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Squadron-leader-turned-artist aims to help Cold War warrior Ermintrude growl again

PUBLISHED: 12:49 13 April 2013 | UPDATED: 12:49 13 April 2013

Artist Mike Rondot is taking part in an appeal to get a Shackleton aircraft back in the skies. Picture: Ian Burt

Artist Mike Rondot is taking part in an appeal to get a Shackleton aircraft back in the skies. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2013

She was the Cold War warrior with the unlikely name of Ermintrude whose distinctive growl echoed above the North Sea skies, ever watchful for threats from behind the Iron Curtain.

The Avro Shackleton Mark 2

The Avro Shackleton Mark 2 was designed for anti-submarine warfare, and traces its lineage back to the Lancaster, through the Avro Lincoln.

It first flew in 1949, and although no Shackleton can currently fly, the Shackleton Preservation Trusts’ £5m appeal aims to make plane WR963 airworthy again.

She is currently stored at Coventry airport, but was built in 1954 and entered service at St Mawgan in Cornwall, with subsequent homes including Gibraltar, Northern Ireland, Malta, Singapore and Scotland.

It had a crew of 10, a capacity of 10,000lb of bombs, torpedoes or mines, a maximum speed of 300mph and a range of 2,250 miles.

After being adapted for her new airborne early warning role in 1972, she was moved to 8th Squadron and for just over a year was known as Ermintrude, after the cow in the Magic Roundabout, before being renamed Parsley.

By 1989, WR963 had completed 14,957 hours in flight.

The distinctive roar of the Shackleton’s four Rolls Royce Griffon engines earned it the nickname ‘The Growler’ and a soft spot among air show devotees.

If the trust’s appeal is successful, WR963 may yet growl again.

But since 1991 the Avro Shackleton Mark 2, serial number WR963, has sat at Coventry Airport, lovingly tended by a team of enthusiasts but unable to fly.

Now a Norfolk squadron-leader-turned-artist is hoping the sale of a unique set of signed and numbered prints will contribute to the £5m needed for the plane known as ‘The Growler’ to take to the skies once more.

Michael Rondot, who spent the last 12 years of his quarter-century RAF career at RAF Coltishall, painted the picture as one of four to hang in the office of fellow RAF veteran Carl Lamb, who flew as a fighter controller on Shackletons, guiding Phantom jets. However, when he heard about the campaign to restore WR963 he decided to donate some of the proceeds from the 250 prints to the Shackleton Preservation Trust.

Mr Rondot, a Canadian who lives in Dillington, near Dereham, said: “What I wanted to portray was the Shackleton on a fairly dirty and cloudy day, far out over the North Sea. This is a brief interlude in their long patrols when F-4 Phantoms have just come flying by to have a look at the Shackleton on its lonely vigil.

Arvo Shackleton WR963 at Coventry Airport. Photo credit: Trevor Reoch Arvo Shackleton WR963 at Coventry Airport. Photo credit: Trevor Reoch

“It was an uncomfortable job and an uncomfortable aeroplane and I wanted the clouds to be like that because it was lumpy air. The people inside are having a rough time of it.”

He said the Shackletons, used for anti-submarine and long-range maritime patrol duties, were more popular with spectators than their crews, many of whom now suffer hearing problems because of the noise created by their contra-rotating propellers. He said they were nicknamed the 20,000 Loose Rivets in Close Formation, or, more respectfully, the Grey Lady.

The planes were due for retirement in the 1960s, but delays to an ultimately-aborted Nimrod project for a new airborne early warning plane gave the WR963 a stay of execution.

In 1972, WR963 was fitted with radar equipment dating from the second world war under her cockpit, and switched to 12-hour missions 300 miles out to sea, giving advance warning of threats from the Soviet Union.

Almary Green Investments MD Carl Lamb and (R) artist Mike Rondot are taking part in an appeal to get a Shackleton aircraft back in the skies. Picture: Ian Burt Almary Green Investments MD Carl Lamb and (R) artist Mike Rondot are taking part in an appeal to get a Shackleton aircraft back in the skies. Picture: Ian Burt

This ‘stopgap’ role lasted for nearly 20 years, although Mr Rondot said that, to his regret, he never had a chance to fly one himself.

Mr Lamb, a Yorkshireman who settled in Norfolk after a stint at RAF Neatishead, said: “The reason I commissioned this painting is that a lot of people forget all about the Cold War, but at the time it was very serious, and like the situation with North Korea, who knows where it could have gone.

“It’s putting on canvas our history from that period.”

The original painting will now hang in his office at Almary Green Investments in Norwich, where he is managing director.

For more information about the prints, which cost £95, contact Michael Rondot on 01362 860890 or see collectair.co.uk

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