The Ulster Aviation Society has played a key role in the ambitious new BBC Television series which highlights the amazing aviation career of engineer/inventor Harry Ferguson—he of farm tractor fame.
The BBC actually commissioned the construction of a replica Ferguson aeroplane, one the famous aviator built and flew himself before the First World War.
The final assembly was done over several weeks in the hangar of the Ulster Aviation Society at Maze/Long Kesh, with the assistance of society volunteers, said UAS Chairman Ray Burrows.
“The pilot himself, William McMinn, is a Society member; he took a lead role in those final stages, along with member Steve Lowry, who’s been a key part of our aircraft restorations programme,” said Mr. Burrows.
“The Ferguson aircraft has been an interesting project,” said Mr. Lowry. “There’ll be memories for myself here, and I can say to my grandchildren: ‘I built that.’”
The specific wood, metal and fabric work on the aircraft was also performed by Northern Ireland craftsmen, said Mr. Burrows.
The three-part television series, hosted by Northern Ireland native Dick Strawbridge, begins this Monday, September 5th on BBC-1 at 7.30pm. It weaves the story of Harry Ferguson within the story of how the BBC’s replica was designed and built—right up to the moment when it was poised for a flying attempt at the field of the Ulster Gliding Club at Bellarena, near Limavady.
And how does that attempt end? “We can’t say,” laughed Mr. Burrows. “We’ve promised the BBC we’d keep quiet about the flight attempt, but believe me—the project itself was something fantastic. We’re very proud to have been a part of it, and the BBC team deserves real credit for its imagination and its professional approach. It’s a great tribute to Harry Ferguson. He was an amazing Northern Ireland aviator.”
Television programmers have been taking a keen interest recently in the Society’s site. Another BBC “reunion” programme is in the final stages, tracking passengers and crew who flew on the supersonic Concorde from Belfast to Paris some 50 years ago. The hangar is a great location for interviews and pictures for such purposes.
“We’re also meeting these days with two other producers interested in television possibilities,” said Mr. Burrows. “They’ve done a tour of our collection, meeting our restorations teams with a view to producing programmes around their experiences with the Society,” said Mr. Burrows.
“Our assemblage of aircraft is a unique jewel among heritage collections and museums, and the people of Northern Ireland have really come to appreciate that.”