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      Monday 07 Jun 2010

      Local dignitaries including Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dame Mary Peters were among those who attended the launch of a memorial to the pilots of 804 and 702 Naval Air Squadrons at George Best Belfast City Airport today.
      The widow of a pilot who commanded dangerous World War II missions on CAM (Catapult Aircraft Merchant) Ships in Belfast unveiled the plaque dedicated to the brave young servicemen.

      Mrs Norma Wright, widow of the late David Wright, who was the Commanding Officer of 702 Naval Air Squadrons at Sydenham in 1942, travelled from her home in Yorkshire for the ceremony, which her husband had hoped to see before his death in 2007.

      Now, thanks to Mrs Wright’s efforts along with those of the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS), and the Northern Ireland War Memorials, a granite memorial stone and plaque have been erected close to the main terminal entrance of George Best Belfast City Airport. Dame Mary Peters laid a wreath at the memorial following its dedication by Rev Canon Cheevers.

      Mrs Wright, who travelled to the event with her daughter Vivien Zink, said: “It is an honour to unveil a permanent memorial to these brave young men who helped save countless lives.

      “At Naval reunions the war-time flying CAM pilots who had been based at Sydenham talked about their service and friends who did not survive.

      “When David realised that sadly he was the only survivor, he wrote a booklet, Airborne by Rocket. He would be so glad that the memory of his colleagues and their contributions were being marked today.”

      During the war Belfast played a vital role in combating the threat from German U-boats and long-range bombers which were inflicting heavy losses on Atlantic shipping convoys. 

      The innovative wartime operation involved Hurricane and Fulmar fighter aircraft being launched from rocket-powered catapult systems on board hastily converted merchant ships, known as Catapult Aircraft Merchant (CAM) Ships.

      This was a successful method of increasing the operational range of the planes and inflicting damage on enemy warships, but was very dangerous for the pilots because they could not return to their launch ships as the landing gear of the planes had been removed.

      If the pilots were not near land they had to ditch their plane, parachute into the Atlantic and hope that a passing craft would bring them back to land.

      Guy Warner of the Ulster Aviation Society said: "We are delighted this memorial has been unveiled and we are grateful to Belfast City Airport for setting aside an appropriate site in their grounds.

      “The story is an important piece of local wartime history and an acknowledgement of the bravery and sacrifice of the crews who were based here.

      “David gave me a great deal of help with my book, which describes the exploits of the CAM-ship pilots. He was keen to see a memorial but sadly died before it could happen.

      “When I met Norma at a reception on board HMS Invincible in Liverpool last September I decided that I would do my best to try to make it a reality.”

      Brian Ambrose, of George Best Belfast City Airport, said: "It is apt that these brave young servicemen will be remembered by millions of people that will pass the memorial each year.

      “We are pleased that we can play a part in honouring their heroic actions during World War II.”