Preparing to honour Churchill’s ‘Few’
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 speed headlong towards the end of another year, this final edition of our Aerodrome blog for 2019 will be looking forward to next year’s 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and posing the question, “How will our Royal Air Force mark this significant occasion?" By looking back at how they successfully commemorated the 75th Anniversary of this pivotal aerial struggle, we attempt to end the year with a sense of real optimism that we may be in for a very pleasant aviation surprise during the early months of 2020.
Before we begin, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has continued supporting the Aerodrome blog throughout another busy year and for helping to maintain strong readership numbers amongst our ever growing band of on-line aviation enthusiasts. In these days where increasingly accurate readership statistics challenge everything we do, I am fortunate that so many of you continue to read each and every new edition of the blog, helping to keep my creative juices flowing for another twelve months. If you have any ideas on how the blog could be improved, or wish to suggest topics for future inclusion, your feed back at email@example.com is always most welcome. Thanks again.
Wartime commemorations continue in 2020
At a time when the world appears to be marking significant wartime anniversaries with some regularity, the coming year looks set to continue this custom with two dates marking the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in both Europe and the Far East occurring in 2020. Rightly allowing the world to pay their ongoing respects to the men, women and children who fought during, or became casualties of a second Great War in just over two decades, these occasions are important in ensuring the mistakes of the past are never repeated again in the future and that deterrent and diplomacy must take the place of conflict in future international disagreements.
As arguably one of the most crucial British and Commonwealth victories of the Second World War, the UK commemorates ‘Battle of Britain Day’ on 15th September each year and marks the achievements of a relatively small number of Royal Air Force fighter pilots who faced the might of the Luftwaffe in a deadly aerial duel for supremacy of the skies above southern England. With their victory effectively changing the course of the war and directly preventing the imminent threat of a German seaborne invasion of Britain’s south coast, the exploits of the ‘Few’ continue to be regarded as the nations ‘Finest Hour’, a triumph which brought the world valuable time and eventually led to ultimate victory five years later.
The achievements and sacrifices of Fighter Command’s Battle of Britain pilots continues to inspire millions of people to this day
From an aviation enthusiasts perspective, the annual Battle of Britain commemorations help to fuel great public interest in the historic aviation movement and have brought us to a position where there are probably more airworthy examples of Spitfires and Hurricanes currently based in the UK than at any point since the years which immediately followed the end of WWII. Over the years, Battle of Britain commemorations have also resulted in several current front-line aircraft being presented in representations of 1940 Fighter Command camouflage schemes, aircraft which have gone on to become revered amongst enthusiasts, aa well as serving as high profile public relations tools for the current Royal Air Force. With 2020 marking the significant 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, many thousands of enthusiasts will be hoping that the RAF continue this popular tradition, by announcing the commissioning of a new Battle of Britain jet over the next few months.
It is a sad fact that there are now only a handful of surviving pilots and aircrew who served during the Battle of Britain remaining and the responsibility of preserving the stories of their achievements and sacrifices must now pass to the people who have been so fascinated by them in the post war years. As a young man, when I first became aware of the Battle of Britain, the heroes who had taken part in it were probably in their 50s and regularly appeared on TV in documentaries and tribute programmes. With the battle taking place only 32 years earlier, it really did seem like recent history back then and compares quite favourably with the time period since the Falklands air war took place for people now. As we are now on the eve of the battle’s 80th Anniversary, younger people will certainly have some difficulty relating to an aerial struggle which took place so long ago, however, the current Royal Air Force could play an important role in helping them make that association.
The best looking RAF Eurofighter Typhoon EVER!
As Britain prepared to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2015, most enthusiasts assumed that it would be the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which would be enthralling Airshow attendees throughout the summer months, or one of the many other restored and airworthy examples of these famous fighter aircraft Britain could boast at that time. Little did we all know that one of the RAF’s latest air superiority fighter jets would swoop in to steal the anniversary show spotlight, one which would go on to become the most sought after display act of the year and one which went by the name of GINA.
Protecting Britain’s airspace against unwanted incursion, the British Aerospace Eurofighter Typhoon is one of the world’s premier air superiority fighters and performs the same essential role as the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain did back in 1940. With their operational effectiveness the only military consideration, the aircraft are usually painted in a rather uninspiring all-over grey paint scheme, in line with many of the world’s current fighter aircraft, but in what proved to be an unexpected and extremely welcome development, one aircraft would become a colourful exception to this contemporary aviation rule.
Typhoon beauty is definitely in the eye of the aviation enthusiast beholder, but I certainly know which presentation of Britain’s air superiority fighter I prefer
Triumphantly emerging from the paint shop at RAF Coningsby in May 2015, Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349 had been finished in a spectacular Battle of Britain era style Fighter Command camouflage scheme, complete with roundels and fin flash similar to those worn by RAF fighters during the summer of 1940, making a poignant and highly attractive tribute to the ‘Few’ in the year which marked the 75th Anniversary of the battle. With pictures from the unveiling ceremony quickly circulating around the national press and enthusiast forums, tens of thousands of people were desperate to catch their first glimpse of this beautiful aeroplane, which had almost overnight assured its position as the aircraft most people wanted to see in that Battle of Britain 75th anniversary year.
Wearing the codes GN-A and displaying a rather distinctive ‘Red Devil’ emblem on the port side of the fuselage, under the cockpit canopy, the Typhoon was painted to represent Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3576 of No.249 Squadron, an aircraft which was the mount of Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson during the Battle of Britain and one which had particular significance. This is the aircraft Nicolson was flying on Friday 16th August 1940, when he was involved in actions which resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross, the only Battle of Britain pilot and indeed the only Fighter Command airman of the Second World War to be afforded such an accolade.
Victoria Cross hero Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson enjoying time with his squadron mates
On Friday 16th August 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was scrambled from RAF Boscombe Down, in Wiltshire with the rest of 249 squadron, getting airborne in his Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3576 as part of ‘Red Section’. The Hurricanes were sent to intercept an incoming raid of Messerschmitt Bf 110 Destroyers, which were approaching the Southampton dock area and forming part of a large force of attacking Luftwaffe aircraft. Flying at 17,000 feet (Angels one-seven in RAF speak), Nicolson could see a Bf 110 in front and slightly below him and immediately dived in to attack. As he was lining up his gunsight on the enemy aircraft, he felt his aircraft violently shudder, with bullets ripping into the cockpit.
Banking his Hurricane violently in an attempt to get out of the line of fire, he looked over his shoulder to see a Messerschmitt Bf 109 single engined fighter on his tail – the enemy fighters had been patrolling above the melee and had not been spotted by the British pilots. As they pressed home their attack on the twin engined Bf 110s, they were completely unaware that they themselves were being hunted.
Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was now in a fight for his life. Four cannon shells from the attacking Bf109 had struck his Hurricane, which was now badly damaged - one shell had shattered the Perspex of his canopy and a shard of the plastic was sticking in his left eyelid, causing blood to pour into his eye and temporarily blinding him. A second shell had grazed his left leg and hit him in the foot, with a third striking vital instruments in the cockpit. The fourth shell caused the most significant damage to Nicolson’s aircraft, hitting the gravity feed fuel tank of the fighter, which was positioned just behind the instrument panel. Nicolson’s Hurricane began to burn.
This next selection of images clearly illustrate why the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary RAF Typhoon proved to be such a popular Airshow performer and saw thousands of people sign a petition to force the Royal Air Force to keep GINA in her distinctive markings
In the midst of a frenetic dogfight and with his aircraft now on fire, Nicolson had to get out of his Hurricane immediately. Pulling the pin on his Sutton Harness, releasing the belts which were holding him securely in the seat of the fighter, he managed to wriggled up and prepared to abandon the aircraft. Just as he was about to jump out of his burning Hurricane, he noticed a Messerschmitt Bf 110 appear just in front of his fighter and rather than make good his escape, he instinctively climbed back into his burning aircraft. With flames licking around his hands and face, he regained control of his fighter and fired all eight guns at the Messerschmitt which now filled his gunsight, continuing to fire until the cockpit inferno around him became so intense he had to get out.
Engulfed in flames, he finally managed to jump free of his fighter and tumbled headlong towards the ground, with the rush of air helping to extinguish the flames which engulfed his flying suit. Unfortunately for Flt. Lt. Nicolson, the flames had already caused significant injuries. Despite the intense pain from his badly burnt hands, he had to try and pull the parachute ripcord or he would simply plunge to his death and after several frantic attempts, the harnesses pulled tight under his arms and the parachute inflated reassuringly above him. Still in agony from his wounds, Flt. Lt. Nicolson floated with a strange serenity towards the ground, just seconds after playing his part in the ferocious combat taking place in the skies above him.
For his actions of selfless valour in the face of the enemy, James Brindley Nicolson would become the only RAF Fighter Command pilot of the Second World War to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
The Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary ‘Synchro Pair’ display proved to be one of the highlights of the 2015 Airshow season, even though it was only performed at a handful of shows. In addition to providing a poignant tribute to the pilots of the Battle of Britain, it also showed the development of the British fighter aircraft over the past 75 years
Throughout 2015, Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349 in its spectacular Battle of Britain scheme, proved to be not only an incredibly popular addition to the UK Airshow scene, but also served as an aviation focal point the year’s 75th Anniversary commemorations. As well as performing dynamic individual display routines at shows the length and breadth of the country, the RAF had prepared something particularly spectacular for this significant anniversary, an evocative ‘Synchro Pair’ routine, in conjunction with one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfires. Representing different eras of RAF fighter development, this pairs routine was only scheduled to be performed at six events on the Airshow calendar and is still remembered fondly by those who were fortunate enough to catch one of those evocative displays.
The Battle of Britain marked Typhoon proved to be a public relations masterstroke for the Royal Air Force and became arguably the most famous individual RAF aircraft for many a year. Indeed, ZK349 was viewed with such overwhelming public affection that she was simply referred to as GINA, in reference to the codes worn on the fuselage sides of the aircraft, commemorating the No.249 Squadron Battle of Britain Hurricane flown by VC winner Flt. Lt. James Nicolson. Indeed, after the end of the 2015 Airshow season, enthusiasts were so attached to the jet that they launched a petition to implore the RAF to retain the markings on this much loved Typhoon, but to no avail. Operational requirements dictated that GINA was returned back to her more familiar, if less attractive air superiority grey scheme during 2016 and a relatively anonymous place amongst the many other Typhoons on the ramp at Coningsby.
Having researched her current whereabouts, it seems as if ZK349 is now part of the Typhoon sustainment fleet at RAF Coningsby, where she is either undergoing deep maintenance, going through upgrade, or is simply being held in storage.
RAF 100 – A missed PR opportunity?
As Britain’s current Spitfire equivalent, most aviation enthusiasts fully expected the RAF’s Typhoon to play a significant role in the Royal Air Force Centenary commemorations of 2018, with many expecting the success of the Battle of Britain painted jet in 2015 to have an influence on how the RAF 100 display jet might be presented. In what proved to be something of an aviation anti-climax and certainly leaving many enthusiasts scratching their heads in disbelief, the RAF’s most advanced fighting aeroplane benefitted from nothing more than a temporary vinyl transfer added to the tail of an otherwise standard airframe. With the entire nation keen to support one of the most important occasions in the history of military aviation and to celebrate the long heritage of our Royal Air Force, this rather corporate approach was overwhelmingly viewed by enthusiasts and the general public at large as falling well wide of the mark and something of a disappointment.
With the 80th Anniversary year of the Battle of Britain now just a few short weeks away, enthusiasts will certainly be hoping that the RAF are planning to mark this latest WWII aviation commemoration in some style and possibly even returning to the incredibly successful formula of the 75th Anniversary year. As this will probably be the last big commemoration of the exploits of the ‘Few’ until the battle’s centenary in 2040 and quite possibly the last occasion when surviving airmen from the Battle of Britain will be able to view proceedings, surely this will necessitate something a little more creative for the 2020 Airshow season and an opportunity for today’s Royal Air Force to inspire a new generation of future pilots by paying tribute to their glorious past.
With many 2020 events having already planned their Battle of Britain 80th anniversary tributes and airworthy examples of Spitfires and Hurricanes undoubtedly destined to play a major role, it remains to be seen if the modern Royal Air Force intends to make their mark on a year which a great many people are already looking forward to with some excitement. They have an opportunity to remind the British public that they are still performing the same role that the brave pilots of Fighter Command did back in the summer of 1940 and that the Royal Air Force are just as important to our security now, as they were during the dark days of the Second World War.
A final look at a much loved Typhoon fighter. Will the Royal Air Force make a similar retro scheme tribute for next year’s 80th Anniversary commemorations?
We await Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary developments with interest and assure Aerodrome readers that we will be Typhoon hunting, should another aircraft be unveiled in an attractive WWII scheme.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome and indeed for 2019, but we will be back in three 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 scheduled to be published on Friday 3rd January, and will feature a host of reader supplied images, as we publish our very special Avro Vulcan tribute edition. What better way could there be of starting a new year than by seeing one of your pictures on the Airfix and Corgi websites?
Until then, may I take this final opportunity to thank you for your support throughout 2019 and to wish everyone a very happy Christmas.
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