The project has made huge strides this year, off the back of the incredibly successful launch event held as the clocks went back in 2016, the huge surge of interest in the project meant that the trustees had their work cut out as 2017 showed no sign of slowing down, in fact, the complete opposite. Below, is an extract from the recent newsletter published to all members of the Supporters’ Club just before Christmas, it is a roundup of many of the signifiant events of 2017, there is plenty more that has happened, but it can’t all be written about!
January 2017 saw the acquisition of one of the world’s only Napier Sabre engines suitable to be rebuilt. Serial number 2484 was secured by the Charity from Cranfield University following a 10-year mission by Dave in researching it, its whereabouts and its owner. Still lacking a permanent home the team were very kindly allowed the use of the Boultbee Flight Academy’s premises at Goodwood for the unveiling and subsequent storing of this priceless piece. It was the first question on everybody’s lips when they heard about the project “what are you going to do for an engine, there aren’t any?” well, with the acquisition of this pristine example, never used in anger, and inhibited correctly, that myth had been well and truly dispelled. The engine caused a surge of excitement around the time of the announcement, and it is still doing so now, almost a year on. It is still the mystical piece of the aircraft that everyone talks about and is a real crowd puller at the shows to which we have taken it.
In terms of development and progress, many would probably have seen acquiring one of the only engines in the world for the project as a good year’s work, but the trustees had other things on their mind. The search for a location in which to base the project had been ongoing since the launch event in 2016, in early 2017 a suitable unit was found, visited, and agreed, but then almost two months into the legal negotiations the landlord pulled the rug out from under their feet by “doing a deal” with the neighboring tenant and the project was back to square one. But, in that time the online shop and Supporters’ Club had really picked up and gained momentum with the effect that the budget for a base could be increased slightly. This brought a few previously discounted locations back onto the map and the unit that is now the project’s home, was decided upon, duly visited and it was agreed that out of what was available to the team, it was the best fit. The keys were picked up at the end of July, meaning that finally, the project had a home, and a place to answer that other question that kept being asked “can I come and see it?” well now the answer was yes.
Up until this time it is worth remembering that the project had no single location in which to store not only the entire aircraft collection, but also all the merchandise for the online shop and the Supporters’ Club and the large amount of air show hardware. Not only was there no place to store it, but there was no place to process the hundreds of web orders and Supporters’ Club applications, all of which were raising the vital cash that was required in order to secure the lease deposit of the unit. This was all being done from spare bedrooms, garages and secure storage locations, and crucially in any spare time the team could find. The lack of a permanent base made the first section of the air show season much more difficult than it should have been, merchandise had to come from one end of the country, and hardware the other. There was no location in which to store everything, to train the volunteers, or even to have a “dry run” of putting up and breaking down the air show stand. To that end it is a testament to the hard work of not only the trustees, but also the volunteers from within the Supporters’ Club who answered the call for help in early 2017 and did an absolutely sterling job.
The project’s attendance at air shows had been delayed from late 2016 when the team could have attended some shows. The decision was taken to delay, in order to make sure that when the time was right, the project was properly represented. A custom printed 6x3m foldable stand was designed over the winter, and the first air show was decided on as a small venue, a Fly-In, at which to test the stand and meet the volunteers who wished to help. Again, it is a testament to the volunteers who offered to help and who helped to develop the air show stand into what it is today, a well-oiled and professional machine. The team has received feedback from other air show going projects, businesses and individuals involved in the “scene” that the image we portray is one of professionalism and class, not to mention being copied on a number of things we have done, which is the highest form of flattery, right? The team’s first season at UK air shows was without a doubt a success. Hard work, and at times stressful behind the scenes, but an overwhelming success. So much so, that the project is now expected at UK shows and in 2018 there are currently 16 shows in our calendar, whereas the 2017 season was approximately 10.
In the early part of 2017 the trustees made visits to every well know aircraft restoration facility in the UK, even venturing over the treacherous waters of the Solent, to the Isle of Wight. This was to inform the establishments of our intentions, but also to begin to arrive at a more accurate idea of cost and timescales. The team was very pleased to report at the time that their initial estimates, based on similar unique projects, of £4-6M and a five-year build, were largely accurate; that meant that the D-Day target of 2024 was still within reach, but it would depend on fundraising. The next logical step was for these restoration shops, which are the “shortlist” for who is going to carry out the work, to visit the project and take a look, with their own eyes, at what existed. There was only one problem with that, it was still February and those of you who have been paying attention will notice that the keys were only handed over to the new unit in July, at which point it was high season at air shows and the unit was nothing more than a store. It couldn’t be anything more because there simply wasn’t the time with all Trustees working full time jobs.
The unit has been transformed since work commenced at the beginning of October, with every weekend seeing a small team of willing volunteers designing, constructing, moving, organising and tidying the unit in order to make it presentable for our hastily planned “Members’ Day” on the 29thOctober 2017 – exactly one year on from the official launch at Goodwood. The date and anniversary seemed too good an opportunity to pass on, and at the start of October it was decided an Open Day would be held for the members of the Supporters’ Club, who’s subscriptions were ultimately responsible for the unit. So, five working days later, the Open Day was held and it was a great success. Not only was a sizeable amount of money raised for the project, in the region of £3,000, but also we were able to meet another veteran Typhoon pilot, Bernard Gardiner, who was hoping to join us at the Launch, but couldn’t make it, Derek Lovell and the ever-vocal Rev. George Wood, joined him.
Work didn’t stop there as it was decided another Open Day would be held before Christmas, this time for anyone, members and non-members. In between these two events, just four weeks apart, some significant aircraft parts were made available to the project. After much deliberation a fundraising appeal was launched to the Supporters’ Club, aiming to raise the £12,000 required to secure the parts. In one week, members of the Supporters Club raised just under £80,000, which is an incredible amount of money.
The significant amount allowed the parts to be bought outright, not just reserved, and they were picked up and transported to the unit in time for the second Open Day on the first weekend of December. This event was also a great success, approximately £3,000 was raised on that day also, but perhaps more importantly, around 30 membership applications were received on the day, from individuals who attended, but were not yet in the Club. This is hugely encouraging to the team, who put a huge amount of effort in to the project, when people see what is being done and decide to join up as a result, some of you reading this now, will have joined at that event.
There are a lot of new developments planned for 2018, just a teaser of the early ones (because we’re still working on them!) are:
- a limited edition wristwatch, designed specifically for the project by RSC, details of the design(s) should be available in early January, it will be quite special
- more merchandise added to the ever expanding range, items should include childrens’ clothes, plus plenty more
- the team hopes to collaborate with Skytoons (who did the Christmas cards) some more
- Neil Hipkiss’ incredible artwork should be complete, a limited edition print and canvas run will be made, with the potential of some of the prints being signed by a pilot who actually flew RB
- Sam has already been asked to provide four talks in 2018 already, it is highly likely that many more will follow
- the most exciting thing, if fundraising continues, is the physical build being started
- air shows, open days and more, details of those below
In 2017, the team attended around 10 air shows; in 2018 the plan at this time is to attend 16 main shows and events. This is an increase of over 50%. It is also planned to open up the unit on the last Sunday of every month, beginning in January.
None of these endeavours can run themselves and to that end there are a number of volunteer positions that have presented themselves, in order for the project to continue to thrive and grow.This is your chance to become a part of the project and help to develop it. The volunteer positions will be filled in order of priority, they are:
- First and foremost is assistance, at the Uckfield base, with the Supporters’ Club, online shop and merchandise
- Open Day Volunteers are required in order to assist with the regular Open Days planned for the unit throughout 2018 and onwards
- Air shows, a team of six people is required for each day of an airshow – the season starts in April
- Cataloguing of parts – the entire collection needs to be recorded and photographed
- Work parties at the base, general DIY and building etc.
The most important attribute for anyone wishing to come on board and start to volunteer with the project is reliability. Great emphasis is placed on this, we ask that if you decide to commit, then you carry that through. We appreciate that the positions are voluntary, with people doing it in their spare time, and also that personal situations change and we will be clear with you about the requirements from the outset. The purpose of volunteering/helping with a project like this, is in order to drive it forward and helping it to develop – if you feel you are in a position to do this, and be involved in one of the greatest restoration projects out there, then we would like to hear from you, keep reading for more!