Two of the team, their leader Richard Grace (son of Carolyn) and Dave Puleston are planning to offer a Pitts Special display team for 2010, in a type which hasn't been seen as a team on the circuit since the early 1990s. The third member of the 'Dukes' is Aiden Brown. It's a shame that we won't be seeing any more of these little yellow racing aircraft, and also that their appearances have been so few, as it is a delightful routine, with extremely close formations and dynamic breaks.
Both Peter Teichman in his P-40 and Carolyn Grace in her Spitfire made great use of the clear blue skies, and both kicked up plenty of dust whilst carrying out their engine checks beforehand. The farmer may have found that he had a few dusty cows at the end of the day! Whilst 'PT' was warming his engine BBMF Lancaster PA474 could be seen passing less than a mile from the airfield. A fly through had been requested, but not approved apparently due to flight time, but to get so close and not appear seemed very odd. 'Calendar Boy' Justin Gorman was clearly enjoying himself in his Extra 300 G-XXTR, with a high-g routine using plenty of rudder, and thankfully kept his flying suit on! The best section of the display was left until last. Maurice Hammond in his P-51 'Janie' and Rob Davies in 'Big Beautiful Doll' joined up to make a number of passes, one of which was extremely well positioned for the cameras. They each then carried out solo routines, with Rob in particular making use of the unrestricted space around the airfield and coming in low and head-on to the crowd over the fields and hedges, all of which was topped off by the blue skies which added to the visual joy of seeing these two Mustangs cavorting. 'Janie' in particular is often quoted as being the UK's best looking P-51, and in this light, and in this type of 'cosy' location, she is really shown off at her best. Both pilots also kindly provided the photographers with top side passes for our albums, which is much appreciated.
The 'Bear Faced Cheek Air Day' was a wonderful event, and raised over £4000 for the charity, the event being organised by Leah, with help from 'Debs' Leggett (Earls Colne Yak52) and Phil Collin (Shipdham airfield management team). The adverts are already running for the 2010 event, on the 26 September, and I would highly recommend putting it in your diaries once you've unwrapped them at Christmas.