Blenheim bomber returns to Bicester Airfield for Flywheel festival

Military re-enactors and period models in front of the Blenheim. Credit: Peter de Rousset-Hall, NNL-150625-135703001

Military re-enactors and period models in front of the Blenheim. Credit: Peter de Rousset-Hall, NNL-150625-135703001

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The sole remaining operational Blenheim bomber returned to its former base at Bicester Airfield during the weekend to mark the first ever Flywheel festival- a display of historic motoring, aviation, military vehicles and period lifestyle.

Thousands of visitors turned up see the immense variety of iconic vehicles, set against the backdrop of Britain’s best preserved WW2 bomber airfield at Bicester Heritage.

It was a poignant moment both for present veterans and for the aircraft’s current pilot and restorer John Romain who said: “It was an amazing feeling. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of photos of Blenheims set again this backdrop of hangars and control tower, then there we were, taxying in.”

A spirited flying display by the Blenheim was complemented by an equally spectacular and accomplished performance by first the sky blue photo reconnaissance Spitfire PR XI of Peter Teichman, commemorating the unarmed high-speed Spitfires which flew from nearby RAF Benson and a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flown by the BBMF Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Duncan Mason.

Among the pre-war crowd pleasers on the demonstration track was the 1905 Fiat land speed record car. Featuring a 16.1 litre aircraft engine and chain drive to its rear wheels, it was spectacularly driven by owner Mike Vardy. Other crowd pleasers included Bentley, Riley and Aston Martin Le Mans racers, a flame-throwing Bentley-Packard special with an engine of no less than 41-litres capacity, along with Alfa Romeo, Bugatti and ERA racing cars.

One of the favourites among the 1950s racing cars was the Jaguar C-Type which, driven by Stirling Moss in the 1952 Reims Grand Prix for sports cars, scored a landmark first-ever victory by a car using disc brakes, helping make them the universal technology today. The car was driven at Flywheel by Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams, one of the most flamboyant racers of all time, who has started over 1,500 races and rallies since making his debut over half a century ago.

In addition to the priceless machines on the test track, road cars from the Edwardian era to the early 1960s were on show in period-themed areas, while military vehicle enthusiasts and re-enactor groups took full advantage of Bicester’s background of hangars, air-raid shelters and wartime buildings, which remain barely altered since the end of WW2. The vehicles included WW2 Sherman and Grant tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, half-tracks and trucks, parked around a genuine D-Day veteran Douglas C-47 transport plane and a diminutive Piper L-4 ‘Grasshopper’ U.S. Army spotter aircraft, while wartime songs and jazz music echoed from the nearby entertainment marquee.

“We have been blown away by the support for Flywheel from every direction – the aircraft owners and pilots, the demonstration cars, the military displays, the music performers, the trade village and – most especially – the public” said Duncan Wiltshire, managing director of event organiser Historic Promotions Limited. “The garden party atmosphere and the enthusiastic response from visitors and participants alike was everything that we could have hoped for. This first year has been a fantastic platform from which the event can evolve in future years”