Aries, The North Pole Plane. History, airfix and discovery 🖤

This short clip is one of those amazing Pathe News reports about an aeroplane, narrated by some terribly well-spoken English expert in the field.

Not just any old aeroplane, but my favourite of all time – the Lancaster Bomber. I first saw one for real when my father took me to Hendon War Museum in North West London. We lived not far away and I was probably about ten at the time.

Yes I loved ponies, cats and books but I also had developed an outsider’s fascination with mechanics. I say ‘outsider’ because I cannot rebuild an engine – as my father can – but I was exposed to the necessary teamwork required to bleed the brakes on a Morris Minor Traveller, as I was entrusted with the pressing of the footbrake while dad’s voice filtered through the floor while he lay on a carpet-covered trolley underneath said car “on” … “off” …. “on” …. “off” … I’ve still no idea what he would have been doing, but I just loved it that he got me out of bed to help him. I was the son he never had.

Close observers will notice this silver version of the Lancaster in the video clip has in fact many variations from the bomber we all recognise as part of the BBM fly past for the Queens Birthday and other state occasions (Battle of Britain Memorial).

(photo – Tony Stafford)

The silver adaptation, which needed none of the bomber capabilities for its mission to the North Pole, has been reproduced below by my own father who has spent the best part of seventy years enjoying airfix kits of and (much to my mother’s annoyance) has an attic full of unmade kits.

Although dad, now 76, suffers from some shakes, his lifelong attention to detail results in him painstakingly painting tiny surface areas of these kits … such as the yellow tips on each propeller, or the pilot’s overalls even when they won’t be seen by most admirers beneath removable canopies.

Decals (the transfers provided by the kit manufacturers) are positioned with precision using tweezers and magnifying glasses, moved a millimetre this way or that while the moisture remains. I used to hang over him on the dining room table, watching the planes take shape over a few days, growing into recognisable shapes from the plastic moulds attached to frames.

In fact I recal a phase when I was treated to a kit or two to work on alongside him at the dining room table. This was an honour and I would lay out my mat and tools, as he did his, before opening the box containing the parts to a blue-tit on a branch, or a Hussar astride a bay horse with spear in hand. The best part was opening a new box when the sheets of half moulds lay pristine, waiting to be twisted out of their frame and glued in place – except dad always insisted on wet ‘n drying the edges before glueing (so tedious were these time-consuming extra tasks to a 9 year old). In fact, I remember the process of building and painting never quite lived up to my vision of the completed model and eventually after a few months I grew bored and my half completed models were stored back in their boxes for ‘another time’. (That time never came and I believe I finally threw the boxes out only a few years ago – gulp).

When our son, now 18, became interested in airfix my dad helped and guided him, proudly drove him to special shops which still existed where you could browse shelves of kits in all available scales rather than merely logging on and hoping for the best. He did chose some planes (I remember finding a spitfire in a rose bush only last year, long after his enthusiasm for making them had departed) but unsurprisingly was also attracted to army transport (we’ll forgive dad his allegiance to aeroplane kits – he spent 22 years in the Royal Air Force 🤗).

The only trouble was, my son played rugby aged 6-14 and his weekends were taken up playing matches, then recovering and chilling with schoolmates, so his attention to those kits was sporadic. Add to that his impatience for the kit to be ‘ready to play with’ … and the results would not have made the monthly modelling shows to which my father still attends!

My father’s engineering knowledge is unbelievable. He reads. And reads. And reads; always did. He retains information better than one square of kitchen roll retains spills ..

Ask him about London Underground (which my daughter did when she first moved to the big smoke and started using it regularly) and he’ll tell you who designed it, when it was developed and improved, where the unused stations are and which are used as settings in films.

Ask him about MPG in cars, lorries, and horse lorries and he’ll explain the formula to work it out.

He has an easy unpatronising way of sharing information, should you choose to ask and listen. He would never throw that information at you, he is a quiet man.

I am more aware these days that my time to learn more about him, to really know the man behind the mask of ‘dad’, is reducing. I am mindful now that I will enjoy his company when I am with him, not allow any other voices in the room to distract me from a shared conversation, even if others are not interested in what he has to say.

One day, if nature takes it course, I won’t be able to ask him how fast a space station flies around the earth, or why some engine oil is better than others.

I’d hate to be in that situation which you sometimes hear others say say “I wish I’d spent more time just chatting to him.”

I’m not sure where this post grew from. I ought to be writing my book, or reading about Jake but the urge took over and I let it flow. Trust I haven’t bored you.

Sleep well 💫