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I have had many unforgettable moments when researching for a new painting; one, in particular, is at the top of my ‘blown away by the moment’ list.

     During 1990 at what was RAF Abingdon, Martin Brundle raced the TWR Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-12, from a standing start, against an RAF SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1 jet fighter – and this was over a one mile, straight-line course – next to the runway.

     Having seen this event in the news, I wanted to capture the moment in a new and hopefully, a truly dramatic painting.

     The fighter was piloted by Squadron Leader Mike Lawrence, who lost ground to the Jaguar racing car at the start of the race; this happened because, when Mike put on the fighter’s Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour turbofan engine twin re-heat, the huge increase in thrust caused the aircraft go up as well as forward, and, unbelievably, Mike lost acceleration pace to the XJR-12!

On arrival at the base, I was invited to have lunch in the mess with Mike. We chatted about my project and his unsuccessful, but unique race with the Jaguar, over a very nice pie, chips and baked beans. After he’d polished off his meal, he announced his next port of call was RAF Coltishall, where he had to fly a Jaguar back for maintenance, a distance of 190 miles by car. Without much traffic, that would take, approximately, 3 hours and 30 minutes by car. I asked him how long it would take him, and he replied, ‘Oooh, 10 to 15 minutes...’.

To my astonishment he invited me to see his aircraft start up at the hanger. We left the mess and the Liaison Officer took me to a hardened bunker where the fighter was being ‘prepped’. Mike appeared, gave me a wave and climbed up the steps into his cockpit, closed the canopy and began the routine to start the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engine... a glorious, howling sound, which gradually increased in volume… and then to my puzzlement… it did the opposite, as Mike shut it down. The canopy opened, and Mike shouted down to the technician that he needed a new part (a bulb!) for the instruments. That has made me chuckle, knowing the Jaguar was introduced into service in 1973, way before LEDs and when 64 Kbytes of computer memory were used to land the first men on the moon!

Duly fitted with the expensive part, the engine start was underway again, with all this wonderful action and sound, happening 50 feet away from me! I overheard the Liaison Officer, who was standing next to me, talking with Mike again using her hand-held walkie-talkie. She turned to me and said, ‘Mike has invited you to the runway to see him take off for a photo shoot.’

I could not believe what I had just heard!

We proceeded, not to the usual large air show distance between the public fence and the runway, but to the actual edge of it – I was standing next to a runway, with a Jaguar fighter that was about to take off past me! Unfortunately, it was a very misty day and I couldn’t see the end of the runway, although I knew the Jaguar was there when Mike started his take off run. He came past me, 50 feet away with reheat on; the ‘music’ from that aircraft, at that close distance, was absolutely phenomenal.

     Standing there in shock I was tapped on the shoulder by the Liaison Officer, who said Mike was asking if I wanted him to come around again for another photo shoot! Mike was asking me if I wanted him to go around again – just for me! Mmm... I really didn’t have to think about that one! Mike went passed 30 feet above the runway, wheels up and with reheat on... just for me!

That painting research day was totally surreal and one I will never forget. Mike and RAF Abingdon were very, very generous that day. The final painting featured only Mike’s Jaguar, since the composition didn’t quite ‘gell’ including the Le Mans winning Jaguar car. I was very happy with the final image and was pleased to see that for some reason, the runway tarmac lines in the foreground, ‘shimmered’ beautifully on the original painting.

The painting was exhibited at the Guild of Aviation Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, off Pall Mall in London in 2006, and was awarded the Wootton Prize and The British Aircraft Manufacturers’ Award - see Scribbles 6.