Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. Well, it’s finally here! After months of dark nights, cold weather and endless DIY, we are finally on the eve of the 2019 UK Airshow season – its time to clean that camera sensor, polish your lenses and make sure last year’s sun cream has not gone off, as we are definitely going to need it this year. For those of us desperate for some aviation action, our destinations will either be Old Warden or Abingdon this coming Sunday, where we hope the 2019 season will get off to a flying start, with plenty of sunshine and some great flying action. I will be heading down to the first Shuttleworth Collection event of the year, so you can expect an Aerodrome review in the very near future – for anyone else heading out to aviation events over the coming months, please do let us have your pictures, the best of which we will feature in a forthcoming edition of our blog. As usual, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org contact e-mail address for any correspondence.
So, as we find ourselves on the cusp of a new Airshow season, how can we possibly celebrate this auspicious occasion within our blog? With an early pre-season visit to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford of course, one of the most popular historic aviation sites in the world. As I just happened to be in the area recently, I took the opportunity to pay a short, but enjoyable late afternoon visit to this historic airfield, just to see what was going on. Despite blustery conditions, there was activity both on the airfield, as well as in the hangars and we will bring you a picture rich review of all the aviation goings-on I discovered, as Duxford prepares for the start of the new Airshow season and what they are hoping will see record numbers of visitors attending this historic site. As Europe prepares to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, it’s destination Duxford for the latest edition of Aerodrome.
Spiritual home of the Spitfire
The Fighter Collection’s magnificent Spitfire LF Mk.Vb EP120 is a real historic aviation star and is credited with seven confirmed enemy aircraft kills, during its WWII service career
No matter how many times you have been to the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford site previously, this hallowed corner of Cambridgeshire occupies such a significant place in the world of historic aviation that your latest visit is usually just as exciting as your first. With many of Britain’s most important preserved aircraft within its historic hangars, there is always the added benefit of possibly seeing a WWII era Warbird being dragged onto the airfield and fired up for a quick circuit or two of the airfield. With its long standing aviation reputation and arguably one of the largest collections of airworthy historic aircraft to be found anywhere in the world, the opportunity to enjoy a little pre-Airshow season Duxford visit is definitely something to look forward to, especially if this would also be your first check-in of the year. This was the situation I found myself in recently, when in the Cambridgeshire area on business and having a couple of hours free before setting off on my long journey back home – a slight aviation detour was just what the doctor ordered and I can officially announce that my 2019 Duxford duck has now been well and truly broken.
Even though Britain’s population of airworthy Supermarine Spitfires continues to grow with each passing year, there is still something truly special about seeing one of these most famous fighting aeroplanes at what many people consider to be its spiritual home. With Duxford welcoming the very first RAF Spitfires during the summer of 1938, the airfield went on to be either the home station of, or temporary haven for many hundreds of Spitfires during the wartime years and has also been associated with the restoration and post war operation of the aircraft, as it became an important component in the UK Warbird scene. For these reasons, it was particularly fitting that the first aircraft I saw on the airfield after leaving the main reception building was one of Mitchell’s aviation masterpieces, sitting in the sunshine outside the always interesting Aircraft Restoration Company facility, at the M11 end of the airfield. Spitfire Mk.IX TD314 is owned and operated by Aero Legends and regularly takes part in flight experience operations, allowing members of the public to fly along side this aviation classic, taking pictures from the slightly roomier interior of their de Havilland Dove.
It is rather fitting that the first aircraft I saw during this inaugural Duxford visit of 2019 was a Supermarine Spitfire, an aircraft type which has such a strong connection with this historic airfield
This Spitfire was built as a high level interceptor HFIXe variant at the famous Castle Bromwich factory in 1944 and was one of the final ‘high back’ Spitfires to be manufactured, before production switched to low back, teardrop canopy versions. The fighter’s first squadron posting was with RAF No.183 (Gold Coast) Squadron in June 1945, however this would prove to be a very short assignment, as the squadron quickly converted to the Hawker Tempest. TD314 would join No.234 Squadron at Bentwaters later in 1945 and the colours she wore during this period are the ones the aircraft is presented in to this day. Undoubtedly one of her most notable achievements was to be one of the aircraft which took part in the 1945 Battle of Britain flypast over London, where almost 300 aircraft marked the achievements of Fighter Command pilots during this mighty aerial struggle, which took place only five years earlier.
As the RAF was moving into the jet age, the majority of TD314’s operational flying would take place in the colours of the South African Air Force and in early 1948, she embarked on an ocean voyage to her new home. Little is known about her SAAF service, but her remains were discovered in a Johannesburg scrap yard in 1969 and purchased by a Warbird collector, with the intention of ultimately returning her to flying condition. Aero Legends eventually acquired the aircraft in 2011 and immediately embarked on a concerted programme of restoration to finally see this Spitfire returning to the air once more. Her first post restoration flight took place on 7th December 2013, from the famous RAF Battle of Britain airfield at Biggin Hill and she took here place in the Aero Legends fleet, immediately becoming one of the most accessible Spitfires in Europe. She carries the name ‘St George’ which is proudly displayed on the side of her fuselage and as well as becoming a popular performer at UK Airshows, is also the star of many an enthusiast Spitfire experience day, usually operating from Headcorn airfield in Kent.
Many enthusiasts who visit Duxford will usually head for the ARCo M11 end of the airfield first, as there is always something interesting to see outside these hangars. On this visit, the magnificent Bristol Blenheim was keeping one of the British Antarctic Survey Twin Otters company
As the activity around Duxford begins to pick up pace in advance of the impending Airshow season, the Spitfire positioned outside the ARCo hangar was joined by British Antarctic Survey de Havilland Twin Otter VP-FAZ ‘Ice Cold Katy’ and famous Bristol Blenheim Mk.I(F) L6739. As this is Duxford, it wasn’t too long before a second Spitfire joined TD314.
A Spitfire made for two
Although the idea of a training Spitfire seems valid for an aircraft which was one of the most heavily produced fighters of WWII, these aircraft were only officially produced in any numbers following the end of the war
Learning to fly Britain’s most famous fighter during the Second World War was something of a lengthy, regimented process, progressing from ground based instruction, to time on a Tiger Moth and then a North American Harvard, before you were ready to sit at the controls of this capable fighter. Significantly, your first solo flight in a Spitfire would also be your first flight and there was definitely no room for error. The idea of building a two seat training version of the Spitfire was first explored in around 1941 and whilst the benefits of such an introduction were unquestionable, the project did not receive official Air Ministry endorsement as they feared production interruption of the existing Spitfire manufacturing programme. Historic wartime pictures exist of desert Spitfire ES127 sporting a second cockpit some time later, as operated by No.261 Squadron in Sicily, however, this was not a dual control machine and was simply used as something of a squadron 'hack' aircraft. In addition to this, it is known that the Russian Air Force modified several of their Spitfires to dual seat training configuration, but the first genuine Vickers produced Spitfire trainers did not appear in UK skies until 1946. Build as a private company venture, MT818 was bought back by Vickers in February 1945 and converted to a Type 502 Spitfire T.Mk.VIII two seat demonstrator. It would be used to display the concept of the two seat Spitfire and was also a regular performer at Air Races across the country. Unfortunately, as the RAF was re-equipping with jet powered aircraft, their indifference to a two seat training Spitfire remained.
Interest in producing a two seat training version of the Spitfire was resurrected during the late 1940s and a number of Mk.IX airframes underwent conversion to this configuration, however they would not be destined for Royal Air Force use. Ten were ordered by the Indian Air Force, six by the Irish Air Corps and three by the Dutch Air Force – a single aircraft was also ordered by the Egyptian Air Force. Although still retaining the famous Spitfire lineage, these aircraft initially failed to command the same attention as the fighter which had saved Britain during the Second World War - their day in the aviation spotlight would arguably come many years later. Public awareness of the ‘Training Spitfire’ probably resulted from the high profile restoration of ML407, ‘The Grace Spitfire’, which was rescued from the Strathallan Collection Museum in 1979 by its new owner Nick Grace, who returned the former RAF single seat fighter and Irish Air Corps trainer to airworthy condition during a high-profile, five year restoration programme. Flown by Nick and subsequently his wife (and son, many years later), following his tragic death after bring involved in a motoring accident, this Spitfire went on to become one of the most famous historic aircraft in the world and a real crowd puller wherever she appeared.
The popularity of Spitfire experience flights has dictated that many recent Spitfire restorations have resulted in the production of two seat variants of this famous fighter
Over the past few years, official regulations have allowed operators to offer passenger flights in these classic Warbirds and there is a seemingly never ending queue of people eager to experience the thrill of flying in Britain’s most famous aircraft. Clearly a lucrative business for Spitfire owners, interest in taking a Spitfire flight has become so popular that many operators have full order books for many months ahead, with recent Spitfire restoration projects increasingly favouring the production of two seat variants for that reason. Something of a post war aviation phenomenon, the Spitfire trainer has certainly witnessed something of a renaissance over the past few years.
The two seat Spitfire which appeared outside the ARCo hangars a little later in the afternoon, during my recent Duxford visit was Mk.IXT NH341 ‘Elizabeth’, another famous aircraft operated by Aero Legends. Yet another former wartime Spitfire build at Castle Bromwich, NH341 was constructed as a low altitude LF.IXe fighter and was delivered to No.411 (Grizzly Bear) Squadron of the RCAF in the days following the D-Day landings. Flying from its forward operating base in Normandy, the aircraft would go on to fly 27 combat sorties with the squadron, between 14th June and 2nd July and was credited with the destruction of two Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. On its 27th and final sortie, the aircraft was lost following combat with a large number of Luftwaffe Fw 190 fighters in the Caen area, with her pilot managing to escape unharmed from the incident. The wreckage of the aircraft was recovered many years later and spend some time displayed in several museums in the Normandy area, but thankfully, this was not to be the end of this Spitfire’s story. Rescued from her museum incarceration, the fuselage of NH341 arrived at Duxford airfield in 2015 and embarked on a concerted restoration programme in the hands of Historic Flying Limited. The rebuild to flying condition involved converting this former single seat fighter to two seat trainer configuration, further swelling the world’s population of these increasingly popular aircraft and allowing even more people the opportunity to boast some Spitfire time in their bragging log books.
TFC’s ultimate biplane pair
One of the most interesting restoration projects in the world, the sight of this beautiful Fiat CR.42 in this complete condition only serves to increase the excitement levels still further. Will we get the chance to see the Fiat flying with its RAF counterpart, the Gloster Gladiator?
As evocative an experience as seeing Spitfires at Duxford may well be, the airfield is also home to a great many other aircraft, most of which are much loved museum exhibits, but also an increasing number of others which are either maintained in airworthy condition, or undergoing restoration to hopefully claim this status in the future. Undoubtedly, every enthusiast will have their own particular aviation favourites, however few would argue that two of Britain’s most interesting aviation projects reside in Hangar 2 at Duxford, an area which is colloquially known amongst the enthusiast fraternity as the 'TFC hangar'. Representing a glorious period of aviation and also the very pinnacle of aviation technology at a time just prior to the introduction of aircraft such as the Spitfire, both the Gloster Gladiator and the Fiat CR.42 Falco are regarded as two of the world’s most capable biplane fighters and deadly adversaries during the early stages of the North African campaign. With both aircraft so evenly matched, any combat engagement between these two aircraft would usually be decided by the capability and bravery of the respective pilots and it is interesting to note that this rivalry continues to this day at Duxford, as restored examples of both aircraft now reside only metres from each other in the same hangar.
A particularly handsome looking aeroplane, the Duxford based Fighter Collection have owned their example of the Fiat CR.42 since 1995, when they embarked on one of the most ambitious restoration projects in the world at that time. Originally a Swedish Air Force machine, the aircraft had crashed into a hillside whilst flying in bad weather and lay at the crash site for over forty years relatively undisturbed. The wreckage was recovered by a Swedish team in 1983 using a helicopter to lift it and an attempt was made to begin a long and arduous restoration project, a project which in the end proved to be too much for the team. With years of experience in the restoration of Warbirds behind them, news that TFC had acquired the Falco excited the aviation world and the tantalising prospect of seeing one of these capable biplane fighters in the air once more seemed only a matter of time. Since then, the size and complexity of this project has become apparent, with the rarity of this aircraft requiring many of the components needed during restoration having to be manufactured, rather than sourced. Indeed, much of the major restoration work has been carried out away from Duxford, with the fuselage rebuild taking place in Italy and Vintage Fabrics at Audley End bringing their own expertise to the project over recent years.
With its unique and flamboyant colour scheme, the Fiat is destined to become a firm favourite on the UK Airshow scene
In an exciting development, the CR.42 made its public Airshow debut at the 2018 Flying Legends Airshow, where it looked absolutely resplendent under clear blue Cambridgeshire skies, even though it was only a static aircraft attraction. It has been finished in the striking colours of a Regia Aeronautica aircraft which took part in the Battle of Britain and everyone who was fortunate enough to see it over the show weekend, would have been hoping that it would not be long before this beautiful fighter could take its place in a future Duxford Airshow. Sadly, the Falcao does not appear to have advanced beyond this first triumphant public appearance, underlining the difficulties the restoration team have endured throughout the Fiat CR.42 project and how challenging it is to obtain the final components necessary to see this fighter embark on its post restoration test flight programme. When that glorious day arrives, there will be great excitement within the TFC team and the wider Warbird community, as this will be the only airworthy example of this famous Italian fighter anywhere in the world.
The direct RAF equivalent of the Fiat CR.42 was the Gloster Gladiator, without doubt one of the most beautiful fighting aeroplanes ever to see service. Despite representing the very zenith of biplane fighter design and incorporating many advanced technological innovations for its time, the Gladiator occupies a strange position in the history of British aviation, as the best of its breed, yet classed as obsolete only months after the first aircraft entered Royal Air Force service. Securing several sizeable overseas orders, the Gladiator would see service during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, but enjoyed its greatest aerial successes in the air battles over North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The Gloster Gladiator is definitely one of my favourite aircraft and UK enthusiasts are fortunate to be the only people in the world to have access to two (usually) airworthy examples of this ultimate biplane fighter. Unfortunately, as this picture confirms, it may be some time before we are able to see TFC’s Gladiator thrilling Airshow crowds again
The Fighter Collection’s Gladiator Mk.II (N5903) was thought to have spent a short time with No.141 Squadron in Scotland, before spending the majority of WWII in storage. It was later sent back to Gloster Aircraft Co. for conversion to meteorological survey work configuration (interestingly along with Britain’s other airworthy Gladiator L8032 of the Shuttleworth Collection), however this work was never started and both aircraft were simply left abandoned at the site. After the war, N5903 was used as a support aircraft during the restoration of Shuttleworth Gladiator L8032, but was acquired by the Fighter Collection in 1994, another of their long term project for restoration to airworthy condition. Making its first post restoration flight in 2008, just days before that year’s Flying Legends Airshow, this beautiful Gladiator is now one of the most popular aircraft in the TFC fleet and the star of many a Duxford show. Rarely appearing at events away from Duxford, the Gladiator has only recently returned to Duxford, having experienced some engine related issues whilst attending a display in France last year. Arriving back having been transported by road, the operation required the aircraft to be de-rigged and the wings removed, before being loaded on the back of a trailer for a rather inglorious return to the UK. Still wearing its protective covers, the Gladiator is has yet to have its wings re-attached and is looking a little sorry for itself as it looks on at all its sister aircraft receiving their final winter maintenance checks, before they embark on the latest Airshow season – it remains to be seen if the Gladiator will be taking part in any of the years proceedings. In an interesting aviation dichotomy, the former wartime rivalry contested by the Gladiator and Fiat CR.42 has been replaced by a peace-time race to gain airworthy status - we have yet to see whether we will ever witness the magnificent sight of both these historic aircraft flying together in the skies above Duxford.
Classic Canadian trainer takes to the air
The only historic aircraft to take to the skies during my visit was this handsome North American Yale, which will hopefully be a more active participant on the Airshow circuit following its recent change of ownership
Closely resembling the famous North American Harvard, the NA.64 Yale was an advanced monoplane training aircraft which first flew in early 1940 and was produced for the French Air Force and Aeronavale, who were searching for a capable and modern training aircraft for their pilot training programme. Only 111 of these aircraft had been delivered by the time France surrendered to the invading Germans, so the remaining aircraft were re-directed to Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The aircraft would go on to provide invaluable pilot training support for thousands of Allied pilots destined for wartime operations, but also for many Luftwaffe pilots who could potentially be sent to face them. In a strange wartime development, aircraft commandeered by the Luftwaffe following the surrender of France were used to train pilots engaged in the flying of captured Allied aircraft, preparing them for the coming challenge of evaluating enemy aeroplanes.
Although initially appearing outwardly similar to the T-6 Texan/Harvard which preceeded it, the Yale (name given to the NA.64 in Canadian service) has some distinct differences against its more famous stablemate, which once pointed out, aid with easy identification. The Yale has a different tail profile and outer wing sections from those employed on the Harvard, however the most distinctive identifier is the aircraft’s adoption of a fixed undercarriage, a feature which would hamper the performance of the aircraft quite significantly. Indeed, compared to the earlier Harvard, the Yale could be a challenging aircraft to fly, as it possessed some adverse handling characteristics which could catch out all but the most experienced of pilots. This issue became of such concern that the Yale was quickly relegated to other training roles, such as that of radio operator trainer, where an experienced pilot would fly the aircraft at all times, with the student simply required to handle the on-board electronic equipment.
The NA.64 Yale bears a clear resemblance to the Texan/Harvard, however closer inspection reveals some distinct differences. Significantly, this is one of the rarest WWII era aircraft on the European Airshow circuit
Although perhaps not as enigmatic as either a Spitfire or Mustang, the pretty little Yale is destined to become a much loved aircraft on the UK Airshow scene
This particular Yale was restored to flying condition in 1980, following its disposal by the Royal Canadian Air Force and would go on to appear at a number of Airshow and fly-in events in North America over the next nine years. She was sold to a collector in Europe in 1989, where she once again proved to be a popular and quite regular Airshow attendee over the next ten years. Wearing its authentic RCAF training colours and the markings 3349, the Yale made its first UK appearance at an Air Britain fly-in at North Weald in 1998 and the following year arrived at Duxford, where she underwent a complete overhaul, in an attempt to bring the aircraft in line with current operating regulations. Making her first post restoration flight in 2006, the Yale would prove to be rather elusive over the next ten years, rarely venturing from the security of her hanger, much to the disappointment of Britain’s aviation enthusiasts. Offered for sale towards the end of 2017, it is hoped that the aircraft’s new owner will be keen to show off his attractive new purchase at Airshows around the country, particularly as this is now an extremely rare aeroplane indeed. During my recent Duxford visit, the Yale was the only aircraft to get airborne during the afternoon, as it made several circuits of the airfield, including practice take off and landings – it appears that this classic trainer is potentially preparing for a busy summer of flying activity.
This final selection of images were all taken during my latest visit to Duxford and illustrate how there is always something interesting to see at this extremely famous historic aviation venue. At this time of year, it is always interesting to see the engineering activity taking place on aircraft we will hopefully be admiring at Duxford’s busy summer schedule of Airshows and events to come, as well as catching up with some of the longer term restoration projects within the confines of its famous hangars. As many Aerodrome readers will be preparing to attend their first Airshow of the season this coming weekend, this early season Duxford review will hopefully put us all in the mood for some Airshow action, as we officially pronounce the 2019 Airshow season well and truly open!
One of the largest aircraft I managed to catch up with during my visit at Duxford was Consolidated Catalina ‘Miss Pick Up’, who was being prepared for her starring role at this coming weekend’s Shuttleworth show
Sticking with the ‘big birds’, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ is something of a UK Aviation stalwart and one aircraft we should all try and support during the summer months. Buy memorabilia from their support vehicle, or donate to her future operation, to help keep this magnificent aircraft in the UK, as American operators continue to covet her avariciously
No visit to Duxford is complete without a checking on the current status of the Fighter Collection’s unique Bristol Beaufighter restoration
This next series of images show some of the maintenance work which is currently taking place in the TFC hangar, in preparation for the coming Airshow season. The imposing FG-1D Corsair definitely qualifies as one of the most capable fighters of WWII
Another product of the Grumman design team, the Wildcat has a significant history of British service and is one of TFC’s most popular performers
The Merlin engine of this Curtiss P-40F Warhawk receives some last minute tlc from the TFC engineers. This aircraft is one of only two airworthy Merlin powered Warhawks in the world
A longer term restoration project, this Hawker Sea Fury is not destined to take its place in an Airshow line-up for some years to come
Another look at the Gloster Gladiator, looking a little sorry for itself as its hangar-mates prepare for the first Duxford show of the year
Breaking away from the airworthy aircraft hangar, Duxford’s Sea Vixen has been ready to greet 2019 visitors since the turn of the year and whilst it will never take to the skies again, is a particularly striking aviation exhibit at the site
Directly opposite the Sea Vixen, this imposing Blackburn Buccaneer is presented in the colours of RAF No.208 Squadron
Playing its effective role as the enemy at many an Airshow, this Hispano Buchon is looking eager to get on the tails of Spitfires and Mustangs this summer
This beautiful US based Mustang made the trip to Duxford to star in last years Flying Legends Airshow and many enthusiasts will be delighted to see it is still here on the eve of the 2019 season
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, 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 email@example.com, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 17th May, when we look forward to seeing you all back here for more aviation indulgence.
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