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The Air SquAdron ViSiT To ukrAine

ISBN: 978-1-909075-21-4

The Air SquAdron ViSiT To ukrAine

Dmitry Muravsky is an accomplished photojournalist specialising in the art of air-to-air photography, both still and video. He followed the Air Squadron visit both on the ground and in a variety of aircraft including MiG 29, Cessna 172 and Piper Super Cub having first visited England to plan his aerial participation. Dmitry is a qualified pilot and carries the rank of Colonel in the Army Reserve, but his main occupation is Owner Manager of an established international import business for the Ukrainian chemical industry.

July 2013

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Compiled and edited by Martin Barraclough and Jonathan Elwes

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Contents Foreword HRH Prince Michael of Kent


Preface Jonathan Elwes



First of Many Visits – 2004



Unfinished Business – 2005



Memories from the Final Twelve Months



Down to the Wire Yulia Osmolovska



Colonels at the Crossroads Colonels Hennadiy Kovalenko and Oleksiy Nozdrachov



Crimean Passion Larissa Kazachenko



Low and Slow to L’viv



High and Mighty to L’viv



L’viv – Cultural Gem Rachel Hall



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Massed Arrival at Zhulyany



Kyiv’s Aviation Heritage



Kyiv – City of Golden Domes Rachel Hall



Vasil’kiv – Magical Exchange



Down the Dnipro to Sevastopol



Balaclava – The Charge



Unmatchable Hospitality



Homeward Bound



Programme of Events


List of Participants



The Charge of the Light Brigade



Medals Awarded to The Air Squadron


Awards Made by The Air Squadron




Index of Photographs





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by Jonathan Elwes From the moment of our arrival in L’viv on 30 June 2013 it was apparent to all Air Squadron guests that this was to be no ordinary visit. The obvious warmth of the welcome at the airport and the style of the reception in the city’s Opera House spoke volumes. But hidden from view was a huge endeavour by a team of committed Ukrainians whose tenacity and sheer hard work made this extraordinary visit possible against all the odds. This book traces the history of the visit, ever since the idea was born 10 years earlier.

involving ten aircraft of vastly different speeds and performance. If any incident, let alone accident, were to occur, the implications for many of our friends in the Air Force would have been dire. It was an act of faith which those of us who knew the background found to be humbling and a huge responsibility.

While many Air Squadron members had heard of the tragic Sknyliv air show disaster, it was many years ago and seemingly not immediately linked to this visit. In July 2002, a Su-27 of the Ukrainian Air Force Falcons crashed during an aerobatic display, killing 78 people and injuring 543. It was the worst air show accident in history and it traumatised the country. Members were not aware that since that event all air shows had been banned. Now, eleven years later, the Ukrainian Air Force was entrusting The Air Squadron to fly a complex show, choreographed by us and

wonderful events during this memorable visit. We hope that this book will serve as a fitting record as well as a small token of our appreciation.

For our hosts, by far the biggest challenge of the trip was to secure a change in the law to allow the importation of Avgas. Since 2003 the importation of Avgas had been banned in Ukraine, more by accident than by design as we shall later learn. Whereas 95 Octane The concept of a possible Air Squadron visit to Ukraine, a mere fuel was available and perfectly usable in the Gipsy Major engines decade after the country’s independence, was first put forward in of the vintage biplanes, and passable for a few more of the older 2003 by HRH Prince Michael, in his capacity as an active Honorary aircraft, it was not acceptable for pilots of more than half the fleet Member of the Squadron. After correspondence between the who needed 100 Octane for their more modern engines. Then Chairman of The Air Squadron, and senior parties in Ukraine, a there was the small matter of actually importing and distributing plan was hatched for a visit in September 2004, the year of the the fuel right across the country with no existing network in place, 150th anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava, making the timing no storage, no fuelling teams. Imagine the challenge – thirty two perfect. It was felt that some form of aerial recognition of this thousand litres of Avgas to be positioned in eleven airfields anniversary had to form the very centrepiece of the visit. Thus the hundreds of miles apart, over a period of 10 days, with contingency ambitious idea of an aerial re-enactment of ‘The Charge of the Light plans for weather delays, and a constantly changing programme! Brigade’ became part of the outline plan. However, considering Supplying fuel to enable 24 visiting aircraft to fly around Ukraine recent aviation history in Ukraine, it was indeed an honour that we was just the start of it. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to were permitted to undertake the display. all of our Ukrainian hosts who planned and organised so many

I must acknowledge one final debt of gratitude, and that is to my wife, Louisa. She has supported me throughout, particularly during the last two tumultuous years, as well as in the production of this book. Her faith and constancy gave me the strength to play my part in bringing the visit to fruition.


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The following list of events tracks the stop-start nature of the project over the period of a decade: June 2003 Jan 2004 June 2004 Nov 2004 July 2005 Sept 2007 Aug 2010 July 2011 Sept 2012 Mar 2013 May 2013 June 2013

Concept of a visit agreed in principle First planning visit ‘All bets off’ due to political instability Orange Revolution Second planning visit, a trial flight around Ukraine Possible re-instatement of visit Decision: not yet ready Possible re-instatement of visit Decision: discussions to commence Formal invitation received for a visit in July 2013* Third planning visit Fourth planning visit Avgas Bill passed by the Ukrainian Parliament Visit finally commences

* The visit could not take place in 2012 because the country was busy co-hosting the European Football Championships


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Section 3


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chApter 7

Low and Slow to L’viv At 80 knots and an aircraft range of 200 miles it’s a long way to L’viv. So it was hardly surprising that, left to plot their own way from southern england to eastern poland, after weeks of discussion the Low and Slow of hampshire had still not agreed a route. Finally, they employed the lessons learned in the 2006 tour of poland. A northerly route across the low country of holland and Germany rather than the more direct but mountainous southern track through the czech republic should avoid the bad weather that was proving to be a constant feature of the early 2013 summer… or so they thought.

evening of 29th June, ready next morning for the discipline of Bill hall’s meticulously planned flight to L’viv. the length of each leg would be dictated by the endurance of ralph’s tiger Moth and his bladder. the plan looked good and, with henry’s essential engineering skills and the Dragon filled with a plethora of spares (as well as 10 large cardboard boxes containing 200,000 poppies), they were confident that the tigers would be able to survive the journey there – and back. two weeks before the departure date, henry reported symptoms of serious sciatica. Despite all the efforts of the medical (and quasimedical) fraternity to get him airworthy, his symptoms deteriorated to the point where he knew that he could not safely fly that aeroplane and so a completely dejected henry wrote himself out of the script. the Low and Slow had lost its engineering support, but the show had to go on….

the hampshire Low and Slow team was to consist of torquil norman’s twin-engined Dh Dragon flown by henry Labouchere, ralph hubbard flying his tiger Moth, and two Super cubs flown by Susie Whitcombe and Martin Barraclough. Susie’s son henry Marriot, himself a pilot, would share the flying of Susie’s cub. their game plan was to set off on 24th June for a leisurely week of flying, Airborne from their grass strips in hampshire on the morning of giving ample time to enjoy themselves en route, have a couple of 24th June, Midden Zeeland was the first re-fuelling stop, reached days in reserve for bad weather, and to arrive in rzeszow on the in progressively bad weather that led them into the circuit and heavy drizzle as the ceiling fell to around 400 feet. hoping that there would be adequate clearance between the tips of the massive wind farm blades and the cloud base for the flight up the rhine they headed north-east at low level to Damme. the weather improved, the cloud base lifted and they arrived at Damme to be met by roddy Blois’s old round-the-world friend, heinrich cordes, who parked them on the lawn in front of his house a few yards from the control tower and then took complete charge of their delightful overnight stay. Following his recommendation, they abandoned their plan to route via Magdeberg and flew in steadily worsening weather to Berlin’s Schonhagen airfield. nearing their destination, they had to resort to following the autobahn and then, when that no longer led in the right direction, make a 90 degree turn south and follow the GpS to their destination at a few hundred feet in 33

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7 | Low and Slow to L’viv

very marginal visibility. Schonhagen is an ex-military airfield; a ‘Follow Me’ car led them to some vast hangars where their aeroplanes were parked on massive electric turntables while the rain poured down steadily. Later, fortified by German beer after a wet visit to the Brandenberg Gate, they met up in a delightful bohemian restaurant in east Berlin with Jonathan and his daughter tatiana, and David and cherry cyster, two tiger Moth teams that also made it through the bad weather. the cysters had had a particularly difficult trip from Scotland, as described by David, "the forecast weather for the weekend was awful with very strong winds likely over the northern half of UK so cherry and i departed Scotland earlier than planned on Friday 21st June and flew south to Yorkshire. We spent the night there with a plan to continue south on the Saturday… not a chance! With winds gusting well over 35kts we spent a second night in Yorkshire. on the Sunday the wind was pretty much the same so the aircraft remained in the hangar for most of the day but i remembered the met man always spoke of the diurnal variation when i was a boy, so i was very optimistic that by early evening we could fly further south and join rupert clark at cranwell. By 5pm the wind had not reduced but very dark clouds were approaching from the nW so (perhaps rather foolishly) i decided to depart Yorkshire ahead of the incoming weather. We made fantastic time to cranwell with a north westerly wind of about 40kts at 2000ft, but unfortunately the diurnal bit didn't work and it was still gusting 35kts on landing at cranwell. After landing we just sat in the aircraft pointing into wind until rupert and his wife came to assist us with the very 'hairy' taxi to the wonderful shelter of an rAF hangar. the approaching weather that we had seen prior to departure eventually caught us up. it was most severe and brought with it very heavy rainfall which lasted until well after dark! on the following day, relieved to have broken out of the grip of the appalling northern weather, rupert, cherry and i had an easy flight south to headcorn with a most welcome following wind…." Jonathan, David and rupert clark also routed via Midden Zeeland but soon after landing the weather clagged in so they stayed overnight. Already, so early in the journey, rupert was facing a problem. his tiger had sprung a small leak in it’s auxiliary fuel tank. Despite this, on the next day the tiger trio flew uneventfully to paderborn and then made for Berlin but had to leave rupert to divert to Magdeberg, unhappy with the deteriorating weather conditions that the two other pilots were prepared to negotiate. Mark coreth, a late starter from england, was heading to Bautzen, having ‘bombed’ the Mohn and eder dams, and would follow his own route via Kamiow to rzeszow. 35

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wasted the British regiments in 1854? there was still a long, long way to go…. 26th June dawned with the frontal system having blown away to the east. ralph led the cubs out for their take-off to pryzlep on the western border of poland, ploughing his tailskid rudder-deep through the sodden turf alongside the runway and praying that he would not engage any underground runway lighting wires on the way. Jonathan had a problem with his radio, so he stayed back to find a radio engineer to sort it out and followed later with David; they in turn were followed by rupert. With the front mercifully moving ahead, they landed on the massive grass field of pryzlep, its runway at least 150 yards wide. the parking area was decorated with a long row of brightly coloured An-2s, one of which bore the hilarious registration Sp-AnK which demanded an appropriate photograph with the co-operation of the girls! that evening they dined splendidly in the nearby town, finishing the meal with – of all puddings in this far corner of europe – eaton Mess. rupert was being dogged by the leaking auxiliary fuel tank and an ultra-cautious approach born of his years as an examiner in the

During dinner in east Berlin, Jonathan gave everyone some bitterly disappointing news. nick robinson had made the sensible decision to abandon his flight in the fifth tiger because of concern over what seemed like very high engine oil consumption as well as a stability problem, coupled with marginal weather en route to his rendezvous with the rest of the group. of course he was distraught about having to head for home. the five tigers, representing the five regiments who took part in the charge of the Light Brigade, were now down to four. there was no Dragon. Would further attrition reduce the little fleet in the same way that cholera had 36

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7 | Low and Slow to L’viv

royal Air Force. these were causing endless delays so once again the hampshire team departed first, it being accepted by everyone that six aircraft arriving without warning at any airfield would cause congestion and delay. the next destination was rudniki, an airfield conveniently situated north-west of Kracow. Arriving in the middle of the polish glider aerobatic championships they were nevertheless given a quick turn-round and headed for Kracow’s GA airfield, pobiednik, aware that a notam declared part of the runway to be unfit for landing due to being under water, a consequence of the extensive rains that were flooding eastern europe. Sodden though it was, they landed without trouble, tied down the aeroplanes and headed in to Kracow to be followed at dusk by the others. the entire Low and Slow brigade was now converging on eastern poland. A leisurely start to the 29th June had the hampshires taking the lead, followed, and overtaken at high speed, by tom’s rV. Arriving at rzeszow they orbited point Sierra, a tall chimney conveniently built some three miles south of the airport and used as the waypoint for all light aircraft wishing to use the grass strip some 300 metres south of the main concrete runway. the three remaining tigers arrived later, having once again been delayed by rupert’s leaking auxiliary tank, followed by Mark in his red and white Jodel. the team had all arrived – tomorrow Ukraine. 30th June had arrived at last. Flight plans filed, and briefed by rupert, the Low and Slow group, henceforward designated Group Lima, were ready to fire up when the unmistakable sound of a Merlin engine had them all craning nostalgically to see Maxi in his p 51 Mustang, accompanied by Marc Mathis in Maxi’s Yak-3, sweep majestically overhead on their way to L’viv. ralph led the tigers into the air. in a disciplined stream all four biplanes turned 90 degrees to port and routed out via the chimney well clear of the main runway, busy with commercial traffic. clear of rzeszow’s airspace they settled into the loose formation that they would adopt throughout Ukraine, the four tigers together with G-XcUB either leading or trailing, Susie to starboard and Mark out on the right wing keeping an eye on the group while weaving around to dissipate his superior speed. With the tigers’ VhFs playing up it was agreed that Martin would take the lead and make all radio calls to Ukrainian Air traffic. Arrival in L’viv went according to plan; landing long on concrete runways and keeping the tail in the air to minimise the wear on tailskids was de rigeur. Group Lima was the last of five groups of Air Squadron aircraft to arrive, so sadly they missed the honour 37

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guard that greeted prince Michael. parked and tied down on L’viv’s massive apron, they experienced the first of many re-fuellings from a white van equipped with two large clear 1,000 litre plastic tanks of newly imported avgas, delivered through a filter by an electric pump, all lashed together and despatched countrywide by the redoubtable Lyudmilla Fedorovych, especially for the Squadron’s benefit. During the next ten days never once was this new and untried – but essential – fuelling system ever to let the Squadron down, a wonderful testament to her commitment and entrepreneurial skills. 38

L’viv airport

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7 | Low and Slow to L’viv


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10 | Massed arrival at Zhuliany


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Chapter 15

Balaclava – the Charge With display pilots having to leave their hotel at 0530 the next morning for the only display practice scheduled for 0800 take-off, there was no option but to hold the display briefing at 2030 on the evening of 5th July. this was at the end of a long day of flying but the adrenalin was kicking in. the display team sat down in the hotel conference room and for the next ninety minutes once again talked through the display that they had practised in May and June over robs Lamplough’s airstrip at Lambourn in Berkshire. Changes had to be made to earlier plans. the tigers were down to four instead of five; the Dragon had to be replaced with Susie Whitcombe’s Super Cub for the poppy drop and roddy Blois’s Cessna 172 was to act as photo-ship so that the air-to-air photographer, Dmitry Muravsky, could record the event. the practice itself went according to Maxi’s very detailed plans – he had choreographed the display to the second, and exactly at 0830 the four tiger Moths ran in from the historic port of Balaclava for their opening act. the ‘stage’ was a 500x100 metre area in front of a low camouflaged grandstand on the Fedioukine heights from which the VIps would watch. So well camouflaged was the grandstand that the tigers headed for some white tents that had been erected a few hundred yards west until they were re-directed! Set in the famous ‘north valley’ itself and previously covered with vines, the display area had been bulldozed flat by the army in preparation for the ground re-enactment that would take place underneath the aerial display. From his position as Display Director / Ground Control behind the encampment, with tom Storey acting as observer and runner, Martin Barraclough monitored, timed and noted each act in turn, communicating with the aircraft by hand-held VhF. roddy’s Cessna flew up and down the valley keeping strictly to his brief – ‘not north of the Woronzoff road and not below 1,000 feet’ – so as to keep well clear of the participating aircraft, with Dmitry practising his photography. Bill hall in his robin orbited the Sapoune heights with

Major Sergei Drozdov on board acting as observer for the Ukrainian air Force. With all aircraft serviceable, the practice went satisfactorily according to plan. De-briefing is a vital part of all displays and the team re-assembled back in the Sevastopol hotel for this purpose. Martin took the chair and led the team through each act. he reckoned that the Mustangs had been five seconds early for the first of two passes – not at all bad considering the strong headwind that the tigers were flying into. Jonathan asked for some minor adjustments of times. Sergei re-iterated his safety requirements, and the meeting was drawing to a close when Dmitry asked for roddy’s Cessna to be replaced by andrew’s Yak-11 as he could not take good enough photographs from the Cessna. For the next half-hour this major change of plan and aircraft was debated which, had it worked, could have resulted in some dramatic photographs. But not only was concern expressed that the Yak-11 could not maintain station with the Mustangs at 245kts, but it involved an unrehearsed change. as Display Director, Martin finally had to insist that the original plan was adhered to. the afternoon was hot – very hot – and the sky cloudless as thousands of people gathered on the Fediuokine and Sapoune heights to watch. Cavalry and cannons collected in the valley; actors milled around in period costume. prince Michael and the VIp guests arrived, after attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the Balaclava memorial. Martin and tom were in position making, at Jonathan’s request, last-minute adjustments to the timing. the Squadron’s commentator, Colonel patrick Mercer, was at the microphone under a large sun umbrella with his Ukrainian counterpart and ever-present translator, alex Solovyov. David price, Squadron trumpeter, and edward robson, Squadron bagpiper, stood by with their instruments, chatting. Nothing could go wrong… 115

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…and then it did! Bill hall radioed that a VIp executive jet was arriving unexpectedly at Belbec air Base and the start of the display had been put back by fifteen minutes. this delay necessitated a hurried discussion with the army engineer in charge of the explosives that were timed to start and stop in harmony with the air display. Fortunately there was so much to watch on the ground that, from the spectators’ point-of-view, the delay mattered little. the tigers took off and headed for Balaclava but the atmospheric conditions prevented Martin communicating with any aircraft that was not in sight. henceforward he was to relay all messages to unsighted aircraft via roddy or Bill, a tiresome procedure – but it worked. Let Jonathan describe the scenario from the tiger Leader’s position… “the wind was getting up, 16 knots gusting 25 and the flags were horizontal before we even moved. all ready to go, and a mounting sense of anticipation and excitement. then air traffic announced a 15 minute delay…. Oh My God! I always feared that our fleet of display aircraft, and thousands waiting on the ground were in danger of being trumped by a single VIp deciding on a whim to arrive or depart right in the middle of our show. We shut down. then, almost immediately we were invited to start up again and taxi. Splendid – apparently the delay had been overcome, presumably by Gil Greenall in his temporary ‘tower’. thank God there wasn’t enough time to call Martin by mobile to advise of the delay, and then really confuse matters with further news of the cancelled delay. From engine start it was Bill’s job to link with atC.

he was in a far better position to communicate any further unwelcome news on the synchronisation front. phew! We were so pleased to be airborne, but before we got to Balaclava harbour we heard the distressing news that the Mustangs and the Cub were still on terra firma. I imagined with heavy heart how distraught Maxi would be, and the others too. Was it all going to be a disaster after so much planning and effort by so many people? Will we be asked to loiter or continue regardless of our grounded colleagues? eventually we received the go-ahead from Martin to commence the run-in. at that point everything but the task at hand was blanked out. the first time I had flown the tiger over these historic fields was in 2005, and after several subsequent visits each contour in front of me was now as familiar as home turf… what a thrill it was finally to carry the badges of the regiments who took part in the charge, and to show them to the crowd. above the engine noise we could hear the violent flapping of the sail cloth flags of the four tigers, as we circled in front of the crowd – a sound that could be heard right across the valley. We then departed off towards Sapoune hill to prepare for the Charge”. Ground Control also received the message that the Mustangs were still on the ground at Belbec – Maxi had failed to start his engine. this was a hammer-blow. If they didn’t get airborne within the next five to ten minutes, minutes that previously would have seen them in the hold, their co-ordinated crossing with the tigers – the ‘moment supreme’ of the show – the moment that Maxi so desperately wanted to be photographed – would not take place, and the rest of the programme would be thrown into chaos, a Display Director’s nightmare! Maxi remembers every second of his distraught few minutes, “My peripheral vision registers the sight of robs’s propeller blurring away while the blades of mine swing slowly past, thunking ominously. No joy. I try again, starter motor wailing with a dying sound. engine probably flooded – maybe that touch of priming wasn’t necessary in such ambient heat – and the battery was certainly about to die. My only hope left is that they find us a 24volt ground trolley, double-quick. there is one, but it will take them 10 minutes to roll it up. I’m utterly crushed….” the tigers initiated their programme; they re-enacted the charge of the heavy Brigade; they orbited in front of the VIp tent, the sailcloth flags between their wings crackling noisily in the slip-stream. Jonathan, as leader, appropriately flew a red flag with the badge of the 17th Lancers; David, a white flag with the badge of the 13th Light Dragoons; ralph, a yellow flag with the badge of the 4th Light


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15 | Balaclava – the Charge

Dragoons and rupert flew one green and one blue flag with the badges of the 8th and the 11th hussars. they made a splendid sight as they departed towards the Sapoune heights to prepare for the charge. Still no news of the Mustangs…. “Where are those f*****g Mustangs?” was heard to emanate from a distraught Display Director. But the show must go on, so to the thrilling notes of David’s trumpet blowing the cavalry calls that started that awful disaster 160 years ago, accompanied by the deafening cannonades in the valley below, Jonathan led the tigers into the Charge. Bill descended from his hold over the Sapoune heights and flew across the advancing tigers to simulate Captain Nolan’s fateful gallop across the path of his commanding officer, Lord Cardigan. Mines were detonated below them in the valley, sending shock waves upwards that jolted the tigers so hard they thought they had been hit by debris.

remaining acts irrelevant, Martin had to do some quick thinking on his feet! how to re-shuffle the order of events safely? he relayed via Bill that the Mustangs and the Cub should take up their respective holding positions well clear of the show and orbit until called. Simultaneously, he had to send tom on repeated errands to inform patrick Mercer of these changes so that he could alter his commentary – which he did brilliantly. With the guns now silent in the valley the ‘Missing Man’, represented by ralph, peeled up and out of the tiger formation and they cleared the area for the last time. Martin called in the Mustangs and in immaculate echelon they swept back and forth across the valley, the noise of their Merlins thrilling the crowd while, for the benefit of the spectators, patrick adroitly changed their role from russian guns to symbols of peace!

Maxi records the relief of at last being airborne and in the thick of it, “Freed from the constraint of timing our passes and with the area now clear of aircraft I roll in on Martin’s call and concentrate Jonathan takes up the narrative… “the Mustangs were still marooned so the Charge was going to be on showing the Mustang to best effect without busting the 500 feet unopposed. Without worry about the precise timing and the need limit from crowd line and above ground about which all the display to spot the Mustangs approaching almost head on, there was more pilots had been most carefully and repeatedly briefed by our time to appreciate the charge itself… the first explosions were quite concerned air Force observers. I see robs expertly slide back from muffled and distant, ‘boom’ ‘boom’, but then an almighty ‘BOOM’ echelon left to ‘fighting arrow’ to give me more maneuvering room right under the aircraft sent a real shock wave that lifted the tiger as I sweep past the tents, pull up ahead of the Sapoune heights and violently. My God I felt really in the thick of it with smoke rising and wingover back down the valley. I turn back for a farewell pass past noise everywhere. What a way to die, I thought, with cordite in the friends and spectators on the dun-coloured slopes as they streak by.” nostrils!” the Charge over, the tigers reversed over the site of the russian guns and straggled back down that awful valley, re-forming behind the Sapoune heights and going into a race-track pattern. Martin still had no news from the Mustangs, added to which he was informed that the Cub was still on the ground. how could he reprogramme them both into the show? and then on the radio he heard ralph suggest to Jonathan that rather than orbit endlessly, the tigers fly the Missing Man act, previously scheduled to be the last act of the show, thus giving time for the Mustangs to get airborne and to their holding position. With no news yet of the Mustangs and the Cub, the show had to go on so, blessing ralph for the idea, Martin called Jonathan to start the Missing Man act.

a pause followed their departure. then, a kilted edward robson marched down the hill behind the viewing platform playing a haunting lament on his bagpipes, while Susie flew her Cub in from the east.

here is Susie’s account of her role, “Leaving our hotel at 0530, the sight of 200,000 poppies, or rather the 10 enormous boxes in which they'd made their way to Sevastopol aboard Gerry's pack horse, (Gerry humphries’ turbo Commander) had been enough to make me feel my enthusiasm for the Cub's role in the Balaclava theatre mightn't have been so well thought out. another thing that was worrying me was that identifying the right valley was going to be no easier than it had been in 1854. Mark was undaunted Back at Belbec, ground power had at last turned up in the shape of however, and we carried out a successful practice run over the right a large military lorry. By now the Mustangs had missed their valley with 40,000 poppies squashed into black bin liners; it was programmed entrance, but the welcome news came via Bill that going to be OK. after de-briefing it was back to Belbec for a snooze they and the Cub were finally airborne. With the timing of the under the aeroplane in the, by now, considerable heat, before the real thing. the four tigers started on the dot of 1500, and then Gil 117

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Greenall in the 'tower' (a precarious trailer dragged out into the wildflowers) announced a 15 minute delay owing to the arrival of a VIp. the tigers weren't going to shut down though, so they headed off to the runway holding point leaving Mark and me a little uncertain about our timing; would it be changed? that became academic however when Maxi's Mustang wouldn't start. Sitting in the Cub feeling anxious for Maxi we listened to robs talking him through some starting procedures but the ruddy thing wasn't going to go. the only thing for it was to find a 24 volt ground trolley, but no one sounded very optimistic, so at this point we decided we'd better leave them to it and get going. Once in the air we heard Bill relaying a message from Martin for us to hurry to our hold. then, for no apparent reason, the main fuse blew. Luckily the Cub’s Master Switch has a second position incorporating another main fuse so all was well. Slowly running in over the Valley of Death the little white aeroplane, I hope, conveyed an image of serenity as the poppies fluttered down. In the cockpit, it was far from serene! Mark was flailing around, manically ripping bags open, poppies swirling all over us amidst wild cries as I struggled to hold the Cub level”. Mark Coreth had this to add about his role as dump-master, “Simplicity is always the key to problems. Squeeze the poppies into black plastic bags and, when over the target, rip them apart in a solemn way and pray that more end up out of the aeroplane than in. My prayer was answered; only 1000 or so remained within the centrifuge of the Cub’s cockpit….” at exactly the right place Mark, in the back seat, poured out the red poppies that drifted silently down over the valley. patrick called for a minute’s silence in memory of the soldiers of all nationalities who had died in the Crimean campaign. the valley fell silent. David price sounded the Last post and white doves, the symbols of peace, were released by naval cadets. It was a poignant moment for all concerned and not a few tears were shed. Bill, who had played such a pivotal role as Squadron Navigator and carried the responsibility of giving an anxious Major Sergei Drozdov a bird’s eye view of the whole show high above the Sapoune heights, had a few pithy comments to make about the day’s proceedings. “6th July is hot but clear. the practice goes (fairly) smoothly. there is then a long wait in the heat for the actual display. everyone is tense. the tiger Moths start their engines for departure. then things start to go wrong, a 15 minute delay is announced by atC – apparently there is a jet coming in. the tigers shut down (their 118

now hot engines will be difficult to start again). a few minutes later the delay is cancelled and we start again, sticking to the original schedule. Unfortunately this fact does not get to all the display pilots. My departure is after the tigers, but I get stuck behind a piece of wood buried in the grass at the runway threshold so I have to shut down and get rid of it. at last I take off from Belbek with Sergey Drozdov (our Ukrainian Navigator), only a few minutes behind schedule and I proceed to my holding point south of Sevastopol being careful to avoid a large red and white tV mast to wait for my tiny part in the show. Down on the ground our compere, Martin Barraclough, issues crisp instructions on his radio and the tiger Moths perform a complex dance simulating men and horses. then the Mustangs are summoned to be the russian guns… but they are not there! they should be orbiting at their designated holding position but one has had a starting problem at Belbek. Chaos lurks a few seconds in the future but in the usual British way we stave it off. patrick Mercer who is doing the commentary does a brilliant job of feeding information to the public so they think all is going to plan. My position orbiting 2000 ft above the Sevastopol heights enables me to communicate with Belbek and Martin so everyone knows what is happening and I can relay instructions to aircraft too low to receive Martin’s radio. the tiger Moths do some more pirouetting to fill in the time and then charge. I play my small part of Captain Nolan. the Mustangs and poppy dropping aircraft arrive. We get away with it. the show is a great success!” and thank goodness it was a success – little did we appreciate that every known tV station in Ukraine covered the event and it was later officially estimated that the display was watched by not only the thousands of spectators on the side of the hill, but by an estimated 15 million viewers across the country! Susie’s final comment was “We dropped 160,000 poppies, and despite the mayhem, I found it strangely moving. It was a wonderful thing to have done and I'm reminded of that afternoon every time I fly as poppy petals are still everywhere in the Cub”. Strangely, it was a more fitting finale to the one that had been programmed. the crowd applauded enthusiastically, totally unaware of the dramas that had taken place and how close the show had come to unravelling. With a reception on the flagship of the Ukrainian navy scheduled soon after everyone’s return to Sevastopol, there never was sufficient time for a de-brief. that would have been interesting….

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Profile for Words by Design

The Air Squadron Visit to Ukraine  

• A visit that took ten years to come to fruition, required an Act of Parliament and which involved the infrastructure of the whole country...

The Air Squadron Visit to Ukraine  

• A visit that took ten years to come to fruition, required an Act of Parliament and which involved the infrastructure of the whole country...