Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ann Wood-Kelly flies under the Clifton suspension bridge

(available as a print)

Ann Wood-Kelly was an American pilot who came to Britain in 1942 and flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying warplanes around Britain and, later in the war, Europe. Whitchurch Airport, in the suburbs of South Bristol, was an ATA base, as well as an important centre for civilian flights abroad; it was on a flight headed for Whitchurch from Lisbon that the Douglas DC-3 carrying Leslie Howard was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.

It was on delivery flights to Whitchurch that Ann Wood-Kelly twice flew under the Severn railway bridge at Sharpness, once in company with another pilot who led the way, and then next time alone; on the latter occasion, the tide was in, and there was 30ft less clearance than on the first time. Her obituary in the Guardian relocates these flights to the Clifton suspension bridge, which is presumably an error; but I thought it would make a good picture anyway, and who knows, maybe Ann did indeed fly under the Clifton suspension bridge- it would certainly have been less of a squeeze than the Severn railway bridge!

As for the poularity of flying under the Sharpness bridge, here is a description of it during the war from Brian Waters, in his book Severn Tide:

"The builder constructed this bridge so that river traffic could pass beneath it. What would he say if he could return to see airmen in their Spitfires and Hurricanes diving beneath his bridge like swallows on the wing? I admired their daring, until I saw the men whose job it is to paint the bridge, hanging in their cradle, while an aircraft dashed within a few feet of them"
The Clifton Suspension Bridge was also quite popular with pilots; I've found stories of Gloster Meteors and even a Canberra going under it; and Ken Griffiths, of Bristol's Fiducia Press, recalled watching a Vampire whizz by as he stood on Observatory Hill. This was not the most usually-recalled Vampire underflight, which ended in disaster....

Severn railway bridge; photo by Ben Brooksbank (Creative Commons)

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