A group of aviation enthusiasts, targeted recently by Stormont politicians, say they have been seriously damaged but not shot down in the dogfight.
In fact, the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS), who are venturing outside their Maze/Long Kesh hangar, has had its most successful round of festival appearances in years, said chairperson Ray Burrows.
“We’re preparing right now to head for one of the biggest aviation events ever held on this island,” he said. “We’re going to welcome thousands of visitors at the Air Waves show in Portrush.”
The two-day event, set for September 6 and 7, includes impressive air shows scheduled for both days — an ambitious plan for even the most experienced air show planners in the UK.
This Saturday (August 30), the society hosts a fundraising dinner at the Ramada Inn, Shaw’s Bridge. Donors’ contributions will help to fund the group’s new replica Spitfire, which is headed shortly for the Portrush festival.
The society’s full size (but ground-bound) Spitfire may give the historic bombers some serious competition.
“A large number of our 400 members will be at Portrush to see the twin Lancasters in particular,” he said. “But with all respect, if there’s one aircraft that has seized even greater public attention through the years it’s the Spitfire.”
The society’s Mark II version is a non-flying but near-perfect copy—right down to the type and number of rivets—of the aircraft that played such an important role in the Battle of Britain. It’s only part of the UAS exhibit, for visitors can try out a (non-operating) ejection seat and poke at a Merlin engine—the type that powered both the Lancaster and Spitfire aeroplanes.
Society volunteers will be on hand to discuss the exhibits and other aviation-related matters. They’ll also take the opportunity to thank people for their strong support after the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) forced cancellation of the society’s on-site annual Open Days, originally set for last Saturday and Sunday (August 22 and 23).
“It’s been a frustrating and disgusting situation,” said Mr. Burrows. “We did nothing to deserve this kind of treatment. We’re a totally non-political, volunteer charity organisation open to everyone and yet we’ve been victimised by political infighting at OFMDFM. They have effectively slammed our hangar doors in the public’s face.”
However, he said, the Ulster Aviation Society is a positive organisation, determined to avoid throwing political brickbats and hoping instead that the politicians will make a sincere effort to solve their differences concerning this particular impasse.