Sunday, 16 June 2013

Visit to Bentwaters

This weekend we had a visitor from the USA. Steve, WB0DBS, from Wichita is a friend of many years. My wife and I first met Steve and his wife in Dallas at one of the Microwave Update meetings we attended. Since then Steve and Jeannie have visited with us in the UK and we have visited their magnificent Victorian era home in Wichita.
Steve is a regular visitor to the UK for his job and when he is able he visits us in Felixstowe.
On this occasion, whilst deciding what we could visit as something new, Dave, G4HUP, mentioned that his radio club, The Leiston Amateur Radio Club (LARC) would be putting on a radio station at the Bentwaters Open Day on the 16th June. This sounded ideal as Steve once served in the USAF at USAF Alconbury, Cambridgeshire, and was keen to see Bentwaters again after many years.
Bentwaters is open to the public on a regular basis, and once a year have their big open day. For those who don't know, Bentwaters was until 1993, the home of various USAF squadrons and latterly the 81st Tactical Wing. When we moved here in 1984 Bentwaters was home to A10 Warthogs (anti tank planes). Previously it was home to a range of fighters and bombers over the years. The now decommissioned airfield still has its long runway and lots of hardened ammunition bunkers and aircraft hangers. As well as all the other facilities required to run a large military airfield.
These days the airfield is home to a large number of small industries as well as a number of private aircraft including the world famous 'Grace Spitfire' ( see heading photo).
One of the nice things about the open day is that among other things there are bus tours around the normally-hidden areas of the airfield. This includes seeing the ammunition bunkers, repair facilities, 'Hush room' and more.
The Hush room is a specially soundproofed bunker where aircraft engines could be run up at full power and could hardly be heard outside the building. A huge 'silencer' baffles the engine sounds.
The photo shows one of the ammunition bunkers.

After the tour we were able to eat (American burgers, what else!) and then go and visit the Bentwaters Cold War Museum (BCWM).
What an interesting place. For anyone over about 50 the Cold War era is still very real and was a period of high tension between the capitalist and communist worlds. Cuba missile crisis, Korean War, Vietnamese war and so on.

These two photos show scenes inside the museum. The control room is where any conflict involving the airfield would be run from.
But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Grace Spitfire and the YAK flying displays. Although we left before it arrived there was a SeaKing Air Sea Rescue helicopter drop-in scheduled for later in the afternoon.
After the flying displays by the Spit and Yak they came and parked up right in front of us. What great photo opportunities!

In the second photo the YAK can be seen, in the background, on a low level fly-past in front of the Spit.
ML407 has a very distinguished career. Built in 1944 is saw action on the first day of the D day landings. It flew more than 160 sorties during the war. I don't know if there are any more Spits, still flying, that saw service in WW2?
First built as a single seater it was converted in 1950 into a two seater. It saw service with a number of airforces including the Irish Airforce and ( if I remember correctly) the Norwegian airforce.
ML407 is now privately owned and is based at Bentwaters. It is owned by the Grace family and flown by Carolyn Grace. Yes, a distinguished and very capable lady pilot! Originally ML407 was bought by Nick Grace who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1988. His widow decided she must keep ML407 flying and two years later flew the Spitfire after learning how to fly. Her son also flies ML407 on occasions.
ML407 is often to be seen flying over our home whilst it is put through its paces ready for flying displays or just for testing.

ML407 has a V12 Merlin engine that sounds superb. Very evocative!
The next photo shows what I assume to be the spare Merlin engine for ML407, mounted on a trailer frame. This engine was run up several times whilst we were there. Fabulous! A real 'hat knocker off-er!'

This was seen next to the BCWM, opposite a Rapier missile launcher. It looks ideal as a 10GHz EME dish and mount!

An original radio transmitter and receiver used in the control room.
I need to find out more about the YAK. On this occasion it was, for me, very much the support act. However it is an interesting plane in its own right and deserves to have more words written about it.

A couple of biplanes that flew into Bentwaters whilst we were there.
Now that Steve has gone down to Hampshire ( to do some work!) I will turn my attention back to the new 4m transverter I'm building. It's been air tested at low power. Now to connect up the rest of the control circuitry and the 7W PA!
Out of interest the prototype, built last year, is out on loan and has already been used to work some juicy SpE DX on the band.
73 de Sam
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