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When the alarm went off on the 25th September 2021, it was still dark but I got up with a spring in my step, because today was a special day. Today, I had the unique opportunity to photograph two of Britain’s iconic engineering feats together; the only UK based Avro Lancaster Bomber still in airworthy condition and the freshly completed BRM V16 Chassis IV.

This Lancaster was built in 1945 and the original V16 was completed only 4 years later, in 1949. It was only when these two behemoths were stood together that they seemed to somehow complement one another. They were created for very different purposes, but both had a certain commonality that wasn’t just skin deep; In 1946 Rolls Royce were commissioned to explore ways how the supercharger on the Merlin engine could be adapted for use in a racing car. Ultimately, a down-scaled Rolls Royce two-stage centrifugal supercharger, based on many of the specs from that used on the Merlin engines, was fitted in the P15 V16 BRM.

And so, arriving at dawn with great cooperation from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight team and in particular, Karl Lupton and Rick Hall, we managed to manoeuvre the V16 under the wing of the mighty Avro Lancaster. Having, painstakingly built several of these planes in Airfix form as a boy, it was an absolute privilege to see one up close and personal.

The weather was dull and the light was flat and I knew that I didn’t have long to take advantage of this very special opportunity. The first consideration was how to somehow convey a connectivity between the V16 and the Lancaster. The shear scale of the Lancaster meant that we had to position the V16 in the foreground without it dominating the shot…moving the Lancaster was not an option! This meant I had to work an angle that had the cleanest background so as not to distract from the subject matter.

I very quickly regretted not bringing an assistant. I had decided to ‘plate’ the shot, which basically means shooting several shots and exposures and comping them together. As the light was flat, I had to try and light the Lancaster so there was the comical sight of me running back and forth from my camera to move the lights in front of a growing, rather bemused, crowd looking on and wondering what on earth I was doing.

Unsurprisingly, I had never shot this subject before (!) but I wanted to try and create an atmospheric set of images that provided a nod to a bygone era but also celebrated the historical significance of these magnificent machines. To get to shoot the V16 with a Hurricane and the only surviving Spitfire from the Battle of Britain was the icing on the cake. I even managed to squeeze in a Dakota in the background which almost looks like it is heading off on a mission…

There are things in life that stay with you for ever, and this day will certainly be one of those.

Simon Owen

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