When Boeing 727-46 VP-CMN left Filton in 2012 I don’t think anyone would have thought that it would be returning to Bristol in 2021. But thanks to Brislington based Pytch and its MD Johnny Palmer that’s exactly what has happened. Flying into Filton on the 24th march 2009, on what turned out to be its last flight, flying in from Batagay Airport in Russia, the aircraft was originally destined to join MK Airlines along with another 727, VP-CMO, and Grumman G-159 Gulfstream I N748AA after new investors into the cargo carrier were found. With MK Airlines going into administration in 2010 the future of the ex-Japan Airlines aircraft wasn’t looking hopeful.
After being delayed due to weather (yes even non airworthy aircraft can get weather delays) the first stage of the 727’s journey began on Tuesday 9th of February when, with some help from some temporary trackway, Mark Gregory and his team from Air Salvage International moved the aircraft onto the H Site apron at Kemble to allow for the preparation work ready for transportation to the take place.
The idea behind the project, known as PytchAir, came from the expansion of Pytch’s primary work as a virtual venue and the need for office space, without the environmental impact that traditional construction of an office block would create; the ultimate in recycling. With a requirement that none of Pytch’s current storage could afford to be lost, the plan was set that Mike November would be set up on ISO shipping containers and Bristol City Council granted planning permission in October 2020. Social responsibility is a huge part of Pytch’s ethos and something that Palmer is immensely personally passionate about. Pytch provided the staging and sound equipment to the youth climate change protest attended by Greta Thunberg in central Bristol, where all power was generated via solar power using their in-house designed SolCell Solar Power Storage Solution. Pytch is also dedicated to becoming carbon negative by planting native trees at the Warley Weir Project, near Bath. Even when it came to choosing which plant hire company to use to lay the temporary trackway, the Pytch team chose a company which used recycled plastic instead of the more widely used aluminium trackway.
Throughout the planning stage Palmer used an innovative way of keeping his staff, contractors, the local community and enthusiasts up to date in the form of Vlogs which he posted to the Pytch Air – The Boeing 727 of Bristol Facebook group and his YouTube Channel. The community engagement is hugely important to Palmer which has been evident from day one of this project and even during the weekend of the move itself he took time to engage with bystanders young and old and has great plans of how charities and other local community groups and schools can utilize PytchAir.
Leaving Cotswold Airport dead on 0830hrs on Saturday 27th February the 40 metre load was in the hands of aviation haulage experts Cook Transport, with an escort being provided by the Roads Policing unit of Gloucestershire Constabulary, the convoy headed north through Cirencester, and onto the A417 and soon faced the first challenge of the journey, the Air Balloon Roundabout which required the lorry and the specialised rear wheel steering trailer to fully circumnavigate the roundabout, allowing the abnormal load to exit the roundabout on a much less tight angle. Reaching the M5 just before 1030hrs the convoy had a trouble free passage heading southbound down to Michael Wood Service Station where Gloucestershire Constabulary handed over to their counterparts in Avon and Somerset to escort the 1960’s airliner on down the M5 to the Almondsbury interchange, along the M4 to Junction 19, then the very short section of the M32 before following the A4174 all the way around to the Hicks Gate roundabout where it then travelled up the A4 Bath Road to the junction with Emery Road. It was here that what has been said to have been the most challenging section of the journey came when Steve, the now legendary lorry driver, had to adjust the suspension of the trailer unit to stop it grounding out on the camber of the road, before completing a three point turn on the busiest A road in Bristol. Of course no logistical task of this scale could go without a hiccup as just metres away from PytchAir’s final resting place at the junction of Emery Road and Bonville Road sat a lonely people carrier which proved to be right in the way of the convoy’s path which meant that everything stopped until the vehicle could be removed. Johnny expected challenges in this final stage of the journey and commented in one vlog “we don’t really know if this is going to work as no one’s ever brought a 727 up Bonville Road before“. Thankfully that was the last issue and eventually PytchAir cruised up Bonville Road, arriving at its final destination just before 1600hrs.
To keep the community updated on the aircraft’s journey the idea of PytchAir Live was born in the run up to move, with live camera feeds from both the lorry and a studio at Pytch HQ headed up by anchor man Chris James. Streamed over the company’s social media feeds it gave people who were not able to venture out due to the COVID lockdown, or those who just wanted to get immersed in the event the opportunity to watch the whole journey. Viewers tuned in from as far away as Canada and Nigeria. Planned to be a four-hour stream, due to the delays on route Chris and the studio team were on air live for a whopping seven hours. One goal of PytchAir Live was to raise awareness of, and money for, PytchAir’s chosen charity, the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity and over £1,000 was raised during the course of the show with Palmer himself donating £727. Quoted in the run up to the transportation of VP-CMN Palmer told GWAAC Supporters “PYTCH have chosen to support GWAAC because of the critical service they provide to the community. While we are moving a Boeing 727 down a motorway and having interesting and curious conversations about aviation, GWAAC are using flight to save lives – and that is something we really want to get behind and support.”
The hard work didn’t stop on Saturday though. On Sunday exactly one year to the day since Pytch provided event support to Greta Thunberg’s youth climate change protest, the team completed the ultimate in upcycling. Just after 0930hrs two huge mobile cranes from Sparrow Crane Hire arrived on Bonville Road. With the weight of the airframe needing to be distributed evenly between the front and main landing gear areas on the fuselage a game of Tetris had to be played. First PytchAir had to be driven out of the yard in order to get the 200-ton crane into position followed by the supporting articulated lorry carrying the ballast for the larger crane. An 80-ton crane was set up at the front of the yard and this slightly smaller crane would be lifting the front end of the airframe into place. Once this crane had been set up Steve the driver was able to reverse the 727 back into the yard, and the task of positioning PytchAir onto its new home, a bed of ISO shipping containers, was completed. After a bit of negotiating to lock out the nose landing gear PytchAir was in place by the late afternoon.
The PytchAir project is far from over though. Now it’s on site, the team at Pytch have the task of restoring the interior back to its 1970 VVIP finish, as well as making it fit for purpose as a meeting place. But the creativity hasn’t stopped yet as Pytch plan to give the 727 to local artist Jody who will create a new livery for the airliner. Jody is well known within the Bristol street art scene, having previously created the Greta Thunberg mural that resides on the side of the Tobacco Factory on North Street. Whatever Jody has got planned, we can’t wait to see it and we’re sure to be back to get some more great photos.
|JA8325||Japan Airlines (JAL)||1967-12-05||1975-09-21|
|N4245S||Dee Howard AC Sales Inc||1981-05-22||1982-06-01|
|VR-CMN||IDG (Cayman) Ltd||1996-03-07||1997-06-01|
|VP-CMN||IDG (Cayman) Ltd||1997-06-01||2012-06-17|
|VP-CMN||Air Salvage International||2012-06-17||2021-02-27|
South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank Johnny Palmer and the team at Pytch for making this article possible
© South West Aviation Photographers 2021