Axis aviation spectacle at Cosford’s RAF 100 show
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular delve into the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. As we embark on the next 100 editions of our aviation blog, could I please just take a moment to thank each and every one of you for helping to make our Centenary Edition such a resounding success. There is a lot of hard work that goes in to the production of each Aerodrome blog, but that is made all the more palatable by the fact that we continue to see readership numbers increasing with each new edition – after all, no matter how important Aerodrome may be to us, it is of little value unless it is enjoyed by our readers. Thank you to everyone who kindly sent us Aerodrome 100 congratulatory messages by e-mail and via social media – this meant a lot to us. Also, thank you to everyone who joined in our celebrations and entered our Aerodrome 100 competition, which proved to be a huge success. We will be selecting our winner at random this weekend and contacting them directly, before announcing their success in the next edition of our blog. Right then, it’s about time we got stuck into the next 100 editions of Aerodrome.
We have a rather unusual subject for the latest edition of our blog and one we were really not expecting to cover during the historic centenary commemorations of the establishment of the Royal Air Force. Proving to be one of the most memorable events for many a year, June’s Cosford Airshow was intended to be a high profile celebration of the RAF and anyone who was fortunate enough to take their place in the sell-out crowd will tell you that it achieved everything it set out to do and more besides. Although this edition will not be our full review of this show (I think that would need at least two editions to do this justice), we will be featuring an interesting aviation occurrence which took place at Cosford this year and one which was brought about by the magnificent efforts the RAF Museum went to, in order to make this such a memorable occasion. Intrigued, then please read on.
While the Defiant’s away!
The unusual sight of ‘missing aircraft’ in the War in the air hangar at Cosford
Over the past few months, the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon has been undergoing something of a transformation, with significant alterations to the entire site taking place in preparation for their RAF centenary programme and a celebration of the first 100 years of the Royal Air Force. In what proved to be a fascinating development for enthusiasts, a number of Britain’s prized historic aviation assets needed to be moved from this North London site to a new home at the ever impressive RAF Museum Cosford in the Midlands. Clearly, this a significant development for Cosford and has understandably resulted in many more additional visitors heading there to admire these new exhibits, which only served to enhance what was already a magnificent collection of historic aircraft. Amongst the aircraft making their way by road from Hendon to Cosford were famous Axis heavyweights Junkers Ju-88R-1 D5+EV and Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 ‘Black 6’, which were joined by RAF Battle of Britain era fighters Gloster Gladiator K8042 and Boulton Paul Defiant N1671 – the good people of the Midlands could hardly believe their luck.
The museum’s Defiant and Gladiator in their temporary home, preparing to receive an influx of admirers
Arguably, the most important of the aircraft to arrive at Cosford and certainly the most significant for the Midlands area is the Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I nightfighter, which is the only surviving complete example of its type in the world, having originally been identified as a preservation airframe back in September 1944. Originally manufactured in late 1939, this beautiful aircraft was built at the old Boulton Paul factory, just a few miles away from where she is now on display and her relocation to Cosford was seen as something of a homecoming by enthusiasts and local people alike. Although the Boulton Paul factory is now long gone and its former site now occupied by a housing estate, it is hoped that the Defiant will be allowed to remain at Cosford indefinitely, as this superb museum is surely this aircraft’s rightful home – she is certainly something of a local aviation celebrity and reason alone to make the trip to the West Midlands.
As Britain prepared to mark the Centenary of the Royal Air Force at the turn of the year, many people were hoping that the impending summer’s Airshows and indeed the British weather would serve up something of a treat, allowing us all to commemorate the occasion in some style. As we all studied the Airshow schedule at the beginning of the year and started to fill our diaries, we could have hardly have imagined just how fantastic a summer we were going to have on both these counts, but even at this early stage, it was becoming clear that the annual Cosford Airshow was definitely going to be one event not to miss. Proclaiming itself to be the most spectacular and interactive Airshow tribute to the Royal Air Force’s centenary commemorations, rumours began to circulate that the show was planning to showcase an ambitious 100 aircraft static display, which would include aircraft types spanning the entire history of the Royal Air Force, from the aircraft of the Great War to the latest Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Lightning II (composite display aircraft). If this were not significant enough, their plans also included the intention to display several of the RAF Museum’s rare aircraft exhibits outside for the first time at a Cosford Airshow, including the Defiant and Gladiator. Surely these aircraft were just too valuable to risk being taken outside the protection of their hangar and if they did go out, where would they be positioned? Like many people, I was sceptical as to whether these incredibly rare aircraft would be allowed to take part in this intended spectacle, but if there was even the slightest chance they might, I was determined that I would be one of the lucky people there to see it and my ticket was duly secured.
A sight for sore eyes. Having recently returned home to the West Midlands, the opportunity to view Defiant Mk.I N1671 displayed outside would be a significant attraction at Cosford’s RAF 100 show
In what will surely prove to be one of the highlights of this significant RAF centenary year, both the Defiant and the Gladiator were indeed wheeled out of their hangar to take their place in a magnificent Cosford static aircraft display, protected by a robust marquee and positioned on the grass within the most westerly of the RAF 100 Vintage Village displays. It was fantastic to be able to spend a little quality time with both aircraft on the Friday press day prior to the Airshow itself, as they both stood serenely in the protection of their temporary home, preparing to welcome the thousands of admirers which would soon be heading their way. Although I was extremely fortunate to be allowed close access to both aircraft without anyone else being around during the press day event, other duties prevented me from heading back in their direction during the Airshow itself and apparently both aircraft were pulled out of the marquee to bask in the RAF 100 sunshine, which I unfortunately missed, to my eternal regret. If any Aerodrome readers did manage to see this historic sight, please do send us a selection of your pictures and we will include them in a future edition of our blog.
Whilst standing next to the Defiant and with the press event fast approaching its close, I couldn’t help wondering what the display hangar which usually hosts the Defiant and Gladiator would now be looking like and if indeed it was still open to the public. As I was at the RAF Museum and as we were talking historic aeroplanes, there was absolutely no doubt that I would have to go and find the answer for myself.
An Axis aviation tribute to RAF 100
One of the most impressive preserved Axis aircraft in the world, Cosford’s recent arrival is a striking addition to their collection
The rare sight of witnessing the RAF Museum’s Defiant and Gladiator displayed outside on Cosford airfield was indeed a fitting tribute to this year’s RAF 100 commemorations, however their absence from the ‘War in the air’ hangar did not necessitate a closure of the facility and actually offered a unique opportunity in which to view the rest of the exhibits with a little more elbow room than usual. The space vacated by the two British fighters was simply left open, with a notice board informing visitors of their temporary reassignment on RAF 100 duties. I know this may appear a little fanciful, but some of the hangars other famous residents seemed rather pleased to have lost a pair of RAF fighters for the weekend and were determined to make the most of their unexpected numerical superiority – the ‘War in the air’ hangar also houses one of the world’s finest collections of Axis aircraft and they were taking over for the weekend. For the purposes of this article, we will ignore the fact that there was still a Spitfire and Hurricane at one end of the hangar and an Avro Lincoln and Mosquito at the other, all keeping guard over their Axis guests and making sure they didn’t get any big ideas.
Displayed since late 1978 in the Battle of Britain Hall at the Royal Air Force Museum Hendon, Junkers Ju-88R-1 D5+EV is a real jewel in the crown of the British historic aviation scene and is a rare surviving example of this important WWII Luftwaffe aircraft. One of the exhibits recently re-located from Hendon and gratefully received by Cosford, the aircraft has been on public display at its new home since April 2017 and has already become a firm favourite with both the museum staff and the many enthusiasts living in this part of the country. The Ju-88 now stands like an aviation colossus at the head of the museum’s impressive Axis air power collection and is already a major attraction at Cosford, which must now be considered one of the foremost aviation heritage sites in the world.
This magnificent aircraft now dominates the Axis collection at RAF Cosford
It is thought that this particular aircraft was licence built by Heinkel as a Ju-88A-1 bomber in June 1942, but was converted to R-1 standard early the following year and going on to see service as a nightfighter with IV./NJG.3 carrying the codes D5+EV. In a fascinating story of WWII espionage, it is thought that the long time crew of this aircraft were very much against the Nazi regime, with at least one of them having pro-British leanings. It is also claimed that the pilot may have undertaken a number of clandestine missions for British intelligence, including landing German aircraft engaged in covert operations at several RAF stations during 1941, in the months prior to being assigned to this Ju-88. As a highly proficient crew with plenty of operational experience between them, whispers began to circulate around their home airfield about how such a crew could consistently fail to intercept any enemy aircraft – if only they knew.
On 9th May 1943, the crew of D5+EV were ordered to intercept and shoot down an unarmed BOAC Mosquito off the coast of Scotland, but decided this military dilemma would bring about the end of their war. They reported back to their home base that they had suffered an engine fire and immediately descended to low altitude to avoid detection by German radar – dropping their life rafts into the North Sea for effect, the Junkers headed in the direction of Scotland. Knowing they were in danger of being shot down at any moment, the crew kept their eyes peeled for signs of RAF fighters, whilst circling off the coast of Northern Britain, hoping to attract their attention. Sure enough, a pair of No.165 Squadron Spitfires arrived on the scene and immediately noticed that the enemy Ju-88 had lowered its undercarriage, waggled its wings and let off several very flares, clearly not appearing to be in the mood for a fight. The Spitfires did not attack it and took station in front and behind the enemy nightfighter and escorted it back to Dyce airfield, where all three aircraft landed safely. This was quite a coup for the RAF, as the Junkers was equipped with the latest FuG 202 Liechtenstein radar set, the first such unit to fall into British hands.
As well as being one of only two surviving Ju-88s in the world, D5+EV has an incredible history which marks it as one of the most important WWII aircraft in Britain
Junkers Ju-88R-1 D5+EV was later evaluated extensively by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, both in general flight handling trials and for radar and night interception trials, proving to be an extremely valuable asset in the continuing fight against the Luftwaffe. With such a rich history, it is no wonder that this significant new Cosford arrival has been attracting lots of attention and proving something of an Axis distraction in this important year for the RAF.
The heavy fighter, or 'Destroyer' concept was something which had been championed by Hermann Goering from before the start of WWII and resulted in the introduction of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 as the first Luftwaffe exponent of this type of aircraft. Intended to provide everything a single engined fighter offered, but with much increased firepower and operating over greater distances, these aircraft were thought to have the potential to rule the skies, however the Battle of Britain cruelly exposed the limitations of the concept and these much vaunted ‘Destroyers’ would be found to need the protection of Bf 109 fighters if they were to survive an engagement with the RAF.
The Messerschmitt Me 410 is an extremely purposeful and aggressive looking aircraft, which was the best representation of the Luftwaffe’s Destroyer concept
Despite their disappointing performance during the summer of 1940, Germany persisted with the ‘Destroyer’ concept and eventually produced what it considered the definitive aircraft in this series, the Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse, a sleek and purposeful heavy fighter/fast bomber, which had the appearance of being ‘all engines and guns’, but looking rather impressive nonetheless. A replacement for the disappointing Messerschmitt Me 210, which itself was intended as the replacement for the original Me 110 Destroyers, the Me 410 was fast, heavily armed and generally liked by both air and ground crews. With an eventual production run of just 1,160 machines, this illustrates the general disappointment of the Luftwaffe’s Destroyer concept, as this figure pales into insignificance when compared to the 34,000 Bf 109 fighters which were produced during its nine year manufacturing run. The Hornisse was used successfully as a night intruder over Britain and as a heavily armed ‘bomber killer’ by both day and night units, but more usually against the massed formations of USAAF bombers conducting daylight raids against targets in mainland Europe. Although a marked improvement over earlier designs, the Messerschmitt Me 410 was still no match for the latest Allied single engined fighters and was to suffer heavy losses at their hands.
Cosford’s rare example of a Messerschmitt Me 410 has been one of its major attractions since it arrived in the West Midlands in around 1989 and is actually one of only two complete examples of this aircraft type that survive anywhere in the world. Built at the Messerschmitt facility at Augsberg in late 1943, the service record of this aircraft has never been definitively corroborated, although renovation works carried out at Cosford revealed earlier paint schemes used on the fighter and the codes 3U+AK and 3U+CC, identifying it as an aircraft operated by No.2 Staffel I./ZG26, possibly during deployment in the Balkans and Italy. The aircraft was surrendered to Allied forces at Vaerlose airfield in Denmark during May 1945 and was one of at least six Me 410s obtained by the British and used for evaluation purposes. Test flown at Farnborough, this was the only one of the six captured aircraft not to be scrapped in the immediate post war years, selected for preservation by the Air Historical Branch and displayed at a number of events over the next few years, including ground running its mighty Daimler-Benz engines on several occasions.
This picture clearly shows the space where the under-nose weapons container could be fitted to this capable heavy fighter
Since its arrival at Cosford, this striking aircraft has been one of their most popular exhibits and when considering how rare an airframe this is, it is no wonder that it continues to draw large numbers of visitors to the museum. This particular aircraft was modified to accept a ventral weapons container under the nose of the aircraft, which can clearly be seen when looking at the aircraft and included the option to carry an additional pair of forward firing 20mm cannon. This increased the devastating firepower wielded by this capable fighter and would have been particularly useful during attacks against US heavy bombers mounting daylight bombing raids. Although displayed in the main Axis air power section at Cosford, the Messerschmitt Me 410 is rather ironically sited in close proximity to the Allied aircraft the Germans hoped it would be their direct equivalent of, the superb de Havilland Mosquito – it never was.
Reconnaissance under the 'Rising Sun'
If preserved former Luftwaffe aircraft are now rare items in UK museums, the opportunity to see an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force aircraft is even more difficult. Taking their place in Cosford’s unique collection of Axis air power are no fewer than three extremely rare examples of WWII Japanese aircraft, two of which are the only surviving examples of their type in the world – if Japanese air power is your thing, RAF Cosford is definitely the destination for you. Undoubtedly, the most impressive Japanese aircraft they have on display is the twin engined Mitsubishi Ki-46 ‘Dinah’ reconnaissance fighter, a particularly handsome machine and one which looks a little out of place as a weapon of war. Tracing its origins back to a maiden flight at the end of 1939, the Ki-46 would prove so successful that it provided Japanese forces with detailed reconnaissance information throughout the duration of the war, only proving vulnerable to Allied fighters in the final months of the conflict. Possessing both great speed and excellent endurance, the Dinah was also developed into a heavy fighter and ground attack aircraft, but it was as a high altitude photographic reconnaissance platform that the Ki-46 really excelled, so much so that Germany tried unsuccessfully to secure manufacturing rights for the design, during the war.
The Mitsubishi Ki-46 ‘Dinah’ was as capable as it was attractive and is yet another unique Axis exhibit at Cosford
As the only known surviving example of this aircraft type in the world, Cosford’s stunning Ki-46 originally came into British hands at an airfield in the Malay Peninsula at the end of WWII and was flown in trials both there and whilst stationed at RAF Headquarters in Singapore. It was transported to the UK aboard a Royal Navy ship, along with three other captured Japanese aircraft, including the Kawasaki Ki-100 fighter which it is now displayed next to at Cosford. On its arrival in the UK, it was crated for long term storage at RAF Sealand, but would spend the next few years being stored at several RAF facilities around the country. Passing into the care of the Air Historical Branch in 1958, it was not long before the aircraft was assembled, repainted and observed at a number of different Airshow events, always attracting plenty of attention as one of the most unusual former WWII aircraft in Britain. Donated to the RAF Museum in 1998, the Dinah underwent a significant restoration programme, which was partly funded by a £30,000 gift from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Tokyo, who were clearly keen to see this rare aeroplane returned to its former glory. As one of the more elegant aircraft to take part in the Second World War, The Ki-46 has always been amongst the most popular exhibits at Cosford, however the additional room afforded by the temporary departure of the Gladiator and Defiant over the Airshow weekend meant that it was much more accessible than usual and a real bonus for anyone who visited this hangar during those few short days in June.
Cosford is the only place in the world where you can see these unique examples of WWII Japanese air power
Although the 2018 Cosford Airshow was all about celebrating 100 years of the Royal Air Force, the rare opportunity to see their magnificent Axis aircraft collection in slightly more spacious surroundings proved to be an unexpected bonus and anyone who was fortunate enough to take this aviation detour during the temporary relocation of the Gladiator and Defiant will surely hold the experience as one of the highlights of this RAF centenary year. Most aviation enthusiasts need little excuse to come and marvel at the spectacular and extremely rare preserved Axis aircraft on display in Cosford’s ‘War in the air’ hangar, but when you also consider the incredible history each aircraft possesses, it is a wonder how anyone can tear themselves away from this hangar to examine the many other aviation exhibits at this impressive venue. One thing is certain, Hendon’s loss is definitely Cosford’s gain and if you want to enjoy a unique historic aviation experience, go and spend some time with ‘the enemy’ at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford – you will not be disappointed. Here is a final selection of images featuring some of the magnificent Axis aircraft on display in Cosford’s ‘War in the air’ hangar.
One of the most famous Axis aircraft in Britain, Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 ‘Black 6’ was restored to airworthy condition and was the star of the UK Airshow scene for several years
Entering Luftwaffe service in August 1941, the Focke Wulf Fw 190 was the most effective fighter aircraft in the world at that time, and secured a period of domination in the skies above occupied Europe
The Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket powered interceptor possessed incredible acceleration, but was as dangerous to its own pilots as it was to the bombers it was sent against
Representing a significant technological leap forward, the Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world’s first operational jet fighter and one which pointed to the future of aviation development
I am afraid that is another edition of Aerodrome finished, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with even more aviation goodness. If you have any ideas for a future edition of our blog, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.
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