Richard Bland

I have always been a passionate aviation photographer and for many years, and have been envious of the professional photographers that are around with their skills and ability to gain ‘ special access’ to aircraft and airfields all over the world.

For many years I attended all the major air shows in the UK taking photographs with the occasional good fortune I gained access to some of the ‘special events’ through persistence and a dose of good luck. Being in the right place at the right time!

Following a chance meeting one day outside RAF Valley, I was introduced to an RAF Hawk jet flying instructor and after exchanging e mails became friendly which enabled me to start to take those ‘special’ photographs that I had envied for many years.

This grew into a very special relationship with RAF Valley and its squadrons, in particular 19 (F) Squadron, whose pilots and Squadron Commanders treated me as part of their family. So much so, I had the pleasure of also joining in with the partnership between the RAF and The Metropolitan Police which had been running for successfully several years.

Richard Bland

To be able to visit RAF Valley on a regular basis and to have access to a very busy operational station, enabled me to take some of those ‘special’ photographs that I had been longing to do for so many years and was asked at that time if I would like to get involved in the squadron charity fund raising events by producing a calendar with my photographs.

This was a challenge I took on board and my very first calendar was produced using my photographs mainly from images taken around the Mach Loop, the North Wales low flying training area.

The charity at that time was The Special Care Baby Unit at YSBYTY GWYNEDD BANGOR. I had the pleasure of meeting the team at the hospital and was inspired by their dedication and professionalism, so much so, we managed to get commercial funding for the production of the calendar and we were able to donate the entire profits from the sales of the calendar to the unit.

This was very special to me as it was something I had worked hard for and to this day feel very privileged to be in this position.

There are a lot of instructors and pilots at RAF Valley that have gone out their way to help and support me in what we have done over the years.

Following the success of the ‘low level’ calendar I was then asked to look at doing something as it was the 70th anniversary of 19 (F) Squadron being the first squadron to form up on Spitfires, at RAF Duxford, for the Battle of Britain.

Now there’s an idea in their somewhere!!

Let’s paint a Hawk T1 in the colours of that original Spitfire I suggested to the boss of 19(F) Squadron. Ok, lets’ do it!

RAF Valley’s paint shop managed to find the original colours and designs and so they set about the paint job.

Following it’s unveiling at RAF Valley I was asked to photograph the Hawk, air to air with one of the Spitfire’s of The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Well that was an offer I couldn’t refuse as along with the Spitfire we had the company of the Hurricane and the Lancaster on a flight from RAF Coningsby all over the Midlands towards Stoke on Trent. Ooh over home!!

Hawk and Spitfire

This was such a massive occasion that we commissioned Mike Rondot to do a painting and he picked the White Cliffs of Dover as the backdrop with the Hawk and Spitfire flying in close formation.

From this painting we had a limited edition print produced with several high ranking RAF Officers and surviving Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots signing the prints, only 70 prints were produced and again these were sold to support the squadron charities.

From the photographs of the sortie we produced a lovely Battle of Britain flight calendar and again these were sold to support the squadrons charities.

How could I then better that for the next charity fundraising drive?

Wing Commander Bear Was Introduced

The aim was to get the bear flown as often as we could in as many different aircraft types as we could, all over the world.
Las Vegas and Red Flag was as good a point to start as any I suppose!!

Harriers, F 22 Raptors, F 18 Hornet, VC 10, Tristar.

With the help of 1 Squadron and 4 squadron, then still on Harriers, off we trotted armed with a Teddy Bear! The adventures began.

Once back the momentum kicked in and WCB was quickly being taken up and down the country to meet with air crew that would take him flying.

Red Arrows, BBMF, Tornado F3, Tornado GR4, Hawk T1, Tucano,  RAF Shawbury Helicopter training school, AAC Middle Wallop flying Apache, Metropolitan Police, Manchester Police, Buckingham Palace Flypast, USAF F 15 Strike Eagle, Last flight of the Harrier force,  Last flight of Tornado F3, Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro,  9 Month Deployment to Afghanistan, First Flights of RAF F 35 Lightning ll in USA.

The list is endless.

 

Then on 16th April 2013 our world fell apart. Our son, Andrew, committed suicide!!

He left his son, Jack, and wife Hailey behind. There is just no way of putting into words what that has done to the family.

My wife, Sue, and I grieved for months afterwards with no answers nor inclination that he felt he had to do that.

We then found The Dove Service. I wouldn’t say they had all the answers, but they certainly knew when to listen and when to talk.

Enough said about that!

 

I wanted to donate the Teddy Bear, his logbook and all the photographs amassed from his adventures to The Dove Service for their support. Then after a meeting we came up with the idea of writing a children’s book all about the bears adventures.

Easier said than done, especially when it is all about The RAF and pilots and RAF aircraft. Get a licence, I was told, to allow me to use squadron crests, station badges and crests.

12 months down the line, 2 trips to the MOD in Whitehall and I am granted a licence.

Now, how do you get a children’s book published?

  1. Write the story.
  2. Find a publisher.
  3. Find an illustrator that will create a character.
  4. Set out the pages.

 

2 years again and we look like we have a book.

I then must get permission to use each and every picture that is then turned into an illustration by, Rosie Philpott, and then each and every illustration has to be approved by the pilots that they depict.

2 years again and we look like we have an illustrated book.

LET’S GO TO PRINT!

All this time we still must live each day with the grief of losing a son to suicide and it now seems so natural to turn our WCB into a real character and re name him Wing Commander Andrew Bland.

An idea that I put past current and past Station Commanders at RAF Valley and close friends to see if this would be acceptable and that we could then have WC AB adopted by the station as a mascot.

Wing Commander AB Bear

What a fantastic idea!

AB ‘Gets His Wings’ is the lead into AB becoming the Station mascot and his adventures, real life adventures from his logbook, will then be able to teach children the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Talking about problems, both to mom and dad and to friends.

You cannot do all this on your own so my heartfelt thanks have to go out to so many people who have had to listen to me go on and on about the ideas and after such a long time can now see the fruits of our labour.

Here are but a few.

It’s like a list of kids cartoon characters but guys, thank you.

RAF Valley.

Present and past Station Commanders.

4 Squadron.

Wing Commander Rob Caine.

The Red Arrows.

The BBMF.

The MOD.

The Dove Service.

Silverwood Publishers.

Rosie Philpott.

Peter Robins.

Fritz

Bay Watch.

Paddles.

Cheesey.

Shaggy.

Staitey.

Woody.

Suggs.

Lingy.

Nozza.