I will not forget the day three B47 Stratojets one after the other flew low over my home in central England. I was seventeen. They were turning and headed north. I realised they had taken off from somewhere nearby. After cycling out in the general direction I finally found the airfield – RAF Bruntingthorpe, ten to twelve miles or so out of town.
To see them takeoff started almost regular weekly visits every Wednesday afternoon that I had free from work. Initially I did not cycle fast enough and saw them gaining altitude over the green fields. Eventually I arrived to see the take offs at the departure end of the runway and what a thrill it was. It seems at each visit they departed with about a three minute delayed timing. I learned in later years from Sigmund and Jim that they were on Reflex Alert.
Most of my time was at the rotation end of the runway, where the air photographs were taken. I was used to the B47’s being at altitude by then. But this one day I decided to photograph directly from the centre line of the runway as the jets went overhead. The RAF police halted traffic but ignored me, a relative youngster. I was about 250 yards then from the end of the runway, not far considering what was coming, and there was no security fence in those days.
I could hear the jet engines roar and see black smoke rise over the 12,000’ runway horizon as the take-off run began, the aircraft not yet visible. Then, glinting in the sun the tail fin, cockpit and fuselage rose above the runway surface, then the wings, then the engines, all outlined by a cloud of billowing black smoke. At this point the first B47 was on a slight downhill run still increasing speed. My camera was ready. What a thrill to be unhindered immediately in front of this scene.
Then it became different. This aircraft was staying on the runway. I could not believe it. Now I was seriously worried. This large roaring metallic beast outlined against spreading black smoke was heading right for me, rapidly getting bigger and wider. Then it lifted just before the runway end. In fear I took a photograph and placed my camera on a flat topped fence post, stuck my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes. I feared dying in a fireball. It was so low I felt the undercarriage may or may not just miss me. I heard it roar overhead. Then hot dissipated jet wash from behind me pushed me toward the fence. Opening my eyes I saw the camera blown off the fence post. Warm black smelly fumes surrounded. I knew two more B47’s were coming in close sequence and reaching through the fence I picked up the camera and took photos as they followed in quick succession. This time they lifted earlier and powered overhead higher than the first. Maybe the lead pilot was as surprised as I and warned his associates he just ran over someone that is if he ever saw me.
It was a very quick and intense experience. I must have been in shock. Walking back to the bike I shook uncontrollably and could not walk straight. I struggled in vain to control this and hide youthful embarrassment from the vehicle occupants and police audience at the barriers. It was a physical not just visual experience never to be forgotten on a normally quiet warm sunny English afternoon.
That first photo and the following I have misplaced or last, but I am sure you can imagine it. What you see is from other days.
That was just a “few” years ago!
Alec Bailey, PO Box 24 Camden NSW 2570 Australia