AIR DISPLAYS in NORFOLK
By the time of the 30th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the great period of the Battle of Britain Open Day was over. In 1950 Battle of Britain Day had fallen on the 16th September. (They were always held on the 15th of September or the nearest Saturday afterwards.) “No large scale events were planned” went the press release, yet four Norfolk airfields were to be opened to the public among the 72 open across the country. The Norfolk Airbases were Horsham St Faiths, Feltwell, Swanton Morley and Watton. Admission was free, although the proceeds of the car park went to the RAF Benevolent Fund. St Faiths is the one airfield of the four that is still open, though as Norwich Airport not as an RAF base. It was an aerodrome which was easily accessible by pedestrians from Norwich and 14,000 spectators took the opportunity to attend. There an aerobatic display by the Meteors of 263 Squadron took pride of place. These were the predecessors of the Red Arrows. I was taken to a later Battle of Britain open day in 1956 at St Faiths. By then the airfield was home to a squadron of Gloster Javelins.
The RAF ceased to run open days in the 60s, and civilian flyers took over. Air Shows at various locations in East Anglia like at Seething, Attleborough, Lowestoft and Tibenham had taken the place of the Battle of Britain Open Day airshows by the 1970s. Some of these places, like Seething and Tibenham, had been military airfields during the war (American ones in these two cases) but had passed into civilian ownership. Others like Lowestoft were precisely that, air shows, with no ground displays and indeed no airfield on which to show them. There is no doubt that Air Shows remain popular events, and there seem to be enough aircraft to fill the skies. Wing Commander Wallis the Norfolk flyer with his autogyros would always have been a popular turn, although I think he was more concerned with finding professional uses for his machines than in using them for entertainment. Many shows could rely on at least a fly past from the Red Arrows; perhaps even a display.
Having said that, the Red Arrows were not on the card at Tibenham on the 25th of September 1971. (The RAF did however send one of their Westland Wessex search and rescue helicopters of 202 squadron based at Coltishall, to a demonstration with the winchman.) In the years before the Red Arrows were formed we had similar displays from the Black Arrows (who flew Hawker Hunters) and then a team called the Blue Diamonds who also flew Hunters. The Red Arrows have lasted far longer than any of their predecessors however, having been going for over 40 years. They began by flying Folland Gnats although they have been flying BAE Hawk trainers for many years now.
The best display at Tibenham was from a member of the team flying a ZLINN Trenner-Master. Joe Podolski was prominent in the display. He was a Pole who came to this country and flew with the RAF during the War. He continued to fly as a hobby. He had a workshop called the Yellow Wheel at Harford Bridges on the outskirts of Norwich, where he built boats and other things out of glass fibre resin.
Wing Commander K. Wallis was the Norfolk flyer with his autogyros, and he put on a popular turn at Tibenham. He was flying “Little Nellie”, then a recent feature of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Wing Commander Ken Wallis died as recently as September 1st 2013 at the age of 97.
The display at Tibenham included a Slingsby Tutor glider and a flight from a hot air balloon. These are not high-powered aircraft, but all of them quite enough for a pleasant summer afternoon. Nevertheless I do not think that Tibenham became an established part of the AIRSHOW calendar, although there were several in the early 1970s, following a similar patttern of events. There have been recent open events there also.
Tibenham is in South Norfolk, deep in the heart of East Anglia in an area of unrestricted flying that makes it ideal as the base for the Norfolk Gliding Club. Like many airfields in East Anglia it has its roots in the Second World War and the USAAF Bomb Group. Its most famous airman during those wartime yeas was the film star James Stewart who spent some time there. He retained an affection for Norfolk where he spent some years of his life on active service, and returned to the county at least once after the war.
N. Podolski writes on 12 May 2014:
Joe. Thanks very much for your recollections. Can I be permitted to add my own observations, specifically regarding Joe Podolski, who was my Dad, and was Chief Flying Instructor at the Norfolk Gliding Club for over 25 years. For all those years I was growing up and enjoying a Dad who had a range of aeroplanes and gliders to play with. Fortunately, many times I got to tag along. He was always keen on organising air displays at Tibenham but most years it turned out to be an impossible task, mainly due to the fact that the airfield was owned by more than one farmer during that time, mostly it had 3 owners sharing it. Getting one to agree to let us hold an open day was difficult enough, getting all three to agree was frequently impossible despite my Dad’s legendary charm, persuasive character and limitless stocks of vodka.
The one that I remember most clearly was in 1975 when Dad not only managed to get the three farmers to agree but also persuaded James Stewart to come and open the event for us. this followed on from a previous, private, visit that Jimmy had made to us when Dad took him into the air for a trip round Norfolk in our motor glider. During the visit they “dropped into” RAF Coltishall where the Station Commander gave the two a VIP tour round the base, incidentally one of the bases that Dad had been station at, with his Mustang, at the end of WWII.
The weather on the Jimmy Stewart open day turned out to be foul. I well remember because I had the pleasure of driving Jimmy in a Land Rover. Due to the rain he sat inside the cab with me rather than standing in the back with the Star Spangled Banner. He was a lovely man, totally like in his many films, willing to chat about anything to everybody. Due to the rain he had to retire to our small clubhouse but he willingly sat there talking and being gracious to all, signing autographs for everyone. A truly great film star. Oh, for some years later he would send my Dad Christmas cards.
One other observation on your blog, just looking at that picture of the aircraft towing the glider. My amazing powers of observation makes me know that the tow aircraft was the same Tiger Moth, G-AODT, that I nearly used to write off a Spitfire, a Hanger and probably myself at RAF Swanton Morley in 1968 when I was learning to fly. If only the wheel chocks had not held when my instructor swung the prop for me, with the throttle mistakenly fully open, life would have been so much different for me,
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