The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s open days and night photo-shoots are popular fixtures on the aviation enthusiasts’ calendar, particularly the ‘off-season’ events over the autumn and winter. The third – and most recent – night-shoot and open hangar event was held in and outside the Hangar on 23 November 2013. Peter Green guest reports for GAR.
Take me to that heavenly place, where warbirds can be found! Drab it may be on the outside to the casual viewer, but once past a warm welcome in the reception area, one quickly realises that looks can be deceptive. The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar can be best likened to an Aladdin’s cave of warbirds and Spitfires in particular.
The afternoon’s program was to be conducted at a nice leisurely pace, beginning at 1530 and running until after dark, with ample time for photography and talking to the friendly staff on hand. Numbers were limited to just 40 persons, a sensible decision which meant we all remained cheerful and courteous during the after-dark photo opportunity, giving way to one another with camera and tripod once an scene was successfully captured to allow someone else to try the same angle.
Let’s take a quick tour around the inside of the facility and try and make sure we don’t miss anything. There are a lot of aircraft tightly packed into a rather compact amount of space!
In the farthest corner is a Spitfire Mk.IX fuselage, tagged as TE517. This airframe was recovered from an Israeli kibbutz in the mid 1970s by Robs Lamplough. Since then it has passed through several owners and although some restoration work was performed during the mid 1980s, most of the intervening years since its recovery to the UK have been spent in storage.
Airworthy Spitfire Mk.IXc MK912 had spent the best part of 10 years in Canada before returning to the UK in 2011. It is painted with the codes ‘SH-L’ to represent service with No. 64 Squadron, a unit it actually flew with during late 1944, albeit coded as SH-A. Thanks to a faulty radio on the 6 June 1944, this aircraft is thought to be the very first Allied aircraft to land on French soil on D-Day.
Tucked away into the corner behind MK912 is the Mk.I Spitfire X4650, which is painted in the aircraft’s original squadron service markings as KL-A of No. 54 Sqdn. On the day of the night shoot, it was deep into it’s annual inspection and winter overhaul. This Spitfire was one of the stars of the Duxford Flying Legends airshow in July, where it formed part of the Bremont Horsemen Flight Team’s Spitfire trio, alongside The Fighter Collection’s Mk.Vb EP120 and Mk.Ia AR213.
Front and centre of the Spitfire line up was the latest restoration to roll out of the Heritage Hangar, Mk.IX TD314, which should be ready for its first post restoration flight in the very near future. Tucked away either side behind this were the restoration project fuselages of Spitfire Mk.IXc LZ842, EF-F and Spitfire Mk.Vb EP122. The final airworthy aircraft inside the hangar was perhaps the most frequently seen at airshows, “The Kent Spitfire” Mk.IXe TA805, which can be seen regularly at events up and down the country throughout the year.
But what’s this on the wall behind the coffee and cake? Why its the beautifully displayed crash remains of Spitfire Mk.I P9372. This aircraft, then belonging to No. 92 (East India) Squadron operating from RAF Biggin Hill, had been shot down on 9 September 1940 and its wounded pilot, Pilot Officer W. Watling, parachuted to safety. Given the aircraft’s history, it is entirely appropriate that its remains are now stationed at Biggin once again.
Outside on the ramp was our evening entertainment, comprised of individual engine runs by the Piper LH-4 Cub 329854 (G-BMKC), Harvard Mk.II FE788, followed by the two evening ‘stars’, Spitfire Mk.XVIe RW382 (pictured above), painted as 3W-P, and last but not least Hurricane X AE977 (pictured below), which was painted earlier in 2013 as P3886 UF-K of No. 610 (County of London) Squadron.
During this period re-enactors would helpfully “freeze” their pose for photographers to capture long exposure images and even the Spitfire was repositioned for us to give a better lighting angle on the propellor disk. We really couldn’t hope for better photographic opportunities!
This was to be my second pilgrimage to a ‘BHHH’ public event. Once again I left totally content to have spent some quality time in the presence of such meticulously restored aircraft and more importantly, the skilled craftsmen who rebuild and sustain them in airworthy condition.