Hurricane away day and Vampire at night
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.
As we all know, this year has turned out to be very different to anything any of us have experienced before and not in a good way. When almost every aspect of daily life has been forced to change, little things like our hobbies and interests seem to be rather inconsequential, but in a strange sort of way, they have never been more important. The ability to take yourself away from everyday pressures and frustrations, immersing yourself in a subject you are passionate about, even for just a few minutes, is a thing you just can’t put a price on and has been something many of us have been thankful for over the past few months. Unfortunately, for the aviation enthusiast, we thought this year would be a spectacular commemoration of the heroes of the Battle of Britain, with a packed Airshow season and a memorable collection of photographs as a result, but that has proved not to be the case. Everyone has been forced to be a little more creative this year, including historic aircraft operators and event organisers, with enthusiasts having to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we take a look at two enjoyable aviation related events which have taken place recently, both of which may serve as indicators to the way our hobby and the subject of historic aviation in general, may have to adapt in the years to come. The first event saw the Historic Aircraft Collection’s popular Hawker Hurricane XII basing itself at Blackpool Airport for a few days, a guest of the Hangar 42 Spitfire Visitor Centre team, where it was the star attraction at a specially arranged photoshoot event. The second review comes from Coventry Airport and an occasion which was intriguingly titled ‘Goblin & Griffons - An evening photographic event’, where a former RAF jet trainer and a massive maritime patrol aircraft both took centre stage. Illustrated with photographs taken at both events, join us as we prove that the British historic aviation scene is alive and well, if in need of a little additional enthusiast support.
HAC Hurricane honours our overseas ‘Few’
A Blackpool away day for the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane, with the team preparing her to meet her adoring public
An aircraft which has to be regarded as a true stalwart of the UK Airshow scene, Hawker Hurricane Mk.XIIa 5711 G-HURI has been owned and operated by the Duxford based Historic Aircraft Collection since they acquired the aircraft in 2002, regularly appearing at displays up and down the country either by itself, or as a pair with its HAC sister ship, Supermarine Spitfire Vb BM597. A Canadian built example of the Hurricane, the aircraft was essentially a Mk.II variant constructed by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company, at Fort William, Ontario, but powered by a Packard Merlin XXIX engine. Some of the Hurricanes built in Canada featured an impressive twelve 0.303 machine gun armament and if you look at the leading edge of this particular aircraft’s wing, you can clearly see the red fabric gun patches covering six gun holes in each wing - these Hurricanes packed a real offensive punch.
Serving mainly in a training capacity during its wartime RCAF career, this Hurricane was eventually struck off charge in 1947, when it was bought by a farmer who removed the wings and engine, storing the aircraft in one of his outbuildings and stripping the Merlin engine for parts. That is were it remained until purchased by a group of aircraft preservation enthusiasts in 1964 and later coming under the ownership of a Canadian Aviation Museum. The aircraft underwent a lengthy restoration to flying condition in Canada, which culminated in a triumphant first post restoration flight in 1989, where it was finished in the wartime markings of an RAF No.71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron aircraft.
This image clearly shows the gun patches covering the ports on this aircraft, marking this as a twelve gun Canadian Hurricane
Purchased by the Historic Aircraft Collection in 2002, their new Hurricane immediately underwent a further period of maintenance and repairs, before being unleashed on the UK historic aviation scene eighteen months later, where she went on to become a much loved addition to Britain’s Warbird community and an Airshow regular. The aircraft’s new scheme presented her as Gloster built Hurricane IIB Z5140, an aircraft which was delivered to Malta in June 1941, flying off HMS Ark Royal as part of ‘Operation Rocket’. Once on the Island, the Hurricane flew operationally from RAF Takali in the markings of RAF No.126 Squadron, whose fuselage codes were HA - as this was aircraft ‘C’, the HA-C codes were likely selected as they were an acronym of her new owners. Famously, this Malta connection was further enhanced in September 2005 when the ‘Merlins over Malta’ project took this aircraft and HAC’s Spitfire BM597 back to Malta, the first time a Hurricane had been seen over the Island since the end of the Second World War.
A further scheme change was unveiled in 2015, in order to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and continuing HAC’s proud association with Polish airmen fighting in the Royal Air Force during WWII. This time, the aircraft was posing as Hurricane Mk.I P3700 RF-E, a fighter flown by pilot Sgt Kazimierz Wunsche of No.303 (Polish) Squadron on 9th September 1940, which was damaged in combat with a Messerschmitt Bf 109E over Beachy Head. Although the aircraft was destroyed when crashing on to farmland in Kent, the pilot managed to escape by parachute, sustaining only superficial injuries.
The Polish connection continues
For many, this was the first opportunity we had to see this magnificent aircraft since it had been presented in the Battle of Britain markings of Czech RAF No.303 Squadron ace Josef Frantiszek
Building on their already long established links with Poland, the Historic Aircraft Collection announced the establishment of the Polish Heritage Flight in November 2019, with events planned both here in the UK and across Europe aimed at educating and commemorating the significant contribution made by Polish military personnel in British units during WWII, with a particular emphasis on Polish aircrew. With this year marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the opportunity was once again taken to present their Hurricane in a different scheme, this time that of another No.303 (Polish) Squadron aircraft, but one flown by a famous Czech fighter ace.
By the time Czech pilot Josef Frantiszek arrived in Britain on 21st June 1940, he had already seen action in Poland and France, but with the war appearing to be following him, he was still keen to continue the fight. Immediately sent to Blackpool to report to the Polish Air Force Depot (as he had arrived with many Polish airmen), he would later be given the rank of Sergeant and assigned to No.303 Squadron, a new unit made up almost entirely of Polish pilots. His initial training did not always go as smoothly as he would have liked, as language differences were always going to be a challenge, as were the strange aircraft they were required to fly - some had controls which operated in the opposite direction to the aircraft they had been trained on. This may have led to an error of judgement on 8th August 1940 which resulted in a rather unfortunate incident. Following the end of a training flight, Frantiszek was bringing his Hurricane back in for a landing at his new base at Northolt, but forgot to lower his undercarriage, resulting in the aircraft belly landing on the grass strip. Although he was uninjured, the aircraft was a write-off, with the episode incurring the wrath of his commanding officer. Quite an inauspicious start for an airman who would go on to be one of the RAF’s most successful aces only weeks later.
With the hangar doors open, it was a time for brute force as the Hurricane needed to be pushed to its display position, under the watchful eye of pilot Dave Harvey
On 30th August 1940, the pilots of No.303 (Polish) Squadron were conducting a training flight with their Commanding Officer over Hertfordshire, when they sighted a large formation of enemy aircraft below. Two of the Polish pilots reported the sighting to their Flight Leader and immediately peeled away to attack the German aircraft, managing to shoot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 during the ensuing combat. On landing back at RAF Northolt, the pilots were severely reprimanded by their Commanding Officer, before he went on to congratulate them on their victory. The next day, the Polish pilots of No.303 Squadron were granted operational status and on that first day of combat operations, managed to shoot down six Luftwaffe fighters in a frenetic 15 minutes of fighting, without suffering loss to their own numbers.
That first day of operations for No.303 Squadron proved to be Fighter Command’s most costly day during the Battle of Britain and arguably the closest the nation came to defeat. Similarly, it could also be argued that this day marked a turning point in the battle and the start of a chain of events which would result in the RAF emerging victorious. Despite their relatively late entry into the fighting, the determined Polish airmen of No.303 Squadron would go on to become the most successful Fighter Command unit of the entire Battle of Britain, scoring nearly three times the number of victories posted by other RAF squadrons. In just 42 days of fighting, No.303 (Polish) Squadron accounted for at least 126 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed, with nine of the unit’s pilots earning the coveted status of air ‘Ace’.
A Czech amongst this new Polish Squadron, Josef Frantiszek possessed an extremely aggressive fighting style and was even described as a ‘lone wolf’ whilst flying, something which did not always ingratiate him to either his commanding officers, or his squadron mates. Despite this, it didn’t take long before his combat record began to speak for itself - scoring his first victory over the Luftwaffe on 2nd September 1940, before the month was out, he would have an impressive total of seventeen confirmed victories to his name. This incredible figure in less than a month of combat not only made Frantiszek the top scoring pilot in No.303 Squadron, but also the most successful RAF pilot of the Battle of Britain. Flying Hawker Hurricane Mk.I R4175 RF-R to claim seven of these victories, this would prove to be his most productive fighter and is the livery in which the Historic Aircraft Collection have elected to make their latest livery tribute to the pilots of No.303 Squadron.
The main attraction, the HAC/Hangar 42 teams ensured we had plenty of photo opportunities for the gathered attendees
The constant combat flying during this crucial period of the Battle of Britain must have taken its toll on a great many pilots, both Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe and Josef Frantiszek was no exception. His squadron comrades noticed a distinct change in his demeanour by the beginning of October, claiming that he seemed restless and almost afraid to stay on the ground. Volunteering for every combat sortie or standing patrol he could get himself on, the 8th October would prove to be a dark day in the short history of 303 Squadron. Whilst engaged on a patrol over southern England with a flight of 303 Squadron Hurricanes, Frantiszek inexplicably broke formation and headed off at high speed - this was the last time he was seen by any of his squadron mates. His body was found later lying next to his wrecked Hurricane in a field near Ewell in Surrey, with the cause of the crash being just one of the many mysteries of the Second World War. In just a single month of combat flying, Josef Frantiszek had already made a huge contribution to the Allied war effort, helping to repel the Luftwaffe and buying Britain and the free world valuable time to continue flying.
A Hurricane coup for Hangar 42
The historic significance of having an RAF No.303 (Polish) Squadron liveried Hurricane Fighter at Blackpool’s former RAF Squires Gate airfield in this 80th Anniversary year of the Battle of Britain was certainly not lost on the committed members of the Lythan St Annes Spitfire Display Team. Their magnificent Hangar 42 facility at Blackpool Airport is the culmination of many years of hard work by a relatively small team of people and has been the subject of two previous Aerodrome blogs which can be found HERE and HERE, should you wish to find out more. This year has been devastating for aviation and historic groups such as the Spitfire Display Team, as a significant anniversary year should have seen them arranging multiple events and as a result, hopefully seeing a much needed injection of income to see them through the foreseeable future. As we all know, that has not turned out to be the case, so any event which could be safely arranged under the current measures has to be a bonus.
The Blackpool and Kirkham area played a significant role during the Second World War, not only in providing training for millions of service personnel, but also as a staging post for over 200,000 Polish nationals who came to Britain in the aftermath of the German invasion of their homeland. The town would also be the processing depot for the Free Polish Air Force from 1940 and the location from where the famous RAF No.303 (Polish) Squadron would be formed in July 1940. The unit quickly moved down to their assigned airfield at Northolt, in Middlesex, however, their strong links to the Blackpool area remain.
Incredibly, the huge contribution made by the Polish airmen who fought their way to Britain during 1940 allowed the Royal Air Force to establish fifteen complete squadrons manned by Polish personnel during the Second World War, something which proved invaluable during the struggles which lay ahead.
That was not an end to the local links associated with the temporary relocation of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s No.303 Squadron liveried Hurricane fighter to Hangar 42 at Blackpool. Experienced Warbird pilot David Harvey, the man who has a great many hours flying this Hurricane under his belt, is a Lytham man, so this temporary relocation would have undoubtedly been a special occasion for him as well. Dave was on hand at Hangar 42 throughout the aircraft’s stay, both to ensure she was cared for in the style in which she had become accustomed and also to oversee any of the events where members of the public were allowed access to the hangar. Significantly for this photoshoot event, Dave guided the ground team in removing and returning his historic charge from their hangar facility and manhandling it across the hardstanding/ taxiway to a position where it could safely take its place as a photoshoot highlight.
A final HAC Hurricane walk-around. Their magnificent Battle of Britain RAF No.303 (Polish) Squadron 80th Anniversary tribute was a real treat to see, especially in these surroundings which have historic links to the squadron and under such beautiful skies. This was a special event for the entire Blackpool and Fylde coast area
The afternoon also saw the aircraft running her engine for the benefit of the gathered photographers, so Dave was also on hand to provide both the essential safety briefing and to let everyone know exactly what he would be doing and what we could expect to happen. Unusually, all these aviation delights were carried out under glorious blue skies, something which you certainly can’t guarantee in this part of the world - wonders never cease!
Later in the afternoon, when the Hurricane had been returned to the mouth of the hangar, viewing steps were placed next to the aircraft and Dave invited people onto the fighter’s wing for a closer look in the aircraft’s cockpit and to answer the myriad of questions we enthusiasts had. In his own inimitable style, he made everything about flying a rare and expensive Warbird sound like a walk in the park, but as he is a former RAF front line jet and display pilot, we mere mortals were not convinced - we are better off leaving this sort of business to the experts.
For local enthusiasts, this was a fabulous opportunity to obtain some great pictures of the HAC Hurricane in her recently applied and probably rather temporary new markings, particularly with the Czech roundel detail which has been added to the starboard side fuselage, just under the cockpit. In the markings of the Hurricane in which Josef Frantiszek scored seven of his seventeen victories during a frenetic September back in the summer of 1940 and knowing the historic links between Blackpool and No.303 Squadron, this was a truly memorable occasion and definitely on of the highlights of this unusual year. Even though this aircraft will be familiar to millions of people, the chance to spend a little quality time with her, away from the usual chaos of an Airshow event was a real treat and left me hoping that in future, more events like this will be arranged for the benefit of enthusiasts.
A most enjoyable afternoon was had by all and my thanks go out to the Historic Aircraft Collection team and Hangar 42 for arranging an event which will live long in the memories of those who attended.
Aviation classics light up Coventry Airport
Aviation fireworks were in evidence at the recent photoshoot event held at Coventry Airport
For the aviation enthusiasts, specially arranged photographic events have been a little thin on the ground this year, so when news started to circulate that two of the groups operating from Coventry Airport were planning to host a joint evening photoshoot event this month, I along with many others, jumped at the opportunity. With Halloween just around the corner, the imaginatively titled ‘Goblin & Griffons - An evening photographic event’ was enough to arouse my interest, especially as two of the country’s most impressive preserved historic aircraft were going to be the stars of this particular show. Perhaps the biggest draw for this event was not going to be the sight of these beautiful aircraft, but the sounds they make - with one being a powerful multi-piston engined maritime patrol aircraft and the other being an early RAF jet trainer, these two contrasting aviation sounds were going to be a real treat for the senses.
Possessing an aviation legacy which goes back to the famous Lancaster bomber of WWII, the Avro Shackleton was an extremely capable long range maritime patrol aircraft, which also served in the roles of Airborne Early Warning, submarine detection/attack and Air Sea Rescue. Powered by four Rolls Royce Griffon engines, the Shackleton also employed contra-rotating propellers, in an effort to maximise the power output from her engines - the incredible noise generated by this engine/propeller combination earned the aircraft its iconic nickname, ‘The Growler’.
The aircraft which is owned and operated by the Shackleton Aviation Group is MR2 WR963, an aeroplane which first flew in March 1954 and one which would go on to see 37 years of spectacularly successful service with the Royal Air Force. During her service as an airborne early warning AEW.2 aircraft with No.8 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, WR963 was given the name ‘Ermintrude’ - twelve Shackleton airframes were converted to AEW Mk.2 standard and operated in the colours of No.8 Squadron, originally at RAF Kinloss in early 1972, but moving to nearby Lossiemouth following the completion of significant runway strengthening works. One particularly endearing feature of Britain’s AEW.2 Shackleton fleet was the fact that each of the twelve aircraft was given the name of a characters from one of two children’s TV programmes of the period, either from ‘The Magic Roundabout’, or ‘The Herbs’. The aircraft would also feature artwork depicting their respective character, usually applied under the cockpit window. Originally envisaged as a stop-gap arrangement, these twelve aircraft would go on to provide Britain with almost 19 years of effective airborne early warning cover, with the final Shackletons only retiring in June 1991.
Fire breathing dragon, the mighty Shackleton is still able to enthral an audience, thanks to the skill and dedication of members of the Shackleton Aviation Group
As the RAF finally relinquished their remaining Shackletons, two aircraft, WR963 and WL790 were bought at a military auction and delivered to their new home at Coventry Airport, where the intention was to return at least one of them to the UK Airshow circuit. Much has happened since then, but unfortunately, a Shackleton in private hands has yet to appear at a UK Airshow and with the eye-watering costs and legislative requirements associated with such a development being so significant, it will be a significant challenge to make such a thing happen.
Thankfully for Shackleton WR963, she has a loyal band of supporters who are dedicated to her wellbeing and they were only too pleased to host us for this specially arranged photographic event. The Shackleton Aviation Group do still have ambitions to see their beloved aircraft take to the skies once more, in addition to performing fast taxy runs down the length of Coventry’s runway, but for the moment, they are content with lavishing as much care and attention on the aircraft as time and funds allow. On special occasions throughout the year, they manage to captivate small groups of enthusiasts by firing up all four of the aircraft’s Griffon engines proving that there is still much life left in this old aviation girl.
There can be no doubt that the imposing sight of a beautifully preserved Avro Shackleton is reason enough for many enthusiasts to get excited, but when her engines fire into life, this aircraft takes on and entirely different persona. With the unique cacophony of four growling Griffons and the ground literally trembling under your feet, you know that you are in the presence of a monster of an aeroplane and fortunate to still be able to enjoy such an experience. With all four engines turning, it isn’t difficult to imagine this magnificent aircraft releasing her chocks and trundling towards the main runway at Coventry and roaring into the air once more - well, we can only hope.
Night date with a Vampire
We were lucky to catch this beautiful de Havilland Vampire T.II heading out for a currency flight in advance of the nightshoot event taking place
When talking about the subject of unique preserved and airworthy British aircraft in existence today, there is one which stands head and shoulders above the rest when referring to classic jet aviation, the stunningly beautiful de Havilland Vampire T.II. Surely one of the best looking jet aircraft to ever see Royal Air Force service, the Vampire T.II trainer shared the same impressively stable flight handling characteristics as the single seat variant of the aircraft and proved to be the ideal platform to introduce student pilots to the challenges of high speed jet powered flight. The aircraft was also the first advanced jet trainer to adopt a side-by-side seating arrangement for student and instructor, which allowed the student to be more confident during the flight and the instructor to have a much clearer view of what his student was up to.
To achieve this configuration, the cockpit area of the aircraft had to be widened, giving the fuselage pod something of an egg shaped appearance. This increase in frontal area necessitated several additional modifications to the airframe, but the T.II was essentially a classic Vampire, just one made for two people. In many cases, when you adapt existing aircraft designs to suit a new purpose, it can often result in something of a hybrid aeroplane, one which isn’t quite as appealing to the eye as the original. This was most certainly not the case with the de Havilland Vampire T.II trainer, it was a little cracker! The aircraft’s stunning good looks probably ensured that this became the most popular version of the Vampire in the eyes of the enthusiast, even though it would be the final variant of this aircraft series. Its operational effectiveness is underlined by the fact that almost 800 Vampire trainers were built, with the aircraft going on to serve with more than twenty of the world’s air forces and help thousands of front line pilots to gain their jet wings.
A particularly handsome aeroplane, it was a real treat to spend some quality photographic time with an aircraft which definitely doesn’t spend enough time on the UK Airshow circuit
A Vampire party piece, if you are in the right place at the right time, it is possible to catch a flaming start from the aircraft’s de Havilland Goblin engine
The Vampire Preservation Group are a non-profit making organisation who are dedicated to the preservation and operation of de Havilland Vampire T.11 WZ507 (G-VTII), a magnificent aircraft which is thought to be the only airworthy example of the type flying anywhere in the world at the moment. Appearing all too rarely at Airshows around the UK, it is difficult to understand why more show organisers are not desperate to secure this enigmatic aircraft for their event, as there is definitely renewed interest in aircraft from the Cold War era and the Vampire is a particularly good looking piece of British aviation history. As we have already seen, this year has been a particularly challenging one for owners and operators of historic aircraft and with little, if any money coming in, all fixed outgoings still have to be paid, so to see so many people turning up for this event must have delighted the Vampire’s owners. As this was just the latest in a series of similar events, it is hoped that this successful event format can provide enough income to keep everything ticking along, until things get back to something close to normality.
With this magnificent event allowing everyone in attendance the opportunity to get a little closer to what must be considered one of the jet powered jewels in Britain’s aviation crown, we were even treated to the sight of the aircraft performing a currency flight and a memorable airfield overshoot as it returned back into the landing circuit. For many though, the highlight of the day was definitely the chance to see a trademark ‘flaming’ start from the aircraft’s de Havilland Goblin engine, a powerplant which also possesses the unique whine of an early British jet engine. On the day, I was fortunate to see two engine start-ups, which was definitely more than I could have hoped for, as well as having the opportunity to photograph the aircraft both in daylight and under the cloak of darkness. Looking at the photographs above and below, it is not difficult to see why many people consider the Vampire to be one of the best looking jet aircraft on the Airshow circuit, which makes it all the more confusing as to why this aircraft doesn’t appear at more events nationwide.
There are definitely one or two benefits of accepting an evening invitation to spend a little time with a handsome Vampire - you even get to see a reflection!
Congratulations must go to the people who ensured this magnificent event was as enjoyable as it was safe and covid compliant and it just goes to show that even though events are few and far between at this moment in time, you can still find something to satisfy your aviation passion if you look hard enough. I will certainly be looking to attend future events at Coventry and to enjoy the sights and sounds of Goblins and Griffons once more.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back in four weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
In between new editions of our blog, the aviation related conversation continues over on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and we can also be contacted on either the Airfix or Corgi Facebook pages, in addition to Twitter for both Airfix and Corgi - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Aerodrome.
The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 20th November, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
Thank you so much for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog.
© Hornby Hobbies Ltd. All rights reserved.
Related product link suite
Avro Shackleton, de Havilland Vampire T.II, 1/24th scale Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, Boulton Paul Defiant, Messerschmitt Bf 109E, Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane Starter Set & de Havilland Vampire T.II Starter Set