In 1913 it had taken Harry Hawker and Harry Kauper flying the Sopwith Waterplane two days to reach Oban. They had stopped at five Control Points along the way and Oban was now the sixth. The Catalina G-PBYA had reached Oban and taken two days as well. In that time the Catalina crew had overflown London, landed at Southampton, RAF Leeming and RAF Lossiemouth, undertaken six air displays not to mention a couple of flypasts and a couple of wreath laying ceremonies. It was time for a break!
On the Thursday evening the crew dined at EE-Usk, a local seafood restaurant, and celebrated the achievements of the flight so far. On the way to the restaurant they had stopped and admired some of the history on the esplanade. Jeff pointed out the Great Western Hotel which had been the Oban Control Point in 1913 and which was still in existence. A neighbouring hotel had a small photographic display of wartime Oban and of course Catalina’s were a large part of the scene. Also, the Barriemore Hotel had featured in 1913 as a backdrop to the two Harry’s pictured on the floats of the Sopwith Waterplane.
The crew awoke on the Friday morning well rested. Breakfast was a full Scottish affair and the staff at the Barriemore Hotel ensured the crew and support team were well prepared for the day. The plan was to conduct an air display in the morning and a local flight at the end of the day after the Catalina had been open for inspection to the public. Alas the weather was not the blue skies of the day before. Instead there was low cloud and the distant islands were obscured. Unfortunately, rain was on the way. However, at this stage the conditions were still within display limits.
Consequently, the “rest” day in Oban started with an air display over the harbour flown by John Warman with Jeff and David as crew. The approach to the harbour was from the west past McCaig’s Tower. Fortunately, the cruise ship had slipped anchor during the evening and departed for the outer isles much to the relief of Jeff!
Oban has a compact harbour and the display required some manoeuvring around the harbour as well as over the marina at Kerrera Island. Given the challenges faced on Thursday, John and Jeff decided that the return to Oban Airport would be via Runway 01. Although it had a slight tailwind component it was an easier approach to fly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUcf_vLwqFo
The weather was now deteriorating and the decision was taken by John and Jeff to bring the afternoon local flight forward. Alas, despite numerous telephone calls, not all the intended guests invited to enjoy a flight were present but there was no shortage of volunteers. Once David had the passengers on board the Catalina departed from Runway 19 and a circuit of Kerrera Island was flown by Jeff. Those on board were able to see some of the remnants from WW2 such as the hangar at the marina and the concrete apron at Ganavan. As the rain arrived it was over all too soon and then it was back to Oban Airport. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKXHJJCKcFE
The aircraft was then open for inspection. Given the limited airport parking, a shuttle bus was in operation to bring the locals from the town out to the airfield. Despite the rain they turned up. There was a display in the main terminal building and various stands selling goods in the equipment hangar. Jeff had brought along two display boards. One covered the 1913 Circuit of Britain Race and the other provided details of the Catalina G-PBYA, RAF Coastal Command bases in WW2 and the story behind Miss Pick Up.
The veterans including Jeff Leech and Tom Lennox rolled up along with many interested spectators. Speaking with the veterans was a great privilege for the crew as they provide that link with the past. For the young ones, perhaps seeing such a historic aircraft will provide the stimulus to follow a career in aviation.
One of the eagle eyed spectators queried why the starboard landing gear ram was hanging loose. Alas, a bolt had sheared at some stage after the last landing or whilst taxing in. This meant the Catalina was grounded. Float problems for the two Harry’s had nearly ended their attempt on the Circuit of Britain in 1913. Was this sheared bolt to be the end of Project Hawker 2013?
The good news was there were five crew on hand to weigh up the options. A call to Duxford soon had Garry Short, the Chief Engineer for Plane Sailing Air Displays Ltd, driving north overnight with a replacement bolt plus tools. Jeff’s wife Liz organised hotel accommodation for Garry. In the meantime the visitors continued to enjoy hearing about the Catalina and what Harry Hawker had attempted in 1913.
Despite the problem of the landing gear it was still all smiles in Oban: from the left, Neil Owen (local resident and prime mover for the Catalina visit), Crew Chiefs David Legg and Shaun Jarvis, Jeff Boyling (Project Hawker 2013 Event Organiser), Tom Eddleston (Oban Airport Station Manager), Captain John Warman, Paul Keegan (Total Logistics Concepts i.e. fuel supplier) and finally Captain Rod Brooking on the right. The car was not the crew transport but part of a larger display!
At the end of the day the Catalina was secured and the crew retired to the comfort of the hotel. The evening relaxation included a visit to the Oban War and Peace Museum which had kindly stayed open for the crew to inspect.
Marian Miller produced this video of a memorable time spent in Oban by Catalina G-PBYA and its crew for The Oban Times. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gouldWYr37k
Would the new crew members of John Warman and David Legg have a couple of days flying to deal with? Find out tomorrow!