The first event took place at North Weald aerodrome on 17th April, 1999. The original expectation was for approximately 20 aircraft, each with one or two veterans to fly in to North Weald from various London-area airfields, but it soon became clear that there were many more private pilots and veteran air crew who wanted to take part.
Participants had to be limited to 60 aircraft for logistical reasons, nevertheless that meant over 150 air crew and pilots could attend.
The veterans enjoyed a day of real flying, competitions and some historic aircraft on show, punctuated with frequent visits to the mess hut (the bar!).
Guest Book Comments
Here are some of the Thank-You notes we recieved following the 1999 event:
Jim Smith, London
A word of appreciation from we veterans for the flying you organized. It was kind of you to arrange these flights, and the pleasure we drew from the experience. It was even more pleasurable not being shot at during the time we were airborne.
Geoff Paine, Hertfordshire
How can I thank you enough for organizing such a truly memorable day for we old codgers of WW2 air crew!
The day will rank amongst one of the most enjoyable of my whole life. The pilot I flew with was absolutely super, not only did he fly us to North Weald, but also to Wellesbourne!
Bill Royston, Suffolk
On behalf of myself and other members of my Branch of the Air Crew Association who so very much enjoyed our day out at North Weald yesterday, I thank you.
It is many years since we had such an opportunity to fly in a light aircraft and it was good to hear, once again the words "YOU HAVE CONTROL"- it brought back many pleasant memories of our days of early flying training on the old Tiger Moths and other small planes!
A Veteran's Account
John Potter was one of the wartime air crew who came on Project Propeller. This is his account of a wonderful day out.
"Good morning. You're going to have a lovely day for it"
The girl, Jane, was young attractive and welcoming. As she led the way into the flight dispersal, I thought the promise of the day and the morning sun were even brighter. She turned. "Come and have coffee. You are one of our veterans, aren't you?"
"Yes" I confessed, "I'm one of your veterans"
Inside she introduced me to a quartet of young hunks while busying herself with the coffee and biscuits in the manner of a cricket wife on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Must be a girlfriend of one of these, I thought. Probably her first flight.
Introductions coffee and chatter over, my veteran colleagues and I were taken on a tour of the various aircraft owned by these young tigers before each making for the one we were to fly in.
Now came embarrassment number one. My new, new hip behaved very well, but my old, old knee decided to be totally cussed. After struggling for a few minutes to get on the wing, failure was admitted all round, and I suffered the indignity of being half dragged, half lifted into the cabin. My travelling veteran colleague slipped in beside me.
Peter, who I assumed was my pilot, took the left-hand front seat and Jane settled into the seat beside him. We taxied out, familiar smells around me, familiar instruments before me, and took off for North Weald into a lovely but blustery morning with a distant build up of cloud suggesting the possibility of some dicey weather for the return flight.
Second embarrassment, Peter wasn't flying the aircraft at all, Jane was! To my old eyes, Jane had seemed a stripling not long out of high school. I learned later that she was married to one of the hunks and a qualified airline pilot who flew Boeing 737's out of Gatwick.
We flew almost due North, crossing the Thames over the most impressive M25 bridge and the new and massive "Blue Water" shopping city. Then we diverted to stooge around towards the coast, picking up various landmarks and points of interest before turning again to head for the North Weald circuit.
Looking down, the field was so full of aircraft that a parking space was difficult to identify but Jane whispered the Messenger on to the runway where we were guided to a slot close to the main dispersal hut.
Peter said something about breakfast and we joined the queue for a coffee and a maxi slice of cream cake. All around us many of the white hair brigade were meeting old friends - as we were, swapping yarns and shooting lines.
Among the geriatrics were ex, sorry veteran (might as well admit to it) navigators, gunners wireless operators, and bomb aimers in addition to pilots. Even an ex-Luftwaffe pilot who'd flown Dorniers and had bombed London before being shot down over Sussex. Our host pilots, from a range of airfields in the South and South East , were clearly delighted with the success of the exercise.
The day looked after itself. Nobody could be alone or bored on a day like that. Bags of chatter, much of it exaggerated no doubt, a break for lunch, Hamburger and chips, many aircraft to inspect, including a beautifully restored old Dakota - and private planes, large and small.
Toward the end of the afternoon a number of us were press ganged into being interviewed for television by another stripling of a girl ( no doubt married with children and driving a tank in the TA) who probed for war time experiences. More opportunity for line shoot.
All too soon it was time to return to Biggin. The sun and Jane had abandoned us. No doubt she had gone off to test fly some fast experimental jet. The wind was gusting and the clouds gathering. My veteran colleague and I said many goodbyes and walked back to the Messenger with our host pilot, Peter.
"It's been a great day" said Peter "but I'm feeling just a mite weary. I'll have to ask one of you to fly us back. Toss for it."
We did. I won.
Peter took off and handed over. Two small rain squalls, some turbulence, and fifty minutes later I handed back to him as we joined the Biggin circuit.
A great day. Next year they're planning to double it's size.
I'll be there.