BBMF Engineering

BBMF Engineering

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s twelve aircraft are unique within the modern Royal Air Force and represent the last piston-powered ‘tail-draggers’ in regular service in the RAF. As with any other Flight or Squadron within the Armed Forces, the BBMF have to fully comply with the Military Aviation Authority’s stringent regulations in order to preserve their airworthiness.

Lancaster PA474 The maintenance of these priceless historic airframes falls to just 30 engineering tradesmen, headed by the Flight’s Senior Engineering Officer, a Warrant Officer. The knowledge and expertise required to maintain the five different aircraft platforms is not readily available in the Royal Air Force of today and, although relatively simple by modern standards with regards to electronics and composite structures, the BBMF aircraft demand particular core skills and understanding that are no longer part of mainstream RAF training regime.

In order to overcome these training deficiencies, 5 of the 30 tradesmen employed on the Flight are Full Time Reservists and provide a core cadre of experience and expertise. Between them they have almost 90 years of experience on the Flight; an integral part of their work is to pass on their invaluable knowledge and experience to the other tradesmen.

The remaining 25 full time regular RAF engineers routinely serve between 3 and 5 years on the Flight before returning to more mainstream, modern-day frontline operations. Each of the BBMF ground-crew volunteer for the limited posts on the Flight, such are the attractions of the unique, challenging and satisfying working environment of the BBMF; there is a long waiting list for regular engineering personnel to be selected for employment on the Flight. The BBMF engineers are in turn supported by all the necessary back-up provided by their home base, RAF Coningsby.

Annually, from cease flying in October through to flight testing in April, a comprehensive servicing programme is completed and all the BBMF display aircraft receive in-depth scheduled maintenance. During the early part of October, the aircraft undergo pre-maintenance ground runs before they are then stripped down and thoroughly inspected for any potential engineering issues or defects. Whilst the Flight holds quite an extensive inventory, the acquisition of any spares that are required brings its own unique challenges. If the required parts are not held in stock, the Flight will approach bespoke suppliers who can repair, recondition or manufacture these unique items. The maintenance programmes proceed throughout the winter months until the New Year when the rebuilding process begins.

Engineering works on the Dakota By the middle of March, functional checks are being completed, when each aircraft will undergo full post-maintenance ground runs. Finally, each aircraft has to complete a full air test to confirm that all systems are fully serviceable, the aircraft handles as expected and its performance meets the flight test parameters. Only then are the aircraft allowed to participate in the pre-season practice displays in order to be granted Public Display Approval (PDA) by the AOC, to be authorised to fulfil the season's display commitments.

During the display season, which lasts from May to the first week of October, the BBMF ground crew often have to work irregular and sometimes prolonged hours, especially at weekends, in support of the display effort. The ground crew routinely deploy with the Flight’s aircraft to provide support at the varied operating airfields from which they mount their display sorties. Dependant on the aircraft displaying, the ground crew are often required to travel to these locations by road; however, as an added perk of the job, if the Flight’s Lancaster or Dakota aircraft are tasked, they have the privilege of flying on board.

The BBMF engineering team are dedicated professionals who passionately support the belief that, although the debt of gratitude can never be repaid, as long as the Flight’s aircraft are kept flying they will be a lasting memorial to those who have gone before.

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