A ‘Bolt’ from the blue
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular fortnightly look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. Although we currently find ourselves at the beginning of the holiday period and the hard working employees at Hornby Hobbies are in need of a well-earned break, we intend to maintain our usual blog schedule through the summer period wherever possible. In order to ensure this, several of the summer blogs may be a little shorter in length or perhaps a little more picture rich than usual, but we thought this would be preferable to taking a break from posting Aerodrome regularly – this does not mean we will be bringing you features which are any less interesting, just a little shorter. With that in mind, this will be the first of our holiday edition blogs. We will be taking a look at one of the most popular airworthy Warbird aircraft to feature on the UK Airshow scene during the 80s and 90s, one which has just made its triumphant second UK Airshow debut, albeit wearing handsome new markings to the ones many of us will have been familiar with.
Before we begin with the subject of this latest blog, I would like to comment on the recent Cosford Airshow, which was intended as a high profile celebration of the RAF’s Centenary year. Many enthusiasts would have been keeping a close eye on developments in the months leading up to the show, which certainly held great promise for an aviation spectacular and encouraged an advanced ticket sell-out crowd to descend on Shropshire’s RAF Museum airfield site last weekend. Everyone would have been hoping to be present at a historic and memorable event in celebration of RAF 100 and I am pleased to report that there was absolutely no hype here - Cosford 2018 will go down as one of the most enjoyable and feature packed Airshows for many a year. Indeed, this will be a show by which all others will now be judged and showed what an Airshow should be like and if anyone wants advice on how to organise an Airshow, speak to the Cosford 2018 team – it was truly an aviation spectacular. We will have a full review from this magnificent show, plus several other articles from what turned out to be a feature packed event in future editions of Aerodrome, but for now, I would just like to add my personal thanks and congratulations to everyone involved in arranging this fantastic show and a fitting tribute to the RAF’s very special birthday – well done to one and all!
A shared wartime heritage
An evocative image showing USAAF personnel going about their daily business at Duxford airfield
To many British aviation enthusiasts, it is fitting that the UK can boast an impressive number of airworthy Spitfires and Hurricanes on the display circuit for us all to admire and revere, a number which continues to grow with each passing year. At a number of enigmatic venues across the country, we have the opportunity to experience what it must have been like during the dark years of the Second World War, as airfields all over the country reverberated to the sound of aero engines and the sight of hundreds of aircraft setting off on their latest missions. Despite this embarrassment of British historic aviation riches, it is always exciting to experience wartime aircraft produced and operated by other nations during WWII, although by their nature, these tend to be much fewer in number than the Spitfires and Hurricanes we are often guilty of almost taking for granted, particularly as they are in equal demand by their own countries enthusiast base. As most Warbird aircraft are now incredibly rare and astronomically expensive to own and operate, it can be equally rare for overseas aircraft types to appear at UK Airshows, however, when they do, their rarity value ensures they always attract a sizeable audience to witness the spectacle and often manage to attract a new army of admirers every time they appear on a display programme. Without wishing to generalise too much, aircraft which previously operated wearing the Balkenkreuz of the Luftwaffe will always be of huge interest to most enthusiasts, primarily because most were destroyed during the final months of WWII and so few have been returned to airworthy status in post war years. This same reasoning also holds true for aircraft operated by the other Axis nations, which are so few in number that most UK enthusiasts will never have the opportunity to experience the thrill of seeing one in the air.
Other non-British aircraft types which are much less numerous on the UK display circuit but of huge interest to the average enthusiasts are those operated by the US during WWII, both from land and sea. America was responsible for producing many of the most famous aircraft of the Second World War, aircraft which made a telling contribution in the aerial struggle against Axis air forces, either wearing the markings of US units, or in the colours of other nations grateful to get their hands on large numbers of capable new aircraft. With US units engaged in the war over Europe from early 1943, thousands of American aircraft operated from bases all over England, with many former RAF stations handed over to their overseas allies and almost becoming something like little US enclaves. From late 1942, US aircraft, support equipment and personnel began arriving in the UK in a logistic exercise which is as fascinating to discover today as it must have been difficult to achieve back then. Aircrews who had trained at sun-soaked bases in sleepy America soon found that the UK could hardly be more of a contrast and they quickly had to adapt to a new way of life in these dramatically different surroundings. Not only were they getting used to the geography of their (hopefully) temporary new home, but in many cases having also been equipped with different aircraft to those which they had trained on – it is no wonder that USAAF operations from the UK during WWII continue to be a source of fascination to this day.
Early ‘razorback’ Thunderbolts of the 78th Fighter Group at Duxford
Arguably, the most famous venue for historic aviation in the UK is Duxford airfield, which is not only the site of the Imperial War Museum’s aircraft collection, but also home to an impressive number of airworthy WWII era Warbirds. Attracting visitors from all over the world, this historic site allows people to walk amongst the original buildings, imagining what it must have been like to be stationed at a busy airfield during WWII as well as offering the opportunity to sample the delights of one of the world’s most impressive aviation museums on any given day. If you are not fortunate enough to catch one of the many Warbirds being taken for a test flight during your visit, attending a Duxford Airshow will be an experience you will never forget and will probably have you joining the legions of enthusiasts who have to make several pilgrimages to this enigmatic airfield each year, just so they can re-charge their Duxford batteries.
The airfield itself is inexorably linked with the Royal Air Force and specifically with their most famous fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire. It was Duxford based No.19 Squadron who took delivery of the first production Spitfires in 1936, with the airfield going on to become a front line station during the savage aerial combat of the Battle of Britain, where it was also home to Hawker Hurricanes and the famous celebrity pilot Douglas Bader. Although Duxford can boast a rich RAF history, it also shares its wartime heritage equally with the USAAF, as the airfield was one of the many to play host to US units during the final two years (just over) of the Second World War. Just as Duxford’s historic hangars reverberated to the sound of the Merlin engines of the massed scrambles of Spitfires and Hurricanes, so they are also engrained with the sound of the Packard Merlins and Pratt & Whitney Double Wasps of the Mustangs and Thunderbolts of the mighty US Eighth Air Force. It is therefore equally as poignant to see some of America’s most famous WWII fighter aircraft operating from the hallowed turf of Duxford airfield as it is to experience the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF and over the past thirty years or so, a small number of former USAAF Duxford residents have thrilled Airshow audiences by recreating this historic wartime association and the time when the Americans were most definitely ‘over here’!
The mighty ‘Jug’ returns
The Fighter Collection’s P-47D Thunderbolt ‘No Guts-No Glory’ was a much-loved aircraft on the UK Airshow circuit
The Duxford based Fighter Collection have operated an impressive array of historic aircraft for almost thirty years, allowing the UK enthusiast to experience many rare airworthy Warbirds over that time, aircraft which we would probably never have been able to see had it not been for Stephen Grey and his team. Without doubt, amongst the most popular aircraft operated during this time have been the several US fighters which commemorated machines which operated from Duxford during the Second World War, the thoroughbred Mustang and the gargantuan Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Wearing the distinctive black and white chequered cowlings of the 78th Fighter Group, these aircraft helped to commemorate the enduring association between the USAAF (US Air Force) and Duxford and were understandably extremely popular with enthusiasts whenever they took to the skies. One of these enigmatic aircraft was Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 45-49192, which was acquired by the collection in 1986 and went on to become one of the most celebrated Duxford regulars over the following twenty years. With its over-all silver finish benefitting from distinctive black and white D-Day identification markings and the striking nose markings of the 78th Fighter Group, the aircraft also carried the words ‘No Guts-No Glory’ underneath the cockpit canopy, words which quickly came to describe this particular aircraft – if you mentioned ‘No Guts-No Glory’, everyone knew exactly what you were talking about. The aircraft was finished in the markings of Lt. Col Benjamin I Mayo, CO of the 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group based at Duxford from April 1943 and quickly became a favourite amongst UK enthusiasts, as not only was it one of the most handsome looking aircraft on the Airshow scene, it was also the only airworthy Thunderbolt in Europe.
The P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the main Allied fighter aircraft of the Second World War, but one which was the subject of some misplaced derision when it first arrived at bases in England. Originally conceived as a lightweight fighter, based on an earlier Republic design, the requirements were later changed following the aviation developments which were taking place in a volatile Europe and the understanding that future fighter aircraft would need to be extremely rugged. The Thunderbolt used the hugely powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine, which endowed the aircraft with great speed, but also gave it a large front profile, a profile which carried through to the rest of the aircraft’s design – this was a very big fighter. To understand just how big the P-47 was, it was the largest and heaviest single seat, single piston engined fighter in history and was heavier than the twin engined Bristol Blenheim and Beaufighter. Wider and longer than a Mustang, it was also around 50% heavier and at almost double the weight of a Spitfire, this was an aviation heavyweight in every respect.
The TFC Thunderbolt during her 20 year stay in the UK. Wearing these striking 78th Fighter Group markings, it is no wonder this massive fighter became such a favourite at Duxford
Same aircraft, different scheme. The UK can once again boast an airworthy P-47D Thunderbolt on the display circuit
Before America had entered the Second World War, many US pilots volunteered to fight with the RAF and eventually formed the celebrated ‘Eagle Squadrons’, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes in combat against the Luftwaffe. Following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the US declaration of war, imagine their consternation when their first indigenous fighters arrived in the UK and they were Thunderbolts – having previously flown the diminutive Spitfire, what were they expected to do with these monsters? RAF pilots were quick to poke fun at their American comrades and told them not to worry about coming under enemy attack – if they did, they could simply unstrap their harnesses and run around inside the massive fuselage, dodging the bullets. They needn’t have been concerned, their new aircraft was a beast in every sense of the word, rugged and reliable on the ground and devastatingly effective in the air. Able to carry more ammunition than comparable fighters, the Thunderbolt immediately began to take a heavy toll of Luftwaffe aircraft, whilst capable of absorbing plenty of punishment itself – not a fighter to engage in tight turning dogfights, the P-47 excelled when diving down on its prey, bringing eight .50 calibre machine guns to bear at great speed. It became the most heavily produced US fighter of the Second World War and earned the respect of everyone who flew it and those who faced it in combat.
This picture gives some illustration of the size of the Thunderbolt, but despite being the largest single engined piston fighter of WWII, it proved to be a formidable combat aircraft
You might well imagine that a fighter of this stature would be something of a noisy, sluggish performer, especially at the lower altitudes associated with display flying, but this could not be further from the truth. The mighty Pratt & Whitney engine drags the Thunderbolt along at an impressive rate of knots and rather than possessing the throaty growl you might expect from this beast, it does so with nothing more than a cultured buzzing sound. Indeed, despite its overall size and impressively deep fuselage, the Thunderbolt is a rather nimble performer and cuts a striking profile once in the air – certainly not the kind of able adversary you would want to come across on your latest combat sortie.
For these reasons, the fact that it was linked to USAAF operations from Duxford and also that it was such a rare aircraft in Europe, ‘No Guts-No Glory’ became one of the most popular aircraft on the UK Airshow scene and news that the Fighter Collection had decided to sell the aircraft to a US collector in 2006 was met with some dismay. Surely this could not be true and we were all worrying unnecessarily. Unfortunately, the rumours proved to be accurate and the aircraft was dismantled, crated and sent to new owners in America, where it would go on to woo a new army of enthusiasts, leaving many in the UK to lament the loss of this black and white beauty and a Duxford based classic fighter of WWII.
Photographic evidence that this popular Thunderbolt had indeed made its return journey to the UK, as these distinctive wings were spotted at Sywell airfield
As enthusiasts began to prepare their schedules for the impending RAF Centenary Airshow season, incredible news began to circulate on various forums concerning a former UK Airshow favourite which had us all thinking USAAF again – ‘No Guts-No Glory’ was coming home! After 20 years away, one of Britain’s most popular historic aircraft could be gracing our skies once more, delighting anyone who had seen her fly previously and captivating a new audience who had not had that privilege. Earlier in the year, it appears that the aircraft had been purchased by Fighter Aviation Engineering Limited and re-registered G-THUN, which certainly held the prospect of future operation here in the UK. As enthusiasts scoured the internet for possible news, a large container arrived at Sywell aerodrome for the attention of airfield based Air Leasing, who set about the task of re-assembling the aircraft residing within. Tantalisingly, a few images began to circulate as the container was unloaded – it was true, she was back … ‘No Guts-No Glory’ was back home on UK soil.
Thunderbolt walkaround. One of the undoubted stars of the recent Duxford Air Festival, the early summer sun allowed eager enthusiasts the opportunity to welcome this old favourite back to Duxford and to drool over its attractive new scheme
In an incredible feat of engineering endeavour, the impressive team at Air Leasing not only managed to re-assemble this famous aircraft, but over the course of a twelve day period, were able to re-assemble, re-paint and undertake the engine testing of the Thunderbolt – most impressive. This also confirms that whilst this famous display aircraft was back in the UK, she would not be wearing the colours which endeared her to so many enthusiasts, but would be resplendent in a colourful new plumage. Now wearing half D-Day identification markings, the aircraft has been finished in the markings of a 492nd Fighter Squadron, 48th Fighter Group Thunderbolt of the US Ninth Air Force, with its distinctive red rudder, cowling band and nose checks. She also carries the name ‘Nellie’ in a similar position to where her old name used to be, and represents an aircraft which was heavily involved in actions in support of the D-Day landings and one of the first to be deployed to forward operating bases in France, following the break-out from the landing beaches. They were tasked with supporting advancing Allied ground units and disrupting enemy infrastructure, destroying anything which could assist the enemy in sending supplies and reinforcements to the combat area – of course, if the Luftwaffe did put in an appearance, they were dealt with equally effectively.
The Thunderbolt heads back to Sywell following a static appearance at the magnificent Cosford Airshow
In this significant year for UK Airshows, the P-47D Thunderbolt in her new 48th Fighter Group markings is already proving to be one of the highlights
This beautiful aircraft is already beginning to gather a new army of confirmed admirers and has immediately become one of the most sought after display acts on the UK Airshow circuit. I was lucky enough to catch up with her at the Duxford Air Festival and the Cosford Airshow, but something tells me she is going to be the star of many a display in the months and years to come. It is so good to have our beautiful Thunderbolt back, which will hopefully be staying for many years to come. As you can never take anything for granted in historic aviation, try to ensure you experience the mighty ‘Jug’ as soon as you can, just so you can say that you have seen one of these important and extremely rare WWII US fighters displaying once more in UK skies.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back with more aviation related news in two weeks’ time, as we march inexorably towards our own significant centenary – the 100th edition of Aerodrome, currently scheduled for publication in early August. This might be a good time for readers to let us know what you think of our blog, how it could be improved and what you would like to see covered in future editions. Please send any suggestions to our regular contact e-mail addresses at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.
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