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Keith Flies the Model Flag

When a television production company wanted to film low flying aircraft for the coming series of Kingdom they turned to the skills of a Norfolk man and his faithfully reproduced model aircraft. 

Kingdom Productions produce the Norfolk based drama series Kingdom which is mainly shot around the Norfolk market town of Swaffham and stars Stephen Fry as a country solicitor. 

For a coming episode in the new series due to be shown next year, the company wanted to show low flying aircraft proving a menace to one of the local residents. Using real aircraft would have been too dangerous, so they turned to Keith Whiddett who is a member of both the Norwich and Bury St Edmunds Model Aero Clubs. He is also a founder member of the Hethel Model Flying Club that is now the South Norfolk club. 

The result was a six hour shoot for Keith and a friend at Little Snoring Airfield featuring two model F15s. Keith had to use all his “piloting” skills to make the radio controlled models bank and dip to look as if they were “buzzing” property. 

The footage will be mixed with a town scene to give the impression of low flying aircraft over houses. 

“The production company approached a Norwich model shop and they put them on to me. Originally they wanted Tornadoes but they aren’t made as flying models. I had a pair of F15s available and they agreed to use them,” said Keith who lives in the Three Score area of Bowthorpe. 

The filming involved some highly skilful precision shooting with the massive models which are one-tenth the scale of the real thing and are two metres long and 1.7 metres wide. 

“They wanted me to fly directly at the camera at head height before pulling up and shooting over it. We got as close as we could, but it was a tricky manoeuvre. The models are large and weigh 22 lb each. We couldn’t afford to make any mistakes,” Keith added. 

Keith is convinced that when the final editing has been completed you will not be able to tell the models from the real thing. 

“Model aircraft have been used in similar situations many times in the past and certainly in the likes of the James Bond films.” 

Keith and his wife Judy, who is a special needs assistant at Hethersett Woodside Infants’ School, admit that they have never seen an episode of Kingdom, but they will be watching the new series keenly: “We were filming for six hours, but I expect the models will only be featured for a few seconds. We might have to record the programme and freeze frame the relevant bits,” Keith laughed. 

As well as his F15, Keith has a model Mirage, an F86 and two sports aerobatic planes. He is currently building a Red Arrows Hawk and a Tristar. He admits that “flying” the models gives him a huge “adrenalin buzz.” 

“I have flown model planes from a child when I moved on from paper ones to balsa wood models. When I started working and earning money I moved onto radio controlled models. It is the closest I will probably get to being in the real thing. The sound, the power, the smell is great. The models are powered by real jet engines and they burn jet fuel and can reach speeds of up to 220 mph. It is just the thrill of having all that speed and power under your control” Keith said. 

Even with model planes there are inherent dangers: “In the past 10 years I have had three really bad crashes due to component failure with models hitting the ground at 150 mph and virtually disintegrating.” 

Over the years Keith has seen technology improve beyond all recognition: “Ten years ago I had to build my own gas turbine engine. Today unless you are a real enthusiast for making engines, you just buy them. Today’s models are capable of flying close to the ground and then shooting upwards and disappearing in the clouds.” He said.