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Royal wedding: I was in the flypast over Buckingham Palace

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Jake Humphrey | 14:11 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

"Lest we forget" is the motto of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

I have no doubt that after the royal wedding on Friday, tens of millions will forever remember the sight of three World War II planes roaring down the Mall in central London, as a sea of people became a sea of flash photography.

In some ways this is a difficult blog post to write as I would love to fill it by telling you how it felt to broadcast live to the nation from the cockpit of a plane older than my Dad.

However, despite the old lady doing her bit just perfectly, sadly modern technology let us down.

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The plan was that, as we approached London, I would leap into position and deliver 90 seconds of compelling and entertaining commentary about the plane, and then reaction afterwards relating to the flypast, and how proud the Royal Air Force were to be paying their respects to a current RAF pilot in the shape of Prince William.

Sadly, however, as we flew over the Olympic site, just minutes away from Buckingham Palace, I couldn't hear the BBC programme or see a monitor, so I was effectively 'working blind'.

Despite delivering my lines three times, things conspired against us and we weren't able to deliver what would have been an epic part of the BBC's royal wedding coverage, much to my frustration and sadness.

However, as the well known biblical phrase goes, "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away."

I think that line sums up exactly how I felt as I collapsed into my seat on the train home on Friday evening.

I was so frustrated that we weren't able to deliver our side of the bargain.

Yet, at the same time, I was on the crest of a wave after being privileged to spend 24 hours in the company of some incredible people and some equally impressive feats of British engineering.

Like many young boys I grew up with tales of Lancasters, Spitfires and Hurricanes, and just how much we owe to them.

As I sit here penning this blog post, aged 32, I think for the first time I've only just grasped quite how brave those boy-pilots were, 70 years ago.

I will never forget the moment I climbed aboard the Lancaster on Thursday afternoon to prepare for the flypast.

I felt immediately claustrophobic, with an instant, increased respect for what my forefathers achieved.

It was compact, lacking any sort of comfort, and with echoes of the past all around me.

Messages about bombs, ammunition and emergencies offered a regular reminder of the plane's glorious, if incredibly dangerous, past.

Jake Humphrey, with helmet in hand, standing in front of a RAF bomber

As well as the flight itself being something that will stay with me forever, I gained just as much enjoyment from chatting to the engineers who get these planes in the air, and the pilots who keep them there.

I had barely been there for five minutes and I had been encouraged to stand on the wing, sit in a Spitfire, and asked to imagine being a Battle of Britain pilot.

The RAF servicemen looking after the relics are experts, historians, and tour guides all rolled into one, and are brilliant at the lot.

Just imagine the facts. Most pilots were in their early 20s with very little flying experience and suddenly carrying out night-time sorties lasting hours.

Of the thousands of Lancasters that were built, only 30 managed to clock up over a century of missions, and the average life of one of the planes was just a couple of weeks. As scary as it is unbelievable.

And it is all those reasons and more that it's essential the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight retain the ability to keep these planes where they belong - in the air.

Taking off and seeing the Spitfire and Hurricane playing around just behind us, as responsive and athletic as they were all those years before.

The sound of the Merlin engines roaring into life, and the moment we joined the party being attended by millions.

All of them wonderful memories of the day the RAF paid their respects to Kate and her new husband, who is the patron of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

However, despite all that, what really resonated with me was what we did after we'd flown over the capital.

As we headed back north we dropped in on fetes, garden gatherings and street parties across Britain.

At the sound of the engines the streets below us were full of frantic waving as we dipped our wings and made people's day with a low arc past them.

Whilst I will be forever grateful for what I experienced on Friday, the same applies to us all.

We all owe these planes and the pilots who flew them so much, and every day the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight makes sure that decades after these planes did their national duty, we shall never forget. I know I won't.

Jake Humphrey is a BBC Sport presenter and writes a blog about Formula One.

Highlights of The Royal Wedding are available in BBC iPlayer until Friday, 6 May.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Jake - watch this video - http://www.vimeo.com/23208026 - you make a guest appearance right at the very end sir....

  • Comment number 2.

    Was gutted you weren't able to do your bit on air Jake ... such a small window of opportunity during the event too. Shame.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good article Jake. When you left London and headed North you flew over us near Grafham Water in Cambs. Along with the Spit, Hurricane and the jets a few minutes before. I have seen the BBMF many times, but when I hear that noise coming I run into the garden to catch a look. 32 and still standing like a child in awe. Well done to all involved.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Jake,what an experience.It was a wonderful day,loved every minute. Kathx

  • Comment number 5.

    Thank you so much for sharing this frustration. I watched the video that Andy in the first post put up and was very moved thinking of your trying to do your job. It was a glorious day all told and your difficulty adds to the wonder of an event that so many participated in.

    My family immigrated to Canada from Holland after WWII and I heard many stories from my family about these planes flying over Holland to go to Germany. These legendary aircraft helped to liberate Holland, by which my parents then immigrated to Canada, where my siblings and I were born. No doubt this was part of my respect for the Royal Canadian Air Force and military to which I later joined and become part of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. It was a short time as a reservist, but enough to keep me in awe of the sacrifices that men and women make in the military every day. And it was the military that helped me to engender respect for the Royal family under the review of Prince Philip as our Colonel in Chief.

    God save the Queen!

  • Comment number 6.

    Very moving for me as my late father was Navigator in a Lanc and survived being shot down in Q Qeenie

  • Comment number 7.

    So, Jake, the only person in the country to miss the wedding, huh? Seriously though, I'm glad you picked up on how young the pilots were in WWII. Many had only just hit 20 & once they became pilots, their life expectancy was only a few months. At 32 (you don't look it!) you'd have been ancient.

  • Comment number 8.

    But we did see a brief Lancaster welcome from Jake between the two balcony kisses. Screengrab from the footage: http://twitpic.com/4t774x - and we also saw pictures from the Lancaster of the Spitfire flying alongside in formation. Realise it's only a fraction of what was planned but it was still stunning. And presume more can be added to programmes / documentaries in years to come?

  • Comment number 9.

    Great blog Jake. I was lucky enough to look round the interior of the Lanc at a display in Cambridgeshire over 30 years ago, and I can still remember the cramped interior and having to almost crawl along a narrow section over the bomb bay to get to the cockpit. At the time, on the ground, it was uncomfortable. What must it have been like for aircrew, burdened with parachutes, trying to find their way out in the dark as a plane fell out of the sky? Incredible bravery to keep flying, especially in the knowledge that few survived a tour of 30 missions! The BBMF does an incredible job in keeping the planes flying and paying tribute to the thousands who never made it home.

  • Comment number 10.

    I have downloaded this video and I will keep it.
    I think it is also a good experience in your career, so you should forget sadly modern technolog!
    U really look handsome and dashing as a pilot!
    cherish this memory and look forword to Istanbul!
    In addition, I am guessing whether you will say something about royal wedding or EJ and DC will joke you during the build-up of F1 ???
    I AM LOOKING FORWORD....

  • Comment number 11.

    Great great blog Jake, it's still a good memory and precious memory for you despite the frustration and sadness. The royal wedding coverage was glamorous and sacred which showed the real British Monarchy and UK people to the world, you were so lucky to be part of it. Thanks for sharing the inside story with us, salute to RAF!
    BTW, you look so gorgeous in RAF uniform regardless of your height.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi Jake, Pity we missed you on Friday. Just one point; there were 35 Lancasters which managed 100 operations or more. Cheers, see you on the next F1 program.

 

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