Squadron-leader-turned-artist aims to help Cold War warrior Ermintrude growl again
- Credit: IAN BURT
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.
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.
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'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.
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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.
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