We have hopefully all been to one of Duxford’s great air shows but how many of us have considered what goes on behind the scenes to bring to the public such a great day’s enjoyment.
The centre of the DAS universe, Building 87 the control centre of all DAS air show activity.
Let us take a brief look at DAS involvement in one of these great events and bear in mind that all this happens three times a year with two-day shows in May, July and September. Several months before the event, the organisers, usually IWM or the Fighter Collection, release the dates for their events. With these in mind, planning from a DAS point of view can start.
The first thing is to see if any of the board members will be away during the event so that the jobs can be shared among those who can attend. All the aircraft Custodians are made aware of the dates by the steward co-ordinator so they can begin to rally their troops to act as stewards and have sufficient numbers to allow for breaks during the day. DAS also provides staff to act as flight line stewards and checks who is available. Our colleagues down at the Military Vehicle Wing start to prepare their armoured personnel carriers in readiness for the military vehicle rides they offer on the day.
Another group of happy riders are taken around the MVW muddy track in an armoured personal carrier.
DAS volunteers working on the British Airliner Collection will be striving to finish off all the jobs that need doing to make the aeroplanes and their displays look good for the visitors. Some of the aircraft such as the Britannia benefit from regular groups who do as much work as possible to keep their aircraft in tip top condition. They too put in extra effort for every show.
Photo: G-AOVT Restoration Group led by Myrna Simmons
Members of the Britannia Monarch crew cleaning ‘new’windows before refitting as replacements for the old cloudy ones so VT will look her best for the air show season.
A large part of the DAS annual income comes from air shows. The sale of military vehicle rides, boarding passes to visit the airliners and sales from our bookshop and memorabilia stand are all important sources of revenue, so every effort is made to ensure the event is a success.
All this takes time to organise and prepare and as the event draws nearer the pace picks up. Books are brought out of the storeroom, priced and placed on shelves ready to be displayed in our sales tent. The shop is stocked and items of memorabilia are prepared for sale.
The DAS sales tent packed with interesting items for sale to raise much needed funds
If at all possible, and the weather plays a big part here, all the airliners parked outside are given a wash and polish whilst the aircraft custodians and their team of stewards give the cabins a dust and hoover. As all the volunteers working on the day are fed and watered by DAS, the office staff collect supplies from the cash and carry. This is not just a basket or two but a pick up truck’s worth ! With just a couple of days to go all the aircraft signs are checked, the booth and tables for selling the boarding passes are set up. The booth needs a forklift to move it into position!
Airliner boarding passes being sold at the ticket booth.
Tickets and passes are required by all the working volunteers as well as those who are just attending to watch the show. This also has to be co-ordinated by the DAS office. Airliner brochures and a cash float are prepared by the Treasurer and supplied to each aircraft. The shop and sales tent team have a roster of volunteers working there to ensure it is manned at all times by at least two people. The outside sales tent is brought out of storage and erected a few days before the event ready to be stocked with goodies for sale.
Not just open on air show days but on Saturday and Sundays during the year, the volunteers running the shop make a large contribution towards DAS funds.
Various aircraft engines are towed out from the yard and placed alongside their relevant aeroplane, so the public can see what normally lurks behind the cowlings. All the aircraft steps will have been brushed and cleaned so that visitors see everything in the best possible condition. Meanwhile the board will have been drawing straws to do the Concorde nose lowering demonstration and the ten minute chat over the PA in the morning extolling the virtues of DAS and explaining Concorde 101s career to the general public.
Thanks to Heritage Concorde, the Duxford Aviation Society Concorde was the first to have its droop nose system reactivated and now we offer regular demonstrations of this unique feature.
On the night before the event some of the volunteers who have travelled a long way to help, camp out on the North side of the site and I’m sure the odd relaxing bottle of beer is drunk in readiness for a hectic weekend. Everyone on the airfield or planning to attend the next day has one thought in the forefront of their mind…hope the weather is good !!!
If we are lucky Saturday will dawn with a beautiful sunny, cloud-free sky and the gentle aroma of frying bacon wafting across the airfield! After breakfast all the volunteers will report to their posts ready for a hard day’s work. The gates open to the general public around 8.00 am and the airfield quickly begins to fill up. The trickle of people looking at our sales stand or visiting the military vehicle rides rapidly becomes a flood and it’s not long before people are queuing to get on the airliners, particularly Concorde.
Members of the public queuing for boarding passes and tours of the York in the AirSpace hangar.
Around 10 am the flight line walk opens and the DAS volunteers helping out with security start their morning’s work. Those of you who have attended an event in the past know there are no physical barriers between the public and the aeroplanes. Just a line of hi-vis jacketed volunteers who will quickly pounce should a member of the public try and get too close to the aeroplanes.
DAS volunteers provide flight line security, even as can be seen here, for stealth aircraft!
With the flight line closing around 12.00 things start to quieten down a little as people’s thoughts drift towards food and the afternoon’s flying. The sense of anticipation is now heavy in the air. However, the shop, airliners and military vehicle rides stay open all day so there is always a steady flow of people for the DAS volunteers to attend to.
Eager to visit the world’s first turbo-prop airliner, people queue patiently to board the Viscount.
With one pass covering all the airliners, visitors get their money’s worth boarding the BAC 1-11 after having their tickets clipped by one of the aircraft stewards.
Our two ‘VTs’, Big VT, the Britannia and little VT, the Trislander, always attract a great deal of attention. The Britannia draws the crowds thanks to the very enthusiastic ex-Monarch crew members who do their best to give everybody a good tour of their beloved aeroplane, whilst the Trislander is the only plane where we allow people to sit in the cockpit to have their photos taken. This is very popular with the kiddies who like to see what it’s like being a pilot.
Visitors queue to visit the Britannia and be entertained by the ex-Monarch staff and DAS stewards who do a great job in keeping the Brit shipshape and spotless.
More ‘look at me Dad I’m a pilot’ photos being taken in the Trislander.
The airliner visits always attract a great deal of interest from the public during air show days but at this May’s show even we couldn’t compete with the RAF Chinook crew who unexpectedly opened their helicopter up for tours in the morning during the flight line walk. They were mobbed ! Still the RAF are celebrating their 100 year anniversary so good luck to them.
When the event finally finishes for the day our volunteers then have to clear up, tidy their planes, re-stock the shop and tent, refuel the military vehicles, collect the takings, check nobody has run out of passes/brochures and generally get ready to do it all again tomorrow!!
So next time you are at a Duxford event and think, “What a good show that was,” spare a thought for the small army of volunteer workers behind the scenes who have striven for months to produce the show for you and raise some much needed money to keep these classic British airliners in good condition for future generations.
Framed by our airliners the members of the public do a bit of last-minute shopping after the flying has finished for the day.
See you at the next one……..Keith Bradshaw