Gareth Stringer's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JUN 11 2010
Travels in France, Merlins in Wales, Airshows and Operations

It’s actually been nice to stay at home this week in all honesty! After our short but epic trip to France, which hopefully you’ve read all about here on GAR, I was back in Brum for a few days before Andrea and I chucked the dogs in the car and headed down to South Wales for a week. We stayed, for the third consecutive year, at a beautiful cottage in Laugharne, over looking, purely coincidentally I assure you, the Pembrey and Pendine weapons ranges! Fortunately for us we saw a continuation of the weather I had enjoyed in France and, other than roughly one and half days, basked in largely unbroken sunshine and spent our time on the beach. I didn’t break any bones either which is always a bonus – although I’ll return to my ankle a little later in this blog!

I had promised myself, and Andrea, an aviation free week but if you go to Wales that is a pretty unlikely occurrence and Valley’s Hawks didn’t let us down as they made the most of Pembrey’s facilities, visible across the estuary from the farm which includes the cottage we stayed in. Best of all though was the visitor from RAF Benson. Last Wednesday we were sunning ourselves on the beach at Pendine when the sound of machine-gun fire commenced. It was definitely coming from further round the coast, beyond line of sight, but for a short while I had no idea what it might be. That was until I heard the unmistakeable sound of a helicopter somewhere in the distance. Having never seen any rotary action on the range before I realised this could be a first for me so I kept my eyes peeled as we drove back towards Laugharne a little later on, the sound of activity still rumbling on. Sure enough, a clear view across the estuary as we returned and just the briefest glimpse of a Merlin HC3 – we were in business!

I grabbed my camera and a cuppa and headed round towards the back of the farm which offered the best view across towards the range – the camera more ‘for the record’ really as it is some way across and was quite hazy despite the beautiful weather. As you can see from the images (just!) the Merlin was still active on the range and as it would later transpire, didn’t actually finish until just shy of midnight, with the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) ringing out at numerous intervals. Despite the distance it was great to see the helo at work on the range although I did laugh when the owner of the farm asked if it was a Chinook (they’ll love that one at Benson I thought) and Andrea, in a great display of loyalty, was actually quite forceful in putting her right. Maybe Team Merlin has finally managed to make her see that there is more to RAF rotary life than Wokkas!

Back to France and it really was a magical trip – superb weather, great company, Mirage F-1s, a wonderful airshow and a brilliant museum. What more could you want? Everyone we met was extremely helpful and as I said to someone the other night, it was great to attend an airshow with so many, for me anyway, ‘new’ items on display. The beat-up by the pair of Rafales on the Friday press day is a memory that will stay with me for a long time and the whole five days away was delightful – despite the predictable ups and downs of risking visits to bases with little prior knowledge of movements, as Cambrai and to some extent Reims Champagne, proved.

Looking ahead to this weekend and beyond, this is really the time where the airshow season in the UK increases in intensity and busy times lie ahead for many of us on the GAR team. Cosford is next in line although I will be probably be spending more time at RAF Shawbury over the coming days having lined-up a number of opportunities which will be conducted there for GAR, our still secret project and also with our friends from PlanesTV. I have happy memories of visiting Shawbury pre-Cosford '09 for one of my first ever GAR excursions so hopefully this weekend will be just as productive. Next Tuesday sees Karl and I fulfilling a visit to 673 (Training) Squadron at Middle Wallop to learn more about the AH-64 Apache. Karl has been working on this one literally for months and months and we are both looking forward to it - then we’re off to Kemble which will see me make my airshow commentary debut.

This is something that I have been discussing with various people for quite some time, with a number of organisers apparently concerned at the lack of new ‘commentators’ coming forward to give it a try - so Kemble will in some ways be a toe in the water for me – and of course Andy Pawsey and Trevor Graham who I will be working alongside! I must thank Glen Moreman, Andy and Trevor for giving me the opportunity and for supporting my idea to try something a little different, all of which will hopefully be revealed next weekend. It's a great show with a lovely atmosphere and the layout makes for some very special photographic opportunities, not that I'll be able to use mine anywhere near as frequently as I might otherwise have done.

After Kemble, two days later to be precise, I go in to hospital for surgery on the ankle I broke in Wales last August. As some of you know, an MRI scan revealed the ligament to be most likely damaged beyond natural healing so they are going to take a look and see what they can do. I won’t really know the extent of the operation until I come around afterwards as the surgeon will do as little or as much as he or she needs to in order to get it right but it does mean that sadly I won’t be attending Biggin Hill this year which is a massive shame. I’m still hopeful that Waddington will be do-able somehow although I might be looking around for a lift before then! Interestingly enough the airshow office at Waddo did alert me to the fact that you can hire mobility scooters at the show so that could be a far better option than being stuck on crutches for the weekend!

Whatever your plans for the next few weeks I hope you enjoy them and I look forward to seeing some of you at Cosford and Kemble.

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2010-06-14 - Alan Longstaff
Good luck with the commentary on the weekend, I shall try to listen to some of it!

If you get a chance, come and see us on the flightline and please give Airbase a shout!

Oh and give the new Classic Flight book a plug, it's rather good, even if I do say so myself!


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