I felt so happy when I received an invitation from Lord March, through Rob Wildeboer, to participate in the prestigious “Freddy March Spirit of Aviation” Trophy at the 12th Goodwood Revival last September (2009). The display (on the grounds of The Goodwood Estate, roughly 50 miles SW of London, England), brings together some of the world’s finest, most elegant, original and rarely-seen aircraft from the evocative pioneering days of aviation, and is run concurrently with the Revival over a three-day week-end. At the conclusion of the event, the winning aircraft is awarded the prestigious trophy. Over the past two years, the Spirit has established itself as a world-class, annual concours d’elegance for historic aircraft
Since the first Revival in 1998, I had always been a fan of this magnificent event, which combines style and elegance with legendary race machinery and drivers in the most unique atmosphere anywhere in the world. Where else indeed are you able, in one glance, to see Stirling Moss sitting in his famous Mercedes 300SLR, with his mechanics in white overalls rushing about readying the car as he’s watched by a group of admiring ladies in period dresses and gentlemen with straw hats. At the same time, you realise even the ice cream van in the background is from the fifties, and the two police constables next to you are also in period dress.
It was nice to be able to give something back after all these years, and if it had to be on the flying rather than the racing side, so be it; at least I had the machinery to satisfy up to 120,000 pairs of eyes over the week-end. I refer of course to the Nanchang CJ-6A which I have had the pleasure (addiction would be a better word) to fly for the past two years. The entry for the Spirit, just as for the racing cars, is limited to pre-1966 machinery to respect the period theme of the whole event. The ‘Chang fell nicely in that category although it remains, to this day, the primary trainer for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Approval was quickly obtained from the other members in our group, after I promised they too would be invited to attend over the week-end. I turned up on the preceding Thursday with, for once, a well manicured Nanchang devoid of excess oil, and the welcome and assistance on the ground was fantastic. My friend Karen, the aerodrome assistant manager, along with Rob Wildeboer and his team, made sure the plane was quickly put in place among the beautiful rival machinery. Next to me stood a 1935 Spartan Executive, so bright you could have shaved in the reflection of its aluminum panels.
This year, the jury was composed of no less than Buzz Aldrin (still fresh from his walk on the moon 40 years ago), Sir Terence Conran the superlative designer, James May and Paul Bonhomme, our newly crowned Red Bull World Champion. During the week-end, Paul displayed a P-51 in one of the tightest formations I have ever seen.
At any rate, we did not win the contest; shining a red star for a black cross, the panel reserved that honour for a mint, yellow Bücker Jungmeister owned by Mark Rijkse. I imagine it must have been difficult for the judges to arrive at any decision in front of 33 rare, perfectly-presented aircraft. The group included the Vickers Vimy (performing her last flights at Goodwood before finding rest at Brooklands), a 1909 Bleriot (replica), a 1942 C-47A belonging to Mike Woodley (one of very few left flying from that period), a gorgeous Cessna 195 Businessliner, an ex-French Army Alouette II, the first turbine helicopter from 1961, a still-valiant, 1935 Hornet Moth, and a Bolkow Bo207, to mention a few.
But I did have some great satisfaction over the week-end. One of them was a chance encounter with the Chinese Ambassador, a charming lady by any means, who really took to the Nanchang when she saw it and posed in the cockpit, in front of her entourage.
I would like to think a photo of this event was on its way to Beijing soon after to celebrate one of their lesser known exports!
Another success was the large number of children and their parents who managed a photo opportunity in the cockpit.
On the Sunday I felt like really celebrating the whole event so, to put things into perspective, I convinced my friend Ralph (aka Cpt. Mannering) to move his Dads’ Army around some of the most evocative aircraft on display. My friend and photographer François Dumas made these (and many other) pictures of them:
The little scene they organized around the Vimy was photographed for posterity
and will figure in its last refuge at Brooklands, no doubt.
The great hospitality afforded to the participants over the week-end was unforgettable, in particular the spectacular dinner for over 1000 guest participants given by Lord March. Under a bright Spanish “Seville” theme, Flamenco dancers and horse mounted gauchos paraded between tables, and there was even a display of indoor fireworks! The entertainment included a special guest appearance by Dire Straits guitarist, Mark Knopfler, giving a rendition of Local Hero to celebrate guest of honour Stirling Moss, who turned 80 years old over the week-end. The whole setting, the lights, the vibrant colours, the miniature orange and citrus trees planted on the tables, was sublime. And you would never have thought for a moment you were sipping sangria and champagne inside a mundane aviation hangar.
Next year, my chum Bernard Chabbert has promised to bring along his Lockheed 12, fresh from filming in Africa for Amelia ( the Hollywood blockbuster celebrating the legendary American pilot, which starred Hilary Swank and Richard Gere).
If you own a treasured, rare aircraft – and it must be pre-1966 to guarantee visual integrity on the circuit – you could do worse than contacting Rob Wildeboer with your details. Accepting his invitation means you have to make your plane available to Goodwood for five full days –two days either side of the week-end itself- but the security they provide is flawless and due care will be taken to protect your pride and joy whilst it is in their custody.
Personally, I can’t wait for the next Revival, only as a spectator this time, but with delight – just as for the past twelve years.
(You can find information on the 2010 event at Goodwoods home page here).