Remembering the B-17: The Key Role of the Sally-B


2015-12-12  During our participation in a B-17 memorial exercise in France, we had a chance to meet the extraordinary people involved with keeping the last flying B-17 in Europe engaged in public events.

In the latest issue of the Sally B news, Elly Sallingboe provides an update on the past year for the Sally B team.

We had some very interesting flights and displayed at several new venues, and yes, it was a very wet summer, but overall we were lucky with the weather. We did encounter a few mechanical issues during the season – but with amazing work by an extraordinary team, these were soon fixed.

Our Aerial Salute to Duxford

You will have read in the summer bulletin that, most fittingly, our landmark season began at IWM Duxford at the VE-Day Air Show in May when our B-17 led a poignant commemorative salute in a mass formation of heavy aircraft and fighters to honour the 70th anniversary of VE Day and Sally B’s 70th birthday.

This great spectacle was re-enacted exclusively at Duxford in recognition of B-17 Preservation’s 40 year partnership with the IWM Duxford, carried out in true Great Warbirds air display style. The VE and VJ segments of the flying were closed by an emotive solo display from Sally B – all pure magic. Great work from Peter Kuypers and the fighter pilots and from Flying Display Director Jeanne Frazer who always gathers wonderful aircraft for the displays at Duxford.

Great teamwork at RAF Northolt

Pilots Peter Kuypers and Daryl Taplin, engineers Steve Carter and Mike Butcher and I had arranged to arrive at RAF Northolt the day before the show. We arrived just as the first raindrops hit the tarmac, but the weather turned even worse on the Saturday and prevented most of the other participating aircraft from arriving.

The low cloud base also put paid to the Queen’s Birthday flypast over the airfield.

Therefore, the Duxford-based aircraft helped save the flying show. Mark Miller in the Rapide was the first display act up in the afternoon and had a round of applause from the crowd just for taking off and an even bigger one on landing for having displayed, but the cloud base had lifted when Sally B performed to great enthusiasm from the crowd.

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On landing, however we found an oil leak on the number three engine. With great teamwork this was quickly repaired, but it meant that we had to cancel our planned display at Biggin Hill.

Back in the office, I received this email from Squadron Leader Mark Bullivant, the organiser at RAF Northolt, who commented:

“Dear Elly and Peter, I just wanted to pass on my personal thanks for all your efforts to display for us at RAF Northolt. It was a difficult weekend and the show definitely suffered but, without doubt, your beautiful aircraft and very professional team were the saviours!

Peter, an impressive display in restrictive airspace and weather; a great effort for which I am very grateful (and I have no doubt so were spectators).

I trust you managed to get home on Sunday without further complications and Sally B is ‘healthy’ again; there is a nice dark patch on the 25 Threshold that will always bring a smile to my face as it will hold fond memories of working with you all and the privilege of seeing Sally B”.

The rest of the season’s flying

Despite this summer’s dreadful weather, we had relatively few cancellations.

Weston-super-Mare was one, where we had to abandon the display on the Saturday, but made it on the Sunday to a packed seafront at this friendly venue.

Following Cleethorpes in July was Flying Legends at Duxford, and then in August we displayed at Damyns Hall, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Clacton and Dunsfold and for the Roll of Honour participants at Duxford on 16 August.

On Friday 21 August, we landed at Bournemouth for our annual display there and at Shoreham.

On Saturday morning, Peter Kuypers, Roger Mills, Steve Carter and Jeff Lawton drove to the airport to ready Sally B for the displays at Shoreham and Bournemouth.

Peter Kuypers recalls:

“Whilst preparing for our display flights I was called by the Bournemouth display director Ian Sheeley saying that there had been an accident at Shoreham, after some phone calls I found out that it was major accident and that the display at Shoreham had been cancelled.

I immediately called Elly to let her know about the accident and that we had to cancel the Shoreham display, we had to start our engines shortly after to do our display at Bournemouth”.

After our display the four Sally B crew returned to the hotel where everyone felt the somberness of the situation.

Later it became clear just how devastating this tragic accident had been.

For so many people to lose their lives, especially people in no way connected to the airshow, is incredibly painful.

Our thoughts go out to the families of those caught up in this most unfortunate tragedy.

We finished our last display at Bournemouth on Sunday afternoon and, subdued and saddened, flew back to Duxford.

Four days later, it was on to Clacton where we displayed on both days.

Here the press attended in great numbers as it was the first air show after the Shoreham accident and Sally B was subject to some nasty media attacks for her final tribute run with smoke.

I will not dwell on this here, as I am sure you will all have heard about this utterly unbelievable treatment by some of the more sensational press. The following weekend we displayed at Dunsfold. On our return flight on the Sunday, we were supposed to display at the Children In Need event at Little Gransden, but we had to abandon because of low cloud and poor visibility in the Cambridge area.

This also meant that we could not land at Duxford, and instead had to divert into North Weald. Here Weald Aviation looked us after superbly until Friday 4 September, when our girl was flown back home to Duxford.

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September saw Sally B’s longest flight of the season, to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Much more about this elsewhere Old Sarum and the Vulcan. Following our longest flight, it was on to Old Sarum where I had arranged with good friend Robert Pleming that we fly information with the Vulcan.

The two bombers were to arrive overhead in line astern and fly two formation passes for the expectant crowd, all carefully planned and briefed by Peter Kuypers and the Vulcan pilot Bill Ramsey. Sally B was on her way to Old Sarum when Peter received a call on the radio that the Vulcan had a problem and was unable to make it.

There was an understandable wave of disappointment from the crowd when they heard, however as soon as Sally B ran in the mood changed, the focus switched back to the display line.

Peter Kuypers recounts:

As I was flying around the Porton Down restricted airspace towards Old Sarum I heard the Vulcan checking in on the Farnborough air-traffic control frequency.

After a short time, however, the Vulcan declared a technical problem and informed air-traffic control that they were aborting and diverting back to base.

This meant that our formation flight was now not going to happen; I then changed frequency to Old Sarum Display and informed them that Sally B would be on her own for the display. At that moment, Nigel Lamb was taxying out for his displaying the P-51 Ferocious Frankie.

To try to help the show I asked Nigel if he would do a formation pass with us…! Nigel agreed, and as we had flown together before, we were able to brief this one pass on the radio.

Minutes later, I was running in with the formation, not with the Vulcan but with a P-51, it was the best we could do under the circumstances and hoped it helped just a little.

Steve Carter, who was in the tail compartment expecting to film the Vulcan, must have had a surprise when he suddenly saw the Mustang appearing instead” on Sally B’s last pass there was a big round of applause and most people went home with a smile on their faces.

We found out later why the Vulcan had to cancel – they had a fuel leak.

Our Anniversary season ended where it began, at IWM Duxford’s last show of the season, the Battle of Britain Air Show and Sally B went under cover for her winter maintenance on 15 October.

I hope you have seen our aircraft fly at some of the many venues we displayed at this summer and that you appreciate what huge part you have played in our reaching this incredible milestone for our aircraft. 2015 would not have seen us celebrating these significant anniversaries without your membership, donations, loyalty, continuous support and goodwill.

We thank you.

Sally B News issue 53

For an opportunity to contribute financially to our partner the Sally B to keep the B-17 flying, please go to the following:

For earlier stories on the B-17 see the following: