Our last event of the year was at the Scale ModelWorld Show. This is the International Plastic Model Society’s annual gathering at the International Centre in Telford. We had been asked to take both the Huey and the Loach. We also arranged to take a few of the 327th re-enactors with us, as we knew that the modellers would be interested in the kit and equipment, not just the helicopters.
For one reason or another this weekend proved to be quite tricky logistically. Getting the right number of people on duty and to fly both helicopters and move them inside the exhibition hall was certainly an interesting exercise. The flying crews were Neil and Rob in 509. Phil was to fly the Loach solo until Sleap Airfield, where he picked up Dick. Jo and I took the motor home and trailer whilst Nina drove the Wrangler with Mark and Judith keeping her company.
Jo and I left Wesham just after 07.15hrs. We met up with the Jeep just off junction 31 on the M6 as we needed to fill the motor home up with fuel. Soon we were heading south on the M6. It was a nice morning but that began to change as we headed south. Leaving the M6 at junction 12 we headed west on the M54 and soon picked up the signs to the International Centre.
The large roller shutter doors were opened and we drove the motor home in to the exhibition hall. With the trailer unhitched we positioned the motor home leaving plenty of room for the two helicopters. We then headed to the front of the building to await the arrival of the Huey and Loach. Their arrival time was originally scheduled for 10.00hrs with an arrival time no later than 12.00 noon. Departure from Lancashire was put back by some considerable time due to delays at Blackpool for the refuelling of 509. The delays were also causing us concern as the weather in Telford was deteriorating almost to the point that it would be questionable as to the viability of flying the helicopters to the Centre.
At around 12.30hrs I got a call from Phil to say they were at Sleap and that they would be lifting in the near future. The weather was still questionable but we set ourselves up in the main car park which had been closed to vehicles. The plan was for both machines to land in the front car park. The Huey was going to shut down but the Loach was going to remain burning and turning. This was to give a photo opportunity before the Loach would lift again to then land at the back of the building.
After the Loach lifted we headed down the ramp to meet it at the back. Once on the ground we had to remove two blades and attach the ground handling wheels. To prevent the Loach running down the hill we attached two ratchet straps to the Jeep to assist the towing of the Loach up the slope and into the hall. Once inside we then manhandled it into position.
By now the Huey was ready to be towed from the top car park down the side road to the rear of the exhibition centre. Hitched up to the Jeep we proceeded very slowly down the slope. Progress was slow as we didn’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre, with trees to avoid en route. There were also a couple of corners to negotiate that were going to be tricky to make sure that the tail boom and tail rotor didn't hit anything. Inch by inch 509 made her journey to the back lot before being reversed into the hall. Like the Loach, once inside we used muscle power to position her. Now we were in, the rest of the exhibition hall was ready for the other exhibitors to set up.
Following us in was a WW2 Bedford QL refueler which was part of the Lytham Spitfire set up. Also on show was a Centurion main battle tank. We set about erecting the awning and setting up the shop. We then turned our attention to the two helicopters and gave them another wipe down with WD40. We also attached the guns so that we had little to do in the morning to finish off the set up. Pleased with our work, we headed off to the hotel for the night and met up with Patrick who had travelled up from Guildford.
Breakfasted by 09.00hrs saw us walking over to Hall 3 where we were located. As we walked over we picked up more kit and equipment that Patrick had brought up with him. After some delicate negotiations we managed to get into the hall via a side entrance which saved us a long walk carrying some heavy equipment. The halls were already heaving, and that was before the doors had been opened to the public! In no time at all we had all the kit set up and a steady stream of visitors came up for a closer look at Phil and Jo's pride and joy and to have a chat and take photographs. There was absolutely no let up all day. The shop was doing a brisk trade, the baseball caps sold particularly well. We also set up our 'Poppy' stall and it too was proving popular as no-one at the IPMS wanted to be seen not wearing one on this Remembrance Weekend.
We had a few outings to take a look around the three halls and to have a play with the Daleks that were next to us. Phil, Neil and I got to have a go in one of them which was a lot of fun. I must remember to order one as a mobility scooter in a few years time! I think even a few bits and pieces were purchased from some of the stalls. No sooner had Saturday begun than it was drawing to a close. Shattered, we headed off next door to the hotel.
Sunday dawned much brighter than the previous couple of days, not that that meant much to us as we were inside all day. On our arrival, as the previous morning, the place was buzzing. From the moment we arrived we were being quizzed about both machines and the shop immediately started selling things. Poppies too were very popular as everyone readied themselves for a short Service of Remembrance held in the hall and two minutes silence. All morning there was a constant thrum in the halls but as the clock struck 11.00hrs and the bugle played The Last Post, the three halls fell silent. You could have heard a pin drop. After the silence it took the halls a few minutes to return to normal as many took the opportunity to reflect and think a little more carefully about the model kits that many people make.
The crowds throughout the day didn't quite match those of the day before, but apparently that is normal for the two day event. The variety of visitors was still the same. The visitors were truly international with a very large contingent from America, including quite a few Vietnam Veterans who were blown away by finding two Vietnam veteran helicopters on display. Four o'clock and the Tannoy announced that the show was closed. In no time at all the stalls were packed away and all that was left were our two helicopters and a pile of tables waiting to be picked up. The shop packed up, the motor home headed off north, this time with Phil and Jo on board with Mark and Judith. Patrick too departed, heading south. Rob, Nina and I went to the hotel, with Dick heading off home to return in the morning.
The three of us were back in Hall 3 for 08.00hrs to meet up with Dick. The plan was to get the helicopters out bright and early and airborne heading back to Wesham. Unfortunately the weather wasn't playing ball. As the morning wore on the weather did not improve. As time went by we made changes to the plan until eventually we had to drive out of Telford to do a visual recce of the weather. It was not good. We decided that we were not going to be able to fly the helicopters out and that we would have to do it on Tuesday instead. With Nina, Rob and Dick in the Jeep I drove up to Sleap so Dick could pick his car up. After a cup of tea, the rest of us continued by road back to Wesham. Rob headed off back to Hampshire as he had a prior engagement and so was unable to fly 509 home on the Tuesday.
Tuesday morning dawned and Plan 'B' swung into action. I was to pick Neil up from Wesham in the Jeep and we drove back down to Telford to meet Dick. On our arrival we prepared 509 to move her out of the hall. The previous day I had spent some considerable time pacing out the route to tow the Huey up to the car park. By my reckoning it was going to be much easier than towing it down on the Friday. With help from a few willing volunteers from the Centre we towed 509 outside. I was behind the wheel and Neil walked alongside giving instructions and keeping an eye on proceedings. Without any dramas the Huey was soon in position in the centre of the car park. Neil and I set about removing the wheels and 'A' bar and strapping them down inside. Happy we had done all we could, we went back inside to move the Loach close to the door. With the ground handling wheels on, we pushed the Loach to the loading door and turned it around. By doing this we were able to attach some strops to the skids which we then attached to the Jeep to act as a braking system as the Loach went down the sloping car park. We did not remove the rotors. Dick arrived at 12.30hrs and we took two opposing blades off and pushed the Loach outside in to the sunshine. Blades re-attached and ground handling wheels removed, Dick did his walk round checks.
The area was cleared and Dick climbed in. Neil headed back to the top car park. Happy with the pre-flight checks both Neil and Dick pressed the starter buttons. Dick lifted first a little after 13.30hrs shortly followed by Neil. They flew out to the south and then turned east and then north setting their course for the southern end of the low level corridor to take them up between Manchester and Liverpool's airspace. By all accounts they had a really enjoyable flight back to Wesham. Fifty minutes later they were on the ground at base, I on the other hand still had over an hour’s driving before I was home.
What a very different weekend we had at Telford. An interesting mix of people and all extremely knowledgeable and interested in what we were doing with our two helicopters. So what can we do next year? Our thanks go to the organisers who were very patient with us when we were held to ransom by the weather. Safety was their priority, no matter what the knock on effects were to those affected by our later than planned arrival and departure. Special thanks to Richard Kent, who has helped and supported us in the run up to the show.