Way back in September 2008, I was lucky enough to get offered a seat in a Cirrus SR22 on the right-hand side of a diamond nine formation of other SR20 and SR22 aircraft, courtesy of a gentleman called Jon Butts, who is heavily involved with the Lee Flying Association at Lee-on-the-Solent, near Portsmouth. The weather on that occasion wasn’t brilliant, but I still managed to come away with a few half decent air-to-air snaps of the airborne gathering.
Fast forward almost four years, and Jon asked me to join him again on another photo opportunity. This time the subject would be rather more familiar to me, it being a reasonably regular participant on the UK airshow circuit; not only that, it was an aircraft with an incredible story to tell. Did I want to be involved with an air-to-air photoshoot involving D-Day veteran “Drag-‘Em-Oot”?!? The answer of “Too bloody right!” took me all of a nanosecond to come up with.
And so, on the morning of 1 June, I made my way down to Blackbushe Airport on the Hampshire/Surrey border where I’d be meeting Jon and a gentleman called Richard Goman – whose birthday it was and who had been kept completely in the dark about the whole thing! – who’d be occupying the right hand seat during our aerial get together.
Jon, being a member of the Cirrus147.com group, had arranged for us to be flying in Cirrus SR22 N147LK, a very smart ‘GTS’ version, though in truth, even the lesser-powered SR20s fall in to the ‘very smart’ category.
The weather at Blackbushe wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than the weather at East Kirkby, where Drag-‘Em-Oot would be operating from. The visibility there was not sufficiently good to enable the crew to get away on time, so we sat tight for a while. I should perhaps explain that Drag-‘Em-Oot had an appointment to keep – and it wasn’t with us. She was due in France later that afternoon for the first event of the 2012 D-Day commemorations. Before then she would be stopping off at Lee-on-the-Solent Airfield to collect her live cargo – of paratroopers!
Finally Jon received confirmation that Drag-‘Em-Oot and her crew were on their way, so it was time for us to strap in and get airborne ourselves. RAF Odiham was hosting its families day at the same time, so we had to make a detour to the south and east to avoid infringing upon their airspace. It’s not every day you get to shoot four Chinooks air-to-air, albeit a long way off in the distance!
We arrived in the pre-arranged hold near Petersfield well ahead of our target aircraft, so a number of orbits were necessary before Drag-‘Em-Oot finally appeared in our 6 o’clock, skirting just below the cloudbase. Radio contact was established and we joined up to the north of Portsmouth, near Southwick House, from where Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle planned the D-Day operations.
After shooting the sights we headed to Lee-on-the-Solent where we flew a circuit together and then shadowed Drag-‘Em-Oot in for her full-stop.
There wasn’t long for the aircraft to be turned around and loaded with its new cargo, but we managed to get a good look around her, both inside and out.
Before long it was time to strap in again. We sat with engine running and watched Drag-‘Em-Oot’s own engine starts before taxying out ahead of her. We got airborne first and Jon immediately executed a climbing left-hand turn, bringing us back around perfectly to capture Drag-‘Em-Oot crossing the coast.
Once again we joined up and flew in formation with the C-47 down over the Isle of Wight, leaving her and her crew to continue their onward journey to France at St Catherine’s Point.
We lobbed back into Lee for a quick splash and dash before making our way back to Blackbushe. Naturally, the weather was far nicer when we got airborne for our final leg than it had been at any other point during the day! As we left Portsmouth, we flew overhead a number of decommissioned Royal Navy ships, albeit exactly what they are has been the subject of some conjecture among the GAR team! We *think* it’s one Type 42 and two Type 22s. If anybody knows for sure, please let us know!!
Despite the lack of sun it’d still been a great day and an awesome opportunity. It also laid the foundations for me to have an absolutely first class chat with Drag-‘Em-Oot’s owner, Paddy Green, which you can read in Issue 10 of Global Aviation Magazine, if you’ve not already done so, along with snippets from lots of other people connected with the aircraft.
My sincere thanks go to Jon for giving me the chance to be a part of something quite special.