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Old Timers round-up: Wanaka warbirds, Auster anniversary, spring Spitfires and more

PUBLISHED: 11:52 07 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:02 07 June 2018

Old Timers - Buchon Spitfire P-51 & Yak

Old Timers - Buchon Spitfire P-51 & Yak

Nigel Hitchman 2018

A round-up of historic aircraft display and restoration news compiled by Peter R March and Paul Fiddian

Wanaka WoWs again

New Zealand’s thirtieth anniversary Warbirds over Wanaka airshow (WoW) was held at Wanaka Airport, in the South Island’s Otago region, from 30 March-1 April over the Easter weekend in generally ideal weather.

The first Warbirds over Wanaka was organised by Sir Tim Wallis and friends at Easter 1988 and has continued every two years since. The show reached its heyday in the late 1990s, when Tim’s Alpine Fighter Group had an impressive collection of resident warbirds. Although now having a much smaller vintage warbird content, WoW still attracts a global audience and provides a great event in a fantastic setting.

The show opened each day with a RNZAF NH90 helicopter flypast - Tim Wallis waving enthusiastically to the crowd through its open door. For locals, the appearance of the USAF’s PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) F-16 Demo Team was a major highlight, while European visitors savoured the world’s only airworthy Avro Anson I, superbly piloted by Dave Philips and Bill Reid.

Anson I K6183 & Spitfire PV270Anson I K6183 & Spitfire PV270

Built in 1944, the Anson, serialled MH120, was in Royal Australian Air Force service until 1953, then employed in various civilian freighting roles. Part of the late Joe Drage’s Air World collection in Wangaratta until 2002, it was purchased by Bill Reid and restored to a supreme standard during the next ten years. Its WWII configuration reinstated, it was painted in No 206 Sqn markings bearing the code ‘VX-B’ and serial ‘K6183’.

At WoW 2018, the Anson helped re-enact a Dunkirk film scene by ‘shooting down’ a ‘Messerschmitt Bf109’, which was played by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Buchón ‘Black 2’, expertly flown by John Romain (as in the film), who had it shipped over specially for the event. Making up the trio for the display was Spitfire IXc PV270 that came from Burma for restoration in 2001 and is painted appropriately in the colours of the famous New Zealand Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot Alan Deere from his time as Wing Leader at RAF Biggin Hill. The Spitfire’s owner today is Brendon Deere, Alan’s nephew.

Other warbird participants included P-40N Kittyhawk ZK-CAG that flew with the RAAF as A29-448, operating with Nos 75 and 78 Squadrons in New Guinea from 1943 until a forced landing at Tadji airstrip in May 1944. Rescued by Charles Darby thirty years later and brought to New Zealand, it was restored and flew again in 2000. Since 2012, it has been owned by Frank Parker.

Two P-51D Mustangs also took part, including former USAAF/RCAF ZK-TAF that was acquired by Tim Wallis in 1984, and first flew at Wanaka in January 1985. Since resold, it is now based with a syndicate in Auckland.

Anson I K6183Anson I K6183

The second P-51D, ZK-SAS Dove of Peace, was operated by the RAAF in the late ’40s and then privately owned in Australia until the ’80s when it was sold in the US. Purchased by Robert Broek in 2004, it has since remained based at Wanaka. Robert’s excellent display culminated with a slow, open-cockpit fly-by and crowd-wave, reprising the late Ray Hanna’s famous pass in the film Empire of the Sun.

Of the two Yak-3s taking part in the flying display, ZK-YYY ‘Red 12’ has a particularly interesting history. Built as a Let C-11 (Yak-11), it was one of many ‘rescued’ by Jean Salis from Egypt in 1985. Acquired by Ray Hanna/OFMC, it was partly restored and re-engined in Russia before returning to IWM Duxford in May 1997 as a Yak-3U registered G-BWOE.

Ray Hanna shipped it to New Zealand for completion in 2003, where it was sold to Arthur Dovey at Wanaka prior to its first flight in April 2005 as ‘Red 12’. Unfortunately, Dovey had a serious landing accident at this year’s event (see ‘Safety Matters’ page 79).

PBY-5A Catalina ZK-PBY, operated by the New Zealand Catalina Preservation Society, was in RCAF service into the late ’40s. Via numerous private ownerships, it ended up being used on tourist safaris down the River Nile in the late ’80s before the New Zealand group acquired it.

Vampire T55 NZ5712 & T35A  A79-649Vampire T55 NZ5712 & T35A A79-649

Having recently undergone a major restoration effort and repaint, it now flies as NZ4017−an RNZAF-operated WWII Catalina−and performed at Wanaka in formation with the Warbirds’ NZ DC-3 ZK-DAK/NZ3546. Built for the USAAF in late 1944, this DC-3 was subsequently flown by civilian companies in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia before being acquired by the NZ Warbirds syndicate in 1987. The RNZAF VIP scheme it now wears was applied in 2007.

Vintage commercial types also featured, including DH83 Fox Moth ZK-ADI - New Zealand’s oldest surviving ‘airliner’ that Bert Mercer’s Air Travel NZ Ltd used to launch its first service on 18 December 1934. Much travelled since that time, it was ‘found’ in 1984 by Ron Souch in New York State and brought to the UK where it was registered as G-ADHA and restored for Brian Woodford at Hamble. It returned to New Zealand in early 1997, was repainted in its original scheme and re-registered as ZK-ADI.

P-51 Mustang 473060P-51 Mustang 473060

Classic jets were represented by two DH Vampires - ZK-RVM/NZ7512, an ex-Swiss AF T55, and ZK-VAM/A79-649, an Australian-built T35 that served in the RAAF until 1970 and has been airworthy in New Zealand since 1990.

Report & photos: Nigel Hitchman

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Spitfires in Spring

Piloted by Stuart Goldspink, the Shuttleworth Collection’s Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire LF Vc AR501 flew again from Old Warden on 20 March. Its keenly anticipated return to airworthiness means that, for the first time in over a decade, the Bedfordshire airfield will have a home-based flying Spitfire for this season’s displays. They begin, appropriately, with an official RAF100 event on 6 May at which AR501 is scheduled to be a star item.

Spit LF Vc AR501Spit LF Vc AR501

A Westland-built Spitfire, AR501 was issued to No 310 (Czech) Squadron, at RAF Exeter, on 19 July 1942 and saw considerable frontline combat action. Fleetingly with No 504 (City of Nottingham) Squadron, it next equipped another Czech squadron – No 312 at Church Stanton in 1943. Soon rendered obsolete by later Spitfire marks, AR501 served out WWII with numerous support units.

Struck off charge on 21 March 1946, it went to Loughborough Technical College’s Department of Aeronautical Engineering, remaining there as a training aid until 1961. Permanently loaned that year to the Shuttleworth Trust, AR501 was stored at Old Warden until re-emerging later that decade as one of the Spitfires assembled by T G ‘Hamish’ Mahaddie for 1968’s Battle of Britain film.

For this, it was placed on the civil register, becoming G-AWII in Spitfire Productions Ltd’s ownership. AR501 arrived at IWM Duxford for a full rebuild by a combined Duxford Aviation Society and Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society team in May 1973. In the late Neil Williams’ hands, the Spitfire flew again on 27 June 1975, becoming officially Shuttleworth-owned on 29 October 1981. After its Permit expired in May 2006, a painstaking full restoration on a part-by-part basis followed over the next eleven years.

Airworthy Spitfire LF XVIe SL721 (C¬GVZB) has left Vintage Wings of Canada to become Belgium’s first resident Spitfire in decades. It is being reassembled at FAST Aero’s facility in Brasschaat (its new owner’s identity is not yet disclosed).

Spitfire SL721 - Belgium 2018Spitfire SL721 - Belgium 2018

Dating from 1945, it famously served as Air Chief Marshal Sir James Milne Robb’s personal aircraft. Retired in 1954, it was bought for £150 by a car mechanic, who kept it in running order. Briefly owned by Doug Arnold, SL721 spent most of its post¬-service life in private US ownership before joining Vintage Wings of Canada in 2000, where it was repainted into No 421 (Canadian) Sqn markings.

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Salute to the Auster

The official Auster 80th Anniversary Fly-In took place at Middle Wallop on 7-8 April, marking eighty years since Auster manufacturer Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) was formed to build the US Taylorcraft two-seat, high-wing monoplane under licence.

With a Taylorcraft Model A (G-AFDN) imported as a demonstrator, the first aircraft built at the factory at Thurmaston, Leicestershire was an improved Taylorcraft Plus C G-AFNW. Following Air Ministry trials, Taylorcraft received an order for 100 aircraft in 1941. Named Auster I in RAF service they were first delivered to Nos 651 and 654 Squadrons the following year for Air Observation Post (AOP) duties.

Auster AOP9, T7, AOP6 MW 7Auster AOP9, T7, AOP6 MW 7

Over 1,600 Austers (Mks 1-5) were built during WWII. The company changed its name to Auster Aircraft Ltd in March 1946 and went on to produce more AOP aircraft (Mks 6, 7 and 9) and numerous civil aircraft including the Auster 5 and J/1 Autocrat to a total of 3,868 by 1961.

The event, organised by Threshold.aero in collaboration with the International Auster Club, the Museum of Army Flying and the Army Air Corps (AAC), also celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of Middle Wallop becoming the home of Army Aviation. While Army Air Observation Post training commenced at the RAF airfield in June 1948, it was ten years later that Middle Wallop became the Army Air Corps Centre.

Unfortunately, poor weather over much of the West of England meant that only half the anticipated 35+ Austers managed to fly in. They were, however, well representative of the Auster family with three Army variants (AOP6 TW536, T7 WE569 and AOP9 XR244) making a formation fly-over in salute to the anniversaries. The oldest civilian Auster present was 1946-built J/1 Autocrat G-AHAO.

The Historic Aircraft Flight Trust presented a line-up of its aircraft: Skeeter, Sioux, Auster AOP9 and Beaver together with the surprise addition of its former Alouette AH2 XR379, now appropriately registered in Guernsey as 2-ALOU, to mark the AAC anniversary. There was also the welcome addition of specially-painted Lynx AH9A ZG917, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the formation of No 657 Squadron with Auster Is and IIIs at Ouston in January 1943.

Report: Peter R March

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Movie time - Circling the Sun…

According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Paula McLean’s best-selling 2015 novel Circling the Sun, based on the life of record-breaking aviator Beryl Markham, is to be made into a film. This ‘historical fiction’ is set in colonial Kenya where Markham learned to fly in a Gipsy Moth in 1931. Five years later she became the first woman to fly solo east-west across the Atlantic.

Vega-Gull VP-KCC-Cape-Breton 1936Vega-Gull VP-KCC-Cape-Breton 1936

Taking off from Abingdon, England on 4 September in Vega Gull VP-KCC The Messenger she crash-landed after 21 hours’ flying in a bog on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Two days later, she arrived in New York to a rapturous greeting.

The sale of 1933 DH60G Moth G-ATBL in October 2017 and Vega Gull G-AEZJ in February 2018 to Comanche Warbirds indicates that advance preparations are being made by US film studio Imperative Entertainment to put the film into production. THR says the film is being produced by Lauren Sanchez along with Bradley Thomas and Dan Friedkin.

The latter, who co-owns the studio with Thomas, is based at the Comanche Ranch at Eagle Pass, Texas and has a large collection of ‘Friedkin Family Warbirds’ in Britain and the USA, mostly registered to Comanche Fighters.

Fifty-three-year-old Dan Friedkin is a distinguished warbird pilot having displayed in his Mustang at major events in the UK, most notably with the USAF Heritage Flight at Duxford and Fairford, and provided three of his Biggin Hill-based Spitfires for the 2017 movie Dunkirk.

Report & photo: Peter R March

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…and Hurricane (Squadron 303)

No 303 Polish Fighter Squadron’s celebrated Battle of Britain exploits form the basis of another major forthcoming movie. Titled Hurricane (Squadron 303), it is due out in 2019 but some details of its content appeared in Kaleidoscopic Film Distribution’s initial trailer, released earlier this year.

Hurricane XIIa P3700 HACHurricane XIIa P3700 HAC

Established in July 1940, 303 was one of Fighter Command’s 16 Polish squadrons. Its pilots were soon thereafter engaged in frontline action, meeting their Luftwaffe counterparts in summer 1940’s turbulent skies. Ultimately, 126 ‘kills’ were achieved, more than any other Battle of Britain Hurricane squadron’s tally. No 303 Squadron remained active throughout the war, disbanding on 11 December 1946.

Hurricane aims to tell, from Pilot Officer (later Commanding Officer) Jan Zumbach’s perspective, the squadron’s ‘untold true story’ of ‘the Polish fliers who found themselves fighting for the freedom of their own country in foreign skies’.

Game of Thrones’ actor Iwan Rheon plays Zumbach while Milo Gibson, son of actor Mel, takes the role of Flight Lieutenant Johnny Kent.

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Kermit Weeks’ ‘new’ Fokker D.VII

Kermit Weeks, owner of Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida expects to make the first flight of his ‘new’ Fokker D.VII reproduction this month. Constructed by noted WWI aircraft builder Fred Murrin, the aircraft is fitted with an original, rebuilt Morell airspeed indicator and has an original Mercedes engine, which has been overhauled by The Vintage Aviator Ltd in New Zealand.

Fokker DVIIFokker DVII

Its markings represent the D.VII flown by Ernst Udet of Jasta 4 in mid-1918 but dispense with the well-known alternating red and white stripes on the wings in favour of black and white, which is now the accepted depiction of the aircraft.

In mid-December 2017 Kermit performed its first engine and taxi tests. While the engine only needed minor adjustment, he found that the tailskid hindered tight turns on the narrow airstrip. In mid-March the D.VII was back outside for further tests with a newly made steerable tailskid with a smaller shoe.

The Fantasy of Flight team is hoping to have all the necessary flight testing completed in time for it to take part in the end of WWI centennial display at Oshkosh in July.

Report & photo: Fantasy of Flight

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Aeropark Additions

Reopened to the public on 30 March after winter closure, the East Midlands Aeropark has a pair of new exhibits in place. Sea King HC4 ZD477 now guards the compound entrance while inside can be found the Aeropark’s most recent arrival, Jetstream T1 XX494.

Sea King HC4 ZD477Sea King HC4 ZD477

First flown on 19 January 1984, ZD477 was delivered to the RN three weeks later and went on to equip Nos 846 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons. The Sea King participated in Operations Granby (the first Gulf War) and, in the late 1990s, Lodestar: the UK military contribution to NATO’s SFOR (Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

By early 2013, ZD477 had passed to DSMarE (the Defence School of Marine Engineering) at HMS Sultan, Gosport but, at the end of that year, was acquired by Gary Spoors’ GJD AeroTech operations at Bruntingthorpe. It was roaded to East Midlands Airport in December 2017.

Jetstream T1 XX494 was moved from Bruntingthorpe to the Aeropark on 27 March 2018. It is currently exhibited in sections awaiting re-assembly. This Jetstream had its maiden flight on 16 October 1975 and entered RAF service on 30 January 1976.

It first equipped the RAF’s Multi-Engine Training Squadron, part of 6 FTS at RAF Finningley, then the METS’s successor No 45 (R) Squadron upon its reactivation in 1992. Initially at Finningley before moving to Cranwell in October 1995, XX494 made its final flight on 22 March 2004 from Cranwell to RAF Shawbury and into storage. In December 2004, the Jetstream was put out to tender and Everett Aero of Sproughton, near Ipswich, became its first civilian owner.

Jetstream T1 XX494Jetstream T1 XX494

On 15 April 2009, XX494 arrived at Nottinghamshire’s Retford Gamston Airport to become a ground instructional training aid. It joined Gary Spoors’ collection at Bruntingthorpe on 11 August 2011.

Supplementing the Aeropark’s aircraft additions are a new volunteers’ workshop/crew area incorporating dedicated function room space, plus improved café and shop facilities. See www.eastmidlandsaeropark.org for details of opening days/times and upcoming events.

Report & photos: Paul Fiddian

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Bon Voyage Queenie

The oldest airworthy British jet made its final flight in the UK on 20 March when Meteor T7 WA591 (G-BWMF) lifted off from Coventry bound for Liverpool. There, it is being partly dismantled to be shipped to the USA. The Meteor will in time become an airworthy exhibit at the World Heritage Air Museum (WHAM) at Detroit City Airport, Michigan.

Meteor T7 WA591Meteor T7 WA591

Before that, Queenie (‘Queen’, for ‘Q’, being the last letter of its code) is scheduled to take part in this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh as a star component of the event’s RAF centenary theme.

New owner Marty Tibbitts is very conscious of WA591’s significance and of the incredible work involved in restoring it to flight. He told WHAM Facebook page followers: ‘In my opinion, the Meteor Flight people are all heroes. The level of energy, passion and commitment that went into resurrecting Queenie is difficult to comprehend. I hope I can show her the honor she deserves.’

Meteor Flight comprised a group of skilled and dedicated volunteers who rescued WA591 then, over a period of about sixteen years, toiled in their workshop at Yatesbury to bring her back to airworthy condition. Built in 1949, WA591 was initially allocated to the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham and served with several RAF training units until grounded in 1965 for engineering ground instruction.

It ended up as a gate guardian at RAF Woodvale. Years later it was relinquished by the MoD and sold to a private buyer who merely wanted the cockpit section! However, Meteor Flight members discovered the airframe’s overall good condition and struck a deal in 1995 enabling them to acquire the complete aircraft.

Marty TibbittsMarty Tibbitts

On completion of the restoration project the Meteor was placed on the civil register as G-BWMF (Great Britain Whittle Meteor Flight) and moved to Kemble for flight testing. With Dan Griffith at the controls, the Meteor made its first post-restoration flight on 14 June 2011.

Mike Collett had helped fund the restoration and the Meteor eventually became part of the Classic Air Force collection at Coventry and Newquay. Over the next five years the public was able to enjoy seeing this classic jet displayed at venues around the UK and it even visited mainland Europe.

Report and photos: Tim Badham

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Walrus makes a move

Vickers-Supermarine Walrus IW2718 (G-RNLI) has had a change of ownership and moved to IWM Duxford. Initiated some years ago, this exciting, return-to flight restoration of the 1934-built amphibious biplane had been progressing at Vintage Fabrics’ Audley End premises since 2011.

Walrus ARCoWalrus ARCo

‘The previous owner decided late last year that he did not want to continue with this substantial project and it was put up for sale’, said Vintage Fabrics’ social media statement of 24 March 2018. ‘The new owner wishes to continue the work that we and all the previous restoration establishments have carried out, but at a new location and with his own team.’

From RAF WWII service, W2718 passed to Cowes, Isle of Wight-based Somerton Airways and stayed until 1947. Remaining on the island, the Walrus was then radically repurposed, its widened fuselage becoming a caravan after the aircraft had been broken up.

Thus configured – although still having its original cockpit structure and windows – it was acquired by Dick Melton at Micheldever in 1986. Restoration commenced and continued as it moved with the owner to several locations.

Report: Paul Fiddian

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