Flypast tribute to mark 100th anniversary of Donald Campbell’s birth

Kim Pilling, PA
·3-min read

An RAF flypast over the Lake District “spiritual home” of Donald Campbell has marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the speed legend.

Campbell died on January 4 1967 aged 45 when his hydroplane Bluebird K7 flipped into the air and disintegrated as he attempted a new water speed record on Coniston Water.

In 2001 Campbell’s body, with his race suit intact, and the wreckage of Bluebird were recovered from the depths of the lake and he was buried later that year in the village of Coniston.

On Tuesday, two RAF Hawk jets dipped their wings in salute as they repeated a tribute carried out by a Vulcan bomber the day after his death.

Donald Campbell anniversary
Gina Campbell, the daughter of world land and water speed record holder Donald Campbell, holds a bunch of flowers at Coniston Water (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Campbell’s daughter, Gina, laid flowers on Coniston Water as the jets roared overhead.

She said: “I am touched by the RAF’s mark of respect and their act was a fitting tribute to my father who would have been thrilled by the gesture.

“My father is buried in Coniston but it is also his spiritual home and every year thousands of people visit the Ruskin Museum to learn more about his incredible journey through life, gaining speed records on both land and water.

“He loved Coniston and its people, as I have done over the years, and having a museum that tells the story is a lasting tribute. We hope that soon Bluebird K7, which my family gifted the museum, will return to Coniston.”

Donald Campbell anniversary
Gina Campbell alongside her partner Brian Eastham after placing a bunch of flowers at Coniston Water (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Ft/Lt Eddie Craig, who led the flypast from 4 AC Squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey, said: “It is a huge honour to continue the RAF tradition of paying tribute to Donald Campbell and celebrate not only his achievements but also his spirit of courage and determination.

“Our top speed as we flew up Coniston Water was 480mph which we hope Donald would have approved of.”

The hydroplane’s wreckage was recovered in 2001 by North Shields-based engineer Bill Smith who has worked on restoring it with a team of volunteers as part of the Bluebird Project.

In August 2018, Bluebird – fitted with a new jet engine – hit speeds of around 150mph during successful tests and crew training on Loch Fad on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

Bluebird K7 on Coniston Water
Donald Campbell’s Bluebird hydroplane at speed on Coniston Water (PA)

The Bluebird Project says it wants to return to Bute for a second crew training exercise ahead of a future homecoming at Coniston Water.

Campbell broke eight world speed records on water and on land in the 1950s and 1960s.

In his fatal record attempt, the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who himself held land and water speed records, had set himself a target of reaching 300mph (480kph) on Coniston Water.