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A moving Spitfire tribute

A moving Spitfire tribute

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. This latest blog comes just one week after the previous edition, which effectively brings us back on track for the year, following the late posting of edition 89 and our look at Lytham St Annes distinctive tribute to their wartime Presentation Spitfire and the young pilot who flew it in combat. In this latest edition, we remain in the North West of England to bring you an early season review of an event which took place at Blackpool Airport and one which shares more than a passing link with the subject of our previous blog.

You may recall that I had originally intended to entitle the previous edition of Aerodrome ‘A tale of two Spitfires’ and combine my latest rather wintery visit to the Fairhaven Spitfire Memorial with the exciting opportunity to attend Hangar 42 at Blackpool Airport and the first Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team Open Day of 2018. As this was my first visit to Squires Gate Airport for many a year and having only recently become familiar with the work of this team, I was not sure what to expect from my day and how long I would be spending in the area, but as I pulled in to an exceptionally busy car park and searched for parking spot, it already seemed as if I was going to have to change my original blog plans. Join me as I attend this enjoyable open day and explore some of the aviation delights offered by the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team in their genuine WWII hangar base.

Blackpool’s rich aviation heritage

As one of Britain’s most popular seaside destinations, the many attractions of Blackpool’s ‘Pleasure Beach’ and the ‘Golden Mile’ will be familiar to most people in the UK, but whilst enduring a ride on the ‘Big One’ or enjoying a show at one of the many local venues, few will be aware that they are also in an area of rich aviation heritage, unrivalled by any other town or city in the UK. Back in October 1909, less than six years after the Wright Brother’s first successful manned, powered flight, Squires Gate airfield in Blackpool played host to Britain’s first official flying meeting, which attracted many of the world’s leading airmen of the day and their famous flying machines and saw huge crowds flocking to Lancashire coast. Planned as a week of flying events, such pioneers as Frenchman Henri Farman and American Samuel Cody thrilled spectators with their flying prowess as the event not only featured many of the world’s latest aeroplane designs but also featured races, exhibition flying and attempts to set world records for speed and distance. The Manchester Evening News were keen to commemorate this significant event in Lancashire history by sponsoring a slow flight competition, with a handsome trophy available for the successful airman.

The history of Blackpool Squires Gate is covered in Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Less than six years after the Wright Brother’s famous first flight, Blackpool played host to Britain’s first official Flying Week event

Although the event proved to be a resounding success for the town and an important date in the history of British aviation, it also went on to become the source of some controversy over the following 108 years and one of the many occasions when friendly disagreements have occurred between Lancashire and their beloved neighbours on the other side of the Pennines. With the Blackpool event benefitting from national press coverage in the lead up to the flying week, it appears that Doncaster intended to host a flying event of their own, just days before Blackpool flying week, attracting many of the same aircraft and airmen as those scheduled to appear at Blackpool and with similar large crowds turning up to witness the spectacle. Indeed, it appears that the organisers of the Blackpool show were so incensed with this development that they sent several rather curt messages to event organisers in Yorkshire, threatening all sorts of potential sanctions if they went ahead with their plans. The event did take place and not wanting to re-open this particular Roses conflict, can we agree that Yorkshire played host to Britain’s first public flying event but Lancashire hosted Britain’s first ‘official flying meeting’? Let’s move along quickly!

The airfield site at Squires Gate can trace its history back to 1907 and the very earliest days of manned powered flight in the UK. The site of Britain’s first official flying meeting just two years later, Blackpool was the place where famous French pilot Henri Farman set the first official British flight record, a flight completed over the impressive distance of 47 miles. This major flying event at Squires Gate also took place in 1910 but by 1911, the site was in use as a racecourse, with the land requisitioned during the Great War for use as a hospital, known as the King’s Lancashire Military Convalescent Home. Following the end of the conflict, aviation quickly returned to Blackpool, with the A.V Roe Company offering pleasure flights to the thousands of tourists who flocked to the area each year and by 1928, the airfield was the site of a large Air Pageant, attracting around 75 aircraft from various RAF Squadrons around the UK.

Despite the existence of this established and historic airfield, the local council sanctioned the construction of a second aerodrome in the town, situated at Stanley Park, not far from the existing airfield (this second airfield is now the site of Blackpool Zoo). Built at significant cost, the airfield was opened by the then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 and offered flights to the Isle of Man, Liverpool and Manchester. In a development which seems difficult to understand, just two years later, the original aerodrome at Squires Gate also saw the arrival of civilian operators and the construction of permanent airport facilities, with local airlines offering flights to similar destinations as those serviced by Stanley Park airport – this small but popular seaside resort now had two large airfields within a short distance of each other.

The history of Blackpool Squires Gate is covered in Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Around 20% of total Vickers Wellington production came out of the two shadow factories at Blackpool Squires gate and Stanley Park

The existence of these two large facilities dictated that Blackpool would play an important role during the Second World War and in 1939, both airfields were taken over by the Royal Air Force. The first official RAF residents were No.63 Squadron with their Fairey Battles, followed closely by the Vickers Wellingtons of numbers 75 and 215 Squadrons. Indeed, the Wellington would go on to be inextricably linked with Blackpool as the Ministry of Aircraft Production established shadow production facilities at Squires Gate and nearby Stanley Park, which were responsible for manufacturing around 20% of all Wellington production, with numbers quoted in various publications ranging from somewhere between 2,584 and 3,842 bombers produced. With the construction of a control tower and several new hangars at Squires Gate, the airfield would be used mainly in a training capacity, but also saw the arrival of fighter and night fighter units to defend the Lancashire coastline and specifically the port of Liverpool from the attentions of the Luftwaffe. Both British and Polish units were stationed here, flying such aircraft as the Hawker Hurricane and Boulton Paul Defiant – interestingly, the only surviving wartime Defiant which is now on display at RAF Cosford was at one time stationed at Squires Gate, whilst serving with No. 307 squadron, a Polish Night Fighter Unit in 1941.

The history of Blackpool Squires Gate is covered in Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

The recently re-assembled Boulton Paul Defiant at Cosford was stationed at Squires Gate during 1941

With the two active airfields in such close proximity and Wellington bomber production in full swing, the airfield at Squires Gate must have been an interesting place to visit during the wartime years. Although the Wellingtons produced at Stanley Park would have been flown out of this airfield, it was only equipped with a grass runway and the aircraft would usually be required to land back at Squires Gate following their initial flight, which must have resulted in a great many of these mighty bombers being dispersed around the site at any one time. With detachments from many RAF Squadrons also spending time at the airfield during the war and pilot and reconnaissance training being a major part of daily activity, the skies above Blackpool must have been full of aeroplanes, even though they were only rarely visited by the Luftwaffe. Although bombs were dropped on the town during WWII, they escaped relatively lightly, which is surprising given the importance of the role performed by the town in support of Britain’s war effort. With its two airfield sites and Wellington manufacturing plants, the area also hosted sizable RAF training camps at Weeton and Kirkham, making the Blackpool area their largest and arguably most important RAF training area in the country. Even the famous Blackpool Tower was put to good wartime use, playing home to an array of protruding antennae and an early version of radar, as well as acting as a significant landmark for damaged aircraft returning from operations, or pilots caught out by the notoriously unpredictable weather in this part of the world.

Squires Gate revisited

Having paid an early morning and rather wintery visit to the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Memorial, I headed for Blackpool Airport with some excitement, not only at the prospect of attending my first Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team Open Day, but also to revisit an airfield which holds a particularly fond memory for me. As a young man fascinated by aviation from a very young age, Blackpool Airshow was the first time I managed to see real military and historic aeroplanes in the metal, so to speak, absolutely cementing my lifelong passion for aeroplanes and anything aviation related. Over forty years ago, I was invited to join my friend’s family on a trip to Blackpool Airshow, which I accepted with no little excitement. As they didn’t drive, this would involve a coach trip from Oldham town centre, with several coaches heading for the show and lots of families with the same idea. With my sandwiches in one hand and the family Kodak Instamatic camera with a 12 exposure black and white 126 film cartridge installed in the other, I stepped off the coach at Blackpool and into a world of aviation delights which would captivate me for the rest of my life. I remember standing underneath the nose of Avro Lancaster PA474 as she was dragged through crowds of onlookers to the live side of the airfield, trying to imagine how this monster could manage to claw its way into the air. With other delights such as Spitfires, a Swordfish, Sea Fury and the Gnats of the Red Arrows also in attendance, this show helped the aircraft from my books and magazines jump off the page and into reality and ensured I would be trying to get to as many of these magnificent events as I possibly could in the years that followed.

The history of Blackpool Squires Gate is covered in Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Two of the first twelve aviation photographs I ever took, on my first visit to Squires Gate and Blackpool Airshow – Spitfire Mk.IX MH434 and Fairey Swordfish LS326

Although I was not expecting this latest visit to Blackpool Airport to have as much impact on me as my first back in the 1970s, I was certainly intrigued to find out a little more about the Spitfire Ground Display Team and very much looking forward to discovering the contents of Hangar 42 for the first time. From my research and having just come from the Fairhaven Park Spitfire Memorial, I knew that this operation had grown from the significant endeavours to commemorate Lytham St Anne’s Presentation Spitfire and was once again linked to the drive and determination of former Fylde Borough Council leader John Coombes. You may recall in the previous edition of Aerodrome, we saw how John formed the The Lytham St Annes Spitfire Display Team as the fundraising entity behind the Fylde Spitfire Memorial Fund. As such a high profile project, commemorating the wartime contribution of the Fylde area and its population, it has been fortunate to enjoy the support of many volunteers over the years and crucially, the people behind Blackpool Airport. They helped the team purchase a trailer which could carry a replica Spitfire cockpit to the events they were attending and resulted in a surge in donations towards the project, giving it renewed impetus. As they became more experienced, so the displays became more authentic, with period uniforms, a display of inert weapons and various wartime memorabilia, all ensuring that the team were a popular attraction at local fetes, Airshows and 1940s events. With their ever increasing popularity, it was at around this time that they came into contact with a fund raising volunteer who had a shared love of Spitfires and a rather spectacular model – he was having a full size replica Spitfire Mk.II built. This was clearly of interest to the team but even more so on the couple of occasions he brought his aircraft to a fund raising event – the crowd numbers and resultant donations soared. John spotted an opportunity and immediately began exploring the possibility of securing a similar replica for the project, contacting the company who had produced the Mk.II for his friend and asking for details. Rather fortuitously, they told him that they knew of a Spitfire replica which was already in the North West/Merseyside area which was possibly about to be scrapped. Could this be the exhibit John had been looking for? – the Spitfire race was on.

The arrival of ‘Lucy’

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

The team have done a fantastic job in renovating their replica Spitfire and equipping it with many authentic components

There is nothing quite like the opportunity of owning your very own Spitfire to focus the mind and following a frantic series of phone conversations, John Coombes found himself standing in hangar 3 at the former RAF Hooton Park, looking at a rather dilapidated Spitfire Mk.IX replica. The airfield, which can trace its history back to the Great War and at one time served as Merseyside’s airport, was also home to RAF No.610 (County of Chester) Squadron and No.611 (West Lancashire) Squadron. This replica Spitfire was built by TDL Replicas in the early 1980s and is believed to have served as a Gate Guardian at RAF St Athan for many years. She was later purchased by the members of the No.610 Squadron Association and presented in the markings of Spitfire RB159 (DW-D), but it is not known if she spent much time outside the hangar at Hooton Park during this period of her history. Her time on Merseyside saw the Spitfire falling into a state of disrepair and having spent many years languishing in an old wartime hangar, the owners were now looking to dispose of it. Despite its deteriorating condition and the fact that it was potentially destined to be scrapped, money did change hands but significantly, the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Display Team now had their aeroplane. The replica was transported to the team’s storage facility, where it was fully refurbished and given a smart new paint scheme, but it would not be until 2011 that she would triumphantly emerge as the magnificent centrepiece of the Team’s new ground display at a public event. She was unveiled as Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX BS435 FY-F, which was flown by the Commanding Officer of No.611 (West Lancashire) Squadron, Sqn Ldr Hugo T Armstrong in February 1943, whilst operating from RAF Biggin Hill. Armstrong was a 12 victory Spitfire ace by the time he was shot down and killed by an FW 190 of 5./JG26 whilst flying the real BS435 on 5th February 1943.

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Wartime image of Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX BS435 FY-Y flown by Sqn Ldr Hugo T Armstrong

Although the team’s new Spitfire was clearly a significant development in their history and took their fund raising efforts to new heights, there is more to owning and displaying a full size replica Spitfire than initially meets the eye and it is interesting to discover how the team developed the new skills necessary to show off their prized asset. The first problem to be encountered was transportation – how were they going to dismantle, transport and reassemble the Spitfire efficiently enough, without incurring significant additional expense and requiring a small army of volunteers to follow her around? Thankfully, fellow fundraiser and replica Spitfire owner Barry Wolland already had experience in this type of operation and a bespoke trailer was quickly designed and purchased, which could be pulled by a Land Rover and safely transport the various dismantled sections of the replica. Unfortunately, the maximum speed for this combination was around 50mph, so the distance the team could travel to potential events would be governed by this, dictating that local events would obviously be favoured, even though this was not always the case – we will touch on this a little later.

It also has to be remembered that although ‘Lucy’ is a replica Spitfire, she was not specifically manufactured to be constantly dismantled and re-assembled as the team would require and was intended to stand guard in majestic fashion at the main gates of an RAF station. When the team first endeavoured to display the Spitfire at an event, they found that removing the wings was quite a time consuming process and they were extremely heavy items. It also has to be considered that the team of volunteers engaged in this process had absolutely no prior experience in this type of work and this would be a steep learning curve for all concerned. Initially, it could take a team of 14 volunteer members around 4 hours to dismantle the Spitfire and prepare her for transportation and a further 3 hours to re-assemble her at the other end – very much a case of trial and error for the team. This was clearly going to be a limiting factor and could result in not enough experienced members being available to fulfil all the teams future commitments – a quicker process had to be developed. Assessing the construction of the wings, it was quickly decided that a new, lighter set of wings would be required for effective future operations and a more appropriate method of attaching them to the fuselage. Indeed, this was just the start of an ongoing desire to make this replica as accurate a representation of a Mk.IX Spitfire as possible, a process which continues to this day and has seen Lucy benefit from the addition of a great many original WWII aircraft parts, including a cockpit which is around 90% original and allows anyone lucky enough to sit in her a real experience of what it was like to prepare for your first Spitfire solo. Getting back to the transportation issue, with the re-designed wings and more experience, a team of just 4 people can now dismantle and re-assemble the Spitfire in a little under an hour for each process, which is clearly much more manageable and a direct result of many months of blood, sweat and tears by team members.

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Replica Spitfire ‘Lucy’ is ready for a busy day as the centre of attention once more

Like many who will be reading this blog, I was intrigued to find out why the Spitfire was called ‘Lucy’ and if this had particular significance to the team. Rather surprisingly, John told me that it didn’t really and he thinks it came from a digital image sent to them following her acquisition from the people at Hooton Park, which confirmed details of the markings the replica was wearing. The file was simply called ‘lucy.jpg’ and the team assumed that this may have been the name a particular pilot gave the aircraft – in any case, it seemed to be appropriate and they have always referred to her as such.

We saw earlier how the transportation of ‘Lucy’ has been fine tuned over the years, albeit that the Spitfire convoy is limited to speeds of around 50 mph. Initially, this placed some restrictions on the distance the team could travel to display their fighter, particularly bearing in mind that they are all volunteers and most will have full time work commitments – well that was the thinking at the time. Once the team had started to get to grips with the logistics and perfected their impressive new ground display, there is nothing like a little public Spitfire adoration to make you start thinking a little more ambitiously. The impressive display saw the team receive national recognition and appearance requests began to arrive from venues all around the country, from major Airshows to official commemorations and military events. ‘Lucy’ started to venture further afield and has been to London on several occasions, most notably for the VE-Day 70th Anniversary commemorations and has even had her passport stamped, with trips to France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland - this has certainly become a well travelled ground based Spitfire.

Hangar 42 and Lucy’s new friends

The main aim behind the establishment of the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Display Team was as a fund raising vehicle in support of their attempt to create a permanent memorial to the town’s Presentation Spitfire W3644 and to local pilot Sgt Alan Ridings, who was to lose his life whilst flying the aircraft in combat. As this significant undertaking was realised with the official unveiling of the memorial at the town’s Fairhaven Lake on 19th August 2012, the question had to be asked, what should we do now? Arguably, the most sensible option for the team was to allow their lives to return to a semblance of normality and simply dispose of their assets, Lucy clearly being the most significant item, however the popularity of their display appearances and the many years of valuable experience they had gained was making the decision not quite so straight forward. So many people had asked where they could come to see the Spitfire and the team’s collection of WWII memorabilia that there was surely another option to consider. At that time, however, everything was stored in farm buildings on private land, with no public access and no facilities – if the team was to have a future, they were going to need a permanent home, with adequate facilities and ease of access. This was beginning to sound costly even before they had started.

The Lytham St Annes Memorial Spitfire Vb W3644 on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Spitfires galore on display inside Hangar 42 at Squires Gate

Thankfully for the team, they could continue to count on the steadfast support of Blackpool Airport, who offered the team a permanent home for their Spitfire and ever expanding collection in an old WWII hangar at the airfield. Hangar 42 was originally constructed in 1939 and during the Second World War had acted as home for numerous aircraft types, such as Hurricanes, Defiants and Spitfires. In the 1960s and early 70s, it was home to a private collection of aircraft owned by the Reflectair company, which at one time included the famous Avro Lancaster NX611, which is now ‘Just Jane’ at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. The hangar was in rather a poor state having hardly been touched since the end of WWII and would require significant work (and of course money) to bring it up to the standard necessary both to house the collection and to eventually receive visitors. The two parties managed to thrash out a deal and the team had a historic new home for their Spitfire – since then, the team have invested a significant sum of money in renovating the building, creating workshop areas, appropriate storage space for the collection and facilities which enable them to describe it as a visitor centre, capable of handling significant numbers of visitors. Retaining many of the buildings original features, the renovation has been sympathetically handled, with ancillary rooms returned to a similar state they would have been during WWII and period furniture adopted throughout. With a magnificent collection of wartime memorabilia and their beloved Spitfire ‘Lucy’ at the centre of everything, a visit to Hangar 42 really is like stepping back to the days of Squires Gate at war. The team have not only been sympathetic in their renovation of the hangar but were also clearly keen to ensure their Spitfire did not feel lonely in her new home – she now has some friends!

Spitfire Mk.II ‘Vicky’

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

This beautiful Spitfire Mk.II replica is wearing the markings of Sgt Wilfred Duncan-Smith

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

This beautiful replica Spitfire almost has as much meaning to the team as ‘Lucy’ and was actually used in fund raising displays before they acquired their own Spitfire. This was the Spitfire previously owned by fellow memorial fundraiser Barry Wolland, manufactured by Gateguards (UK) in 2009 and helping to shape much of the work behind the team’s decision to operate their own replica Spitfire. This particular replica has never spent time as a gate guardian but has become one of the most recognised Spitfires on our TV screens, having starred in many productions over the years. Wearing the codes AI-H, this aircraft was used in the excellent BBC dramatization of Geoffrey Wellum’s ‘First Light’ book, along with significant appearances in ‘Home Fires’ and ‘The Halcyon’. Joining the team in 2015, this Spitfire now wears the markings of a No.611 (West Lancashire) Squadron machine, which was flown by Sgt Wilfred Duncan-Smith – X4253 (FY-N). It is interesting to note that her latest TV appearance was in the TV adaptation of David Walliam’s ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’, which was screened on New Year’s Day 2018. An important member of the team, this replica will continue to receive additional improvements as the team attempt to make all their aircraft as authentic as possible.

Spitfire Mk.IX ‘Holly’

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

This Spitfire has recently been used to represent a crashed aircraft in a TV production and is in need of some TLC

This replica was made by TDL Replicas in the early 1980s and is known as ‘Holly’, simply because she joined the team at Christmas time in 2014 and before joining the collection, the aircraft had been on display at East Midlands Aeropark, presented as Spitfire Mk.IX PL256 (TM-L). This replica has also starred in many TV dramas including her most recent outing, where she played a Spitfire which has crashed into the front of a house, with significant damage to her nose, tail and wings. She is currently undergoing a concerted period of refurbishment and it is proposed that she will emerge wearing the new markings of another No.611 Squadron aircraft FY-H, tail number EN592 and will look superb when displayed next to her sister Spitfire.

Hurricane Mk.II ‘Diane’

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

A former gate guardian at RAF Coltishall, this Hurricane used to wear the markings of Douglas Bader’s famous fighter

Every self respecting Spitfire needs a solid and dependable Hawker Hurricane by its side and the team acquired their replica example in the Spring of 2015. This Hurricane can boast rather an illustrious past, having formerly served as the gate guardian at RAF Coltishall until the station was closed in 2006. Whilst there, she was presented in the famous colours of Hawker Hurricane V7467 LE-D, which was the mount of Douglas Bader during his time with No.242 Squadron. It later went on to serve in a similar role at RAF High Wycombe, until being replaced in 2014. She is currently undergoing modification and upgrade which will eventually see her emerge as a spectacular hangar exhibit in the colours of an RAF No.96 Squadron Hurricane, which was based at RAF Squires Gate during WWII.

First Open Day event of 2018

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

The Spitfire simulator was a popular attraction throughout the day

Having signed up for the groups official Facebook page, I became aware that they were intending to hold their first open day of the year on Sunday 4th March and as early season events can be a little thin on the ground, this was an opportunity too good to miss. In truth, I had no idea what to expect from the day, but as Blackpool Airport has been through some turbulent times of late, it would be interesting to see what the current facilities look like and to make my first visit to Hangar 42. From the moment I turned into the car park, I knew this was going to be a memorable day – it was packed! With a regular stream of people heading for the open day, it seemed as if this best kept aviation secret in Lancashire was a secret no more and perhaps the most poignant aspect of my arrival was to see the number of families with young children turning up to enjoy the day. This is always an encouraging sight for anyone passionate about aviation history.

With a team of volunteer helpers ensuring the day ran smoothly, everyone attending the open day were held in a lounge area until there was enough to make the short stroll across the airfield hardstanding to Hangar 42 and the delights within. Once we had been processed, we entered the hangar to be met by ‘Lucy’ in what can only be described as an evocative airfield dispersal setting, with all the aircraft detailed above and a vast array of wartime memorabilia making it difficult to know where to start. Not only do the team have an impressive collection of replica aircraft, they also have a magnificent Bedford QL refueller and whilst I did not see it during my visit, a wartime Queen Mary trailer and Bedford tractor unit. When we were discussing this feature, John Coombes told me that the Queen Mary with Spitfire fuselage mounted on it almost brings Blackpool to a halt when it is paraded down the promenade – it must be a fantastic sight. The team have also amassed a fine collection of weapons, ammunition and genuine WWII air and ground crew clothing over the years and during the visit, most of the volunteers were resplendent in their pristine uniforms. As they chat with visitors and impart both their knowledge and passion for WWII and RAF subject matter, their stories carry much more resonance as they are delivered whilst really looking the part. The tastefully renovated side rooms are crammed with models, artefacts and aircraft parts from the aviation history of Lancashire and the Fylde coast, including an impressive collection of aircraft parts recovered from various crash sites across the region.

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

The opportunity to sit in a Spitfire cockpit was one of the highlights of the Hangar 42 Open day and ‘Lucy’ managed to gain a few more admirers

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

There is nothing children like more than looking at guns and bullets but offer them the opportunity to shoot something down and they are putty in your hands. The hangar had two flight simulator opportunities available on the day, a rather impressive system based around another replica Spitfire fuselage mock-up and a slightly less impressive Messerschmitt Bf 109E cockpit section, which included a canopy display based on a popular flight simulator programme, with each new pilot instructed on how to hunt down a Spitfire. I did say that this was attraction was probably intended for the children, but they were forced to wait their turn because of the number of adults waiting for their opportunity to test their combat credentials against these digital foes. All in all, this proved to be an extremely memorable day out and judging by the sheer number of visitors to pass through the hangar during the day, it was an extremely successful event for the team.

Without doubt, the most popular attraction of the day was Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX ‘Lucy’ and her beautifully restored cockpit, which can now claim to be 90% authentic, with a host of genuine Spitfire components. For a small donation, there was an opportunity to obtain some memorable family photographs, with one person in the cockpit and the rest of the family sat on the access steps near the wing root – the chance to have your picture taken with Britain’s most famous fighter appeared to be a significant attraction. For many who visited on the day, this was probably the closest they had ever been to a Spitfire and the opportunity to sit in the cockpit was one which was simply too good to miss. Indeed, the team have done such an impressive job in making this aircraft as authentic as possible that many people on the day would probably thought it was a real Spitfire and not an accurate replica. Whatever the reason, there was always a sizeable queue of people waiting for their turn to have some quality time with a Spitfire.

Spitfire Display Team Bedford QL Fuel Bowser on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

This beautifully restored Bedford QL Fuel Bowser is in full working order and available to grace any film of TV production requiring such a vehicle

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Another view of the many historic replica aircraft now owned by the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team 

The Open Day events are quite a departure from traditional events undertaken by the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team – rather than taking their exhibits out and about to shows around the country, they are inviting people to come and visit them at their home airfield, where they can see everything the team has managed to amass over the years, all presented in a manner which shows everything off to its best potential. There is so much to see and explore that you will need a good few hours to make your visit worthwhile and if my first visit is anything to go buy, these are going to become extremely popular events in the Blackpool area – I will certainly be attending another Hangar 42 Open Day in the very near future.

Future plans for the team?

As fascinating as the history of the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team may be, their ambitions for future development may prove to be even more spectacular and secure the group even greater recognition. Undoubtedly, they will continue the renovation work on the replica aircraft they already own, aiming to make each aircraft as authentic as they possibly can, by constantly improving their construction and adding genuine WWII components whenever they become available. As information about the group continues to become more widely known, they hope to acquire more genuine WWII memorabilia from people inspired by their activities and dedication, helping to further establish Hangar 42 as a popular destination for anyone looking for a nostalgic trip back to the 1940s. The team are also extremely keen to continue commemorating the invaluable work of the RAF ground trades, without which no aircraft would have ever left the ground, but whose contribution is often overlooked. Although their work may not have been as glamourous as the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain, it was equally essential and the Ground Display Team have been humbled by the many congratulatory messages and kind words expressed by former RAF ground trade technicians and their families, overjoyed at seeing their work marked in this way.

Spitfire Display Team Spitfire Mk.IX 'Lucy' on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Could ‘Lucy’ be joined at Squires Gate by a flying Warbird in the years to come?

Perhaps most significantly, the team will continue to commemorate the huge contribution made by the Fylde area, Lancashire as a whole and more specifically RAF Squires Gate to Britain’s war effort during WWII and to the 68 airmen who lost their lives whilst flying on operations from this airfield. ‘Lucy’ will continue her with travels, bringing the undeniable virtues of the Supermarine Spitfire to a wider audience and the entire collection will no doubt continue to appear on film and TV productions large and small, but I can reveal with some excitement that the ultimate aim of the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team is to bring an airworthy Warbird back to Squires Gate. For the people of Northern England, this would be a stunning development and potentially see a historic aircraft operating from this famous old airfield once more, serving as a poignant reminder of the important role this region played in the training of RAF personnel, construction of aircraft and defence of Northern cities during WWII. It holds the tantalising prospect of this ground display team becoming a Flying Display Team at some point in the future, a development which is certainly worthy of significant local and national support.

I would like to sincerely thank John Coombes for his help in the production of this feature and I am certain you will allow me to speak for all Aerodrome readers in wishing him and his team every success in their exciting endeavours to come.

RAF 100 Open Cockpits Day at Newark Air Museum

Newark Air Museum on Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome

Our good friends at Newark Air Museum have asked if we bring an exciting future event to the attention of our readers, which we are only too happy to do. On Sunday 1st April, Newark Air Museum will be organising an event to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF). In addition to allowing visitors the opportunity to view the cockpits and interiors of many of the museum’s collection of RAF aircraft, cockpits and CIMs, the event will also feature a host of additional visiting displays. The museum will be open to the public from 10am until 5pm with the last admissions of the day being processed at 4pm.

The cockpits and aircraft may not be open at all times during the day and access will depend on the availability of the museum’s team of volunteer cockpit openers. A small additional donation will be requested for access into the aircraft and cockpits.

As of 15.03.18 the supporting / visiting displays include:

Museum model aircraft display in Hangar 1
Mainly Military Models display in Hangar 2
RAF Recruiting posters display from the Museum Archive
RAF Balderton Memorial Group
WAAF 1940s display
Air Sea Rescue & Marine Craft Club, displays of marine craft models & storyboards
Canberra PR7 test cockpit
Phantom cockpit XV490 – with David Gledhill
Wingless Wonders cockpit display – Buccaneer XZ431; P1127 XV280 & 2 LWB Land Rovers
HS125 cockpit G-AVAI
Airfield Research Group

The event is open to everyone and normal museum admission rates will apply:
Adults £9.00; Over 65s £8.00; Children £4.50; and Family ticket [2 adults & 3 children] £24.00. {A small additional fee / donation will be applicable when going inside the museum aircraft – this will go towards funding the restoration & refurbishment of our aircraft.}

Please telephone 01636 707170 if you require any further information
Regular updates will also appear on the Events Page of the museum website.

Well that certainly turned into something of a blog monster! We hope you enjoyed this review of my recent visit to Squires Gate and Hangar 42 – could I also ask any Aerodrome readers who may have interesting aviation stories of their own to please consider sending details to us, so we might share them with fellow Aerodrome readers all over the world. Our usual contact e-mail addresses are always available aerodrome@airfix.com or aerodrome@corgi.co.uk and we will endeavour to reply to all messages we receive.

For those more attuned to the modern phenomenon of social media, all the latest Aerodrome and aviation related discussions are taking place right now on both the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and Corgi Aerodrome Forum and your contributions will be most welcome. Again, if you have any specific comments, questions or suggestions for future editions of Aerodrome, please do feel free to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts. We also have our popular Airfix Facebook and Corgi Facebook pages, along with Airfix Twitter or Corgi Twitter accounts available for viewing – please could we ask that you use #aerodrome when posting about an aerodrome topic.

The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 6th April and we look forward to seeing all back here then.

Thank you for your continued support.


Michael

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