Unveiling of The Phantom of the Ruhr as BQ-B
RAF Coningsby
27 April 2007

It was up early to hit the M25 before the serious traffic in order to stand a chance of getting to RAF Coningsby on time. At this early stage of the day the drive was accompanied by dull, overcast skies and did not bode well for the fly-pasts.

We reached RAF Coningsby in time for the 10:30 cup-of-tea before the day got into full swing. Thank goodness for sat-nav; "would have made me redundant" said my 550 Squadron "BQ-B" Navigator father-in-law, my excuse for being here at all. But the weather was much brighter and the prospects for a great air-display improving steadily.

The star of show - The Phantom - hit us square in the eyes as soon as we entered the hanger. Looking resplendent in her new livery. Totally stunning. Absolutely magnificent. Dominated the entire space. If nothing else happened the rest of the day that first view was worth the trip in itself.

Before official proceedings began there was the chance to wonder round, admire the star of the show, see her smaller sisters, the fighters, also out on display, get once-in-a-lifetime photographs, take in the event, enjoy the atmosphere.

At 11:00 the official visitors - us - were ushered to our seats, the press and other hangers-on behind the cordons, so that the formal events could begin. After brief speeches and some ceremony the Phantom of the Ruhr was unveiled by the first pilot of Lancaster EE139 (The Phantom) F/Lt Ron Clark DFC of 100 Squadron. Then more photographs and stories to tell the press, greetings for old friends to exchange.

Then on to lunch in the Officers Mess, ferried across in a fleet of buses. A chance to recharge and talk about the morning and, for many, to remember past times.

Afterwards back to the hanger area in the buses again, where The Phantom was now outside. In the by now brilliant sunshine she looked even better, if that was possible, than when in the hanger.

Gradually everyone arrived back and the activity around the plane gathered momentum, until the starting up of the engines. In turn each was brought to life and the roar of those magnificent Merlins drowned out all conversation. For the old-timers memories flooding back no doubt, for those of us who were not there to see this at first hand first time round all those years before just awe and amazement.

After 20 minutes or so The Phantom taxied off to the runways and it was back onto the buses for us to be ferried to the area around the control tower, our vantage point for the flypast.

Suddenly there she was: gathering speed, leaving the ground, aloft once again, and all her years fell away. The sound, the roar, the thrill. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Time and again she flew over us only to turn and come round again. All to soon it was over, but it was an absolute thrill while it lasted. As The Phantom completed and prepared to land we were treated to the Spitfires, who had come out to play and really enjoy themselves. The Phantom landed, so smoothly, and taxied by on the run-way to pause for the last photographs and waves from the crew. After many fly-bys showing off their agility, wheeling and spiralling this way and that the Spitfires too had to come home for tea and so they in turn landed.

The fly-pass finished it was back to the hanger for champagne and goodbyes.

They say time flies when you are enjoying yourself, and so it had turned out. It was 16:00 and it was, sadly, time to head for the car-park and home.

For us it was a 370 mile round-trip, for others I'm sure even more, but well worth it! We'd do it again tomorrow, and the next day, given half a chance!

Thanks to everyone - 550 Squadron and RAF North Killingholme Association, the BBMF and RAF Coningsby - who give us all a day to remember.