British automobile manufacturer Vauxhall – one of only two surviving British companies to have supplied vehicles for military use during World War I – has been unveiled as a 2014 supporter of Matthew Boddington and Steve Slater’s Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c replica, G-AWYI, at a press launch at the aircraft’s Sywell Aerodrome home.
The B.E.2c will be joined at events across the UK in 2014 by a 1914 Vauxhall D-Type Army Staff Car and a specially-marked support vehicle in the shape of a Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, which will carry artwork depicting the B.E.2c.
2014 is set to be a year where the B.E.2c, dubbed the Biggles Biplane, is in great demand, with many airshows and events themed around the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1, in which the type served as a two-seat observation aircraft.
“The B.E.2c aircraft will cross the Channel to commemorate the first deployment of the Royal Flying Corps to France in August 1914 and will land at Amiens in France on 13 August 2014, exactly one hundred years to the day from the arrival of the first aeroplanes accompanying the British Expeditionary Force,” joint-owner, Steve Slater explained. “The aircraft will then take a leading role in the ceremonies organised by the Western Front Association and the British and French governments, including flypasts over Great War trenches and over a special ‘drumhead service’ at the Arras military war cemetery.
“Now, as then, the aeroplane will naturally require ground support. Between 1914 and 1918, Vauxhall Motors was at the forefront of such activities, with over 1,500 examples of the Vauxhall D-Type being built at the rate of about eight per week to the order of the War Office. This year the spacious, comfortable and economical Vauxhall ZafiraTourer will provide a similar support role, 100 years on.”
The 1914 B.E.2c design was recreated at Sywell in 1969 by Matthew’s late father, Charles, who was given the task of creating the airworthy replica for the film Biggles Sweeps the Skies in just 13 weeks. Whilst the aircraft was completed on schedule, many of the other replicas commissioned for the film were not, and ultimately the project was scrapped after financial problems were encountered.
Thus, Biggles’ Biplane found its way to the US, where it was purchased from Universal Studios. However, the aircraft crashed in 1977 with considerable damage to the forward fuselage and lower wings. The wreckage was purchased by a gentleman called Bill King and was hung from the rafters in his shed – the theory being that he might someday find a use for some of the salvageable items.
It was only when Chris Parker, owner of a de Havilland Tiger Moth at Sywell, visited Bill King’s residence in 2004. He recognised the remains and brought them to the attention of Matthew, who immediately set about looking into how he could bring his dad’s aeroplane home.
The lengthy restoration process was finally concluded in May 2011 when it took to the skies once again from Sywell some 34 years after crashing and 42 years after it had last flown at the airfield where it had been lovingly constructed.
“Vauxhall is proud to support this wonderful recreation of a very important, historic aeroplane,” said Denis Chick, Vauxhall’s Director of Communications. “Our company’s vehicles have played a pivotal role in both wars, with the D-Type staff car in the Great War and the Churchill Tank in World War Two, so it’s fitting that we should bring these vehicles together for such an important commemoration.”
The aircraft will operate with the Great War Display Team (GWDT) at a number of events as well as performing solo routines and in other select pairings.
Karl Drage extends thanks to Matthew Boddington and Steve Slater.