Text & Pictures: Serge Van Heertum © sbap 2015

After the end of the airshow season, the winter period is used to prepare the next season, developing the new display, eventually change the display pilots and more...
This is also the period during which the warbirds are put into overhaul and see the necessary maintenance phases needed to preserve these jewels which wrote glorious pages of history. After more than 60 years we can still see those wonderful machines in action thanks to the helping hands of collectors and other enthusiasts.
It is also the case for this very special squadron of the Royal Air Force better known as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). All aircraft are overhauled, receive maintenance and are polished up as to present them shiny and in perfect condition during the new season.
We were given the opportunity to visit the BBMF hangar and it was truly a walk through a jewelry box. A real eye teaser and we were able to admire these historical planes in a very different way than during an airshow.
With these pages we would like to thank the BBMF in general for welcoming us and in particular our passionate guide of the day with his aviation stories told with love and great passion.
Now let us visit the BBMF... British Beauties in Maintenance and Furbishing.

You can find more about the BBMF on their website: click on the patch


Our kind and passionate guide...

Douglas C-47A Dakota ZA947
This C-47 Dakota was manufactured in the USA by Douglas in March 1942 and initially issued to the United States Army Air Force. In September of that same year the aircraft was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and served in Canada during World War Two. It was subsequently deployed to Europe with the RCAF until declared surplus to requirements by the Canadians in 1971.
The “Dak” is painted to represent Dakota FZ692 of No 233 Squadron, from around the D-Day period in 1944. This aircraft, which was named “Kwicherbichen” by her crews, was involved in Para-dropping operations on the eve of D-Day and subsequently in re-supply and casualty evacuation missions into and out of forward located airfields in the combat areas. The female nurses who escorted the casualties on these flights became known as ‘The Flying Nightingales’. By the end of 1944, 1,092 stretcher cases and 467 sitting wounded had been evacuated to England by the 233 Squadron Dakotas.

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc LF363
LF363 was built at the Hawker factory at Langley near Slough. It first flew in January 1944 and is believed to be the last Hurricane to have entered service with the RAF. The aircraft served with No 63 Squadron at Turnhouse, with No 309 (Polish) Squadron at Drem, where it was used on shipping protection patrols off the east coast of Scotland and with No 26 Squadron with whom it flew naval artillery spotting and reconnaissance sorties before the end of the War.
The plane had been undergoing a major servicing in the BBMF hangar during the winter of 2013/14, during which it has been stripped of its fabric and taken back to its “bare bones”. Since 2014, LF363 has been painted to represent Hurricane Mk 1 P3395 “JX-B”, the personal aircraft of Sergeant Pilot Arthur “Darkie” Clowes DFM of No 1 Squadron, during the Battle of Britain. Clowes’ Hurricane had a fearsome looking wasp painted on both sides of the nose.

Charm on duty...

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc PZ865
The last Hurricane ever built (of 14.533), PZ865 rolled off the Hawker production line at Langley, Bucks, in July 1944 with the inscription “The Last of the Many” on her port and starboard sides. Keen to preserve the last Hurricane ever built, Hawkers purchased the aircraft back from the Air Ministry and kept it in storage at Langley. In 1950, PZ865 was entered in the King’s Cup Air Race by HRH Princess Margaret. Flown by Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC it achieved second place. Over the next three years ‘PZ’ participated in several other air races and was modified for racing with the removal of its cannons and the installation of two ‘overload’ wing fuel tanks.
In November 2010, PZ865 was sent to Duxford for major maintenance and refurbishment. From 2012 this famous Hurricane wears a new colour scheme faithfully replicating Hurricane Mk IIC HW840, coded “EG-S”, of 34 Squadron, South East Asia Command during 1944. This was the personal aircraft of Canadian pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Whalen DFC.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIa P7350
Spitfire P7350 is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only Spitfire still flying having actually fought in the Battle of Britain. Believed to be the 14th of 11.989 Spitfires built at the Castle Bromwich ‘shadow’ factory in Birmingham, it entered service in August 1940. After serving initially with 266 Squadron at Wittering and Hornchurch at the height of the Battle of Britain, it was one of 13 Mk IIa Spitfires that were then transferred to 603 (City of Edinburgh) AuxAF Squadron at Hornchurch on October 17, 1940, to replace the Squadron’s older Mk 1s.
Having survived all its wartime adventures, “P7” was sold for scrap in July 1948 to John Dale & Co Ltd for the princely sum of £25. Fortunately the historical significance of the aircraft was recognized and it was saved and generously donated to the RAF Museum at Colerne.
Restored to flying condition in 1968 for the epic film ‘Battle of Britain’, she was subsequently presented to the BBMF after filming was complete.
P7350 is currently presented as Spitfire Mk 1a N3162 of No 41 Squadron, coded ‘EB-G’, the aircraft flown by the top-scoring Battle of Britain fighter ace Eric Lock, who destroyed 3 enemy aircraft in a single sortie on September 5, 1940.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk PRXIX PM631
Spitfire PR Mk XIX PM631 was built at Reading but too late to see service in World War Two. It is representative though of similar high altitude photographic reconnaissance Spitfires which did serve operationally. Spitfire PR XIXs were unarmed but could fly at 370mph at 40,000 feet (with pressurized cockpits) and had a range of 1,500 miles. Spitfire PM631 was delivered to the RAF on November 6, 1945, but was stored until May 1949 when it was issued to 203 Advanced Flying School.
PM631 is represented as a PR XIX of No 541 Squadron which performed photographic reconnaissance missions over Europe from early 1944 to the end of the war. Flight Lieutenant Ray Holmes was one of the courageous pilots of 541 Squadron who flew dangerous, long-range, singleton, photo reconnaissance flights over enemy territory.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk LFIXe MK356

Built at Castle Bromwich, Spitfire LFIX MK356 was allocated to the newly-formed 443 ‘Hornet’ Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force at RAF Digby, Lincolnshire, in March 1944. MK356 soon moved with 144 Wing to Holmsley, near Bournemouth, then to Westhampnett (now Goodwood) and later to Ford in Sussex.
On April 14, 1944 the plane flew its first operational mission as part of a ‘Rodeo’ fighter sweep over occupied France, flown by 20-year-old Canadian Flying Officer “Gord” Ockenden, who flew 19 operations in the aircraft. MK356 was from then on involved in fighter sweeps and in attacking ground targets by dive bombing and strafing in the lead-up to the “D-Day” invasion and in support of the landings and fierce fighting afterwards.
Spitfire MK356 is now painted to represent Spitfire Mk IXc ML214, coded 5J-K, the personal aircraft of Squadron Leader “Johnny” Plagis, the Commanding Officer of No 126 Squadron in July 1944. Plagis named all of his personal Spitfires after his sister “Kay” (Katrina) and ML214 bore her name on the port side above two scrolls displaying 16 swastikas, his kill markings. The aircraft is painted with black and white invasion stripes on the underside of the wings and rear fuselage. For some unknown reason certain fighter units of the UK-based No 10 Group, Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB), painted non-standard, narrower stripes on their aircraft (nine inches wide instead of the standard eighteen) and this was how the 126 Squadron Spitfires were marked.

Avro Lancaster PA474
PA474 is one of only two Lancaster aircraft remaining in airworthy condition out of the 7,377 that were built (the other is in Canada with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at Hamilton, Ontario). PA474 rolled off the production line at the Vickers Armstrong Broughton factory at Hawarden Airfield; Chester on May 31, 1945, just after the war in Europe came to an end, so she was prepared for use against the Japanese as part of the ‘Tiger Force’.
However, the war in the Far East also ended before she was deployed and she did not take part in any hostilities. After a period in storage, PA474 was converted for photo reconnaissance work; modifications for these duties included being stripped back to a bare metal (silver) finish and the removal of all her gun turrets. She was then assigned to aerial survey duties with No 82 Squadron in East and South Africa from September 1948 until February 1952.
PA474 is currently painted to represent Lancaster DV385, “Thumper Mk III” of 617 “Dambuster” Squadron, with the code letters “KC-A”. This aircraft was one of the brand-new standard Lancasters issued to 617 Squadron as replacements after the ‘Dams Raid’ in 1943. It was delivered to the Squadron in November 1943, whilst the unit was based at Coningsby and it flew 4 ‘ops’ from Coningsby before 617 Squadron moved to Woodhall Spa in January 1944. The “Thumper” nose art features the cartoon rabbit from the 1942 Walt Disney cartoon “Bambi”.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk LF XVIe TE311
TE311 was built at Castle Bromwich just after the war had ended, being taken on charge by the Air Ministry on June 8, 1945, and delivered to No 39 Maintenance Unit (MU) at Colerne, where it was placed in storage. From October 1945 to February 1946, TE311 was flown by the Handling Squadron of the Empire Central Flying School (ECFS) at Hullavington. It was then stored at No 33 MU at Lyneham until May 1951 when it was allocated to No 1689 Ferry Pilot Training (FPT) Flight from Aston Down. On June 21, 1951, TE311 was damaged in an accident. Repairs were completed by Vickers Armstrong and the aircraft was returned to 1689 FPT Flight on December 31, 1951. It was subsequently allocated to the Ferry Training Unit at RAF Benson until September 1953 before being returned to 33 MU at Lyneham. In January and February 1954, TE311 served briefly with No 2 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Langham, Norfolk, before being returned to the MU at Lyneham again on February 23, 1954.
On 13th December 1954, TE311 was officially grounded.
TE311 is painted to represent Spitfire Mk XVIe TB675 “4D-V” of No 74 Squadron, the personal aircraft of Squadron Leader AJ “Tony” Reeves DFC, the Squadron’s Commanding Officer from the end of December 1944. No 74 Squadron was part of 145 Wing, 2 TAF.

De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk
The two de Havilland Canada Chipmunks held on charge by the RAF Memorial Flight are the last in RAF service and are probably the least-seen aircraft of the Memorial Flight fleet. They are used year-round, primarily for the conversion and continuation training of the Flight’s pilots on tail-wheel aircraft. Other missions of the ‘Chippies’ include the reconnaissance of new venues, the delivery or collection of pilots and, occasionally, the delivery of small spare parts.
WG486 (Black) was delivered to the RAF in January 1952 and served with No 5 Basic Flying Training School, No 9 Refresher Flying School and No 2 Flying Training School (FTS) before being used by the Army Air Corps with 651 and 657 Squadrons. In December 1958, the aircraft was issued to 114 Squadron in Cyprus, where it was used in operations against the EOKA terrorists, flying low-level reconnaissance patrols and convoy escort missions from Famagusta, Xeros and Akrotiri airfields, with British Army officers in the rear seat. The crisis ended in March 1959 and WG486 was brought back to the UK in 1961. The aircraft returned to training flying for 16 years, with units that included the RAF College at Cranwell, Initial Training School at South Cerney and Church Fenton, No 1 FTS, Liverpool and Bristol UASs and No 3 AEF.
In 1987, WG486 moved to Germany to operate as part of the Gatow Station Flight in Berlin, which was then surrounded by Soviet Communist Block territory, where it embarked on a second phase of operational flying. For the next 2 years it was flown on what were then highly secret ‘Cold War’ covert photographic reconnaissance ‘spying’ flights in and around Berlin. When RAF Gatow closed, the aircraft spent a year at Laarbruch before joining the Memorial Flight in 1995.
WK518 (Grey and DayGlo) has been with the Flight for the longest time of the two Chipmunks. It was delivered from No 1 Air Experience Flight (AEF) at Manston in April 1983. This aircraft first entered RAF service in January 1952, being allocated to the RAF College at Cranwell for elementary flying training of student pilots. Other units which have operated WK518 include the University Air Squadrons (UASs) of Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Hull, Leeds and London Universities. WK518 is now painted in the colours it actually wore when it served with Hull UAS in 1961.

Missing aircraft during our visit:

Supermarine Spitfire Mk PR XIX PS915 is currently undergoing a full “major plus” overhaul with the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) at Duxford and is not due to rejoin the BBMF until 2016. When it returns it will be wearing the colours of one of Ted Powles MkXIX Spitfires.

Landing at Gilze Rijen in 2014

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb AB910 undergoing also “major plus” maintenance programme at the Aircraft Restoration Company, Duxford. AB910 was returned to the BBMF at Coningsby on February 27th, 2015; ready for the display season. It is now painted in the colour scheme of a 64 Squadron Spitfire at the time of “D-Day” with full invasion stripes.

Just before leaving Duxford on February 27th, 2015 (Courtesy AJC Duxman)

Reports Menu - Homepage