diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 28, 2011

At half past one tomorrow afternoon, immediately after Wills and Kate have publicly snogged for the first time, the RAF are engaging in some "Unusual Aerial Activity". A Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane will fly past, followed thirty seconds later by two pairs of more modern Typhoons and Tornados. The very best place to watch them swoop up The Mall will be from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, which is fortunate if you're a newlywed princess getting used to the day job. But you might also get a great view of the flypast if you're fortunate enough to be standing underneath elsewhere along its path.

Royal Wedding flypast timings
» 1.25pm Fairlop Waters (51°35.78N, 0°06.21E)
» 1.30pm Buckingham Palace (51°30.09N, 0°08.51W)
» 1.33pm RAF Museum, Hendon (51°35.87N, 0°14.35W)

Fairlop Waters (1.25pm)
On the outskirts of northeast London, just up the road from one of London's least used tube stations, there's a big lake. Previously it was a gravel pit, and before that during WW2 an RAF airfield. Maybe that's why this place is used as the mustering point for royal flypasts (but more likely it's because it's a big open space located precisely along the line of The Mall, if that were to be extended by 12 miles). Most people come here for the golf or for the sailing. The golf was much more popular yesterday, but there were a number of Redbridge schoolchildren pootling around in the water aboard a variety of oared craft. The lake takes about half an hour to walk round... slightly less to scamper if you're a dog. Children are well catered for, with ducks and geese for younger bread-chuckers, and a variety of clambery things for the more active. A particular attraction is the Boulder Park - a dozen-or-so oversized artificial rocks ideal for scrambling up and then waving down contentedly from the summit. OK, so Al's Adventure House has recently been knocked down to make way for a bland prefabricated marquee, and the historic Fairlop Oak is long gone. But all in all a most pleasant place to visit on a sunny spring day, especially with the promise of additional aerial entertainment, although potentially very exposed should it be showery or thundery as is forecast for the big wedding day. Watch the skies tomorrow and the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane will enter a holding pattern centred around the island in the middle of the lake (which presumably makes an ideal visual cue). Their circling will continue until the precise moment comes to head towards Central London (1.25pm and 45 seconds), followed shortly afterwards by four modern fighters zooming in from Essex.

Fairlop, Barkingside, Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats, Leytonstone, Olympic Velodrome, Hackney Wick, Victoria Park, Cambridge Heath, Shoreditch, Moorgate, Barbican, St Bart's, Fleet Street, Somerset House, Charing Cross, The Mall...

Buckingham Palace (1.30pm)
The wedding may not be until tomorrow, but the world's media have already arrived. An entire corner of Green Park has been segregated off and filled with white vans, some with dishes on the roof, others with lots of dishes on the roof. They're back-of-house for the main TV presence, which is a semicircle of makeshift studios surrounding the Victoria Memorial. The BBC, ITV and Sky have the prime pitches closest to the palace, then there's a highrise terraced quadrant, painted green [photo], followed by a one-storey tented curve on the other side of the Mall [photo]. Never mind that the happy couple aren't due until Friday, there are hours of global TV to fill before then and these journalists are busy filling it. "Excuse me madam, could you speak to our audience back home, why are you here?" The Mall is bedecked with flags, from that special bottomless cupboard of giant flags they wheel out for state occasions [photo]. Halfway towards Admiralty Arch an old man in an ill-fitting crown-logo baseball cap is readying his place for the wedding procession. He's wrapped a strip of white paper round and round one of the metal railings, and is now spraying it repeatedly with some kind of aerosol. "Can I ask what you're doing?" queries a bemused mother passing-by, but the old man is so engrossed in his devotion that he never answers. They're a lot more vocal, the royalist campers staked out in their tents on the pavement opposite Westminster Abbey, but not half as endearing [photo]. Back at Buck House there's currently plenty of space in front of the palace, plenty of room to walk right up to the railings and peer through at that balcony [photo]. Nobody's standing up there yet, nor will they be for long, just time enough for a wave and a kiss and the roar of seven planes directly overhead.

...Buckingham Palace gardens, Park Lane, Marylebone, Lord's, St John's Wood, West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Child's Hill, Brent Cross, Hendon...

RAF Museum, Hendon (1.33pm)
The fighter planes arrive here in Hendon a full minute before the wartime trio, such is the improvement in airspeed over the last 70 years. But what an appropriate destination - the capital's premier aeronautical attraction, which I always think is one of the top museums Londoners fail to remember exists. It has Spitfires and Hurricanes all year round, not just for a fleeting few seconds whenever royals wed. If you have nothing better to do over the long weekend, these history-packed hangars will easily fill a day. And if you go tomorrow lunchtime, you might just get the buildings to yourself and a flypast to remember.

...and then disperse, via Brookmans Park

All the technical details of the flypast are here, in this MoD pdf.
I've knocked up a Google map showing the approximate route of the flypast over London. It's probably more accurate on the first leg than the second, because a mighty sharp right turn is planned over the Buckingham Palace gardens. Please don't complain if you go stand on my line and nothing flies directly overhead... but you should be close.
Ian has details of all this year's London flypasts here.

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