Another Piece of Cake – “Then and Now”

Following on from my previous post featuring my Dad’s pictures from the activity at Headcorn in 1988 surrounding the production of the mini series “Piece of Cake”, I thought another post might prove popular. I’ll try to use a few different images and also try and bring the story up to date with some recent Headcorn images, as well as some updated shots of the aircraft used in the filming. I should also add that I’ve tried my best with identifying the various, identically marked Spitfires, do let me know if any have been incorrectly identified!

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The Spitfires

Five Spitfires were used during the production of Piece of Cake, a number of which are still flying today, albeit having gone through a few changes over the years.

AR213

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Very much the “odd one out” from the filming process was Spitfire I AR213. As many of you will know the novel on which the series was based followed the exploits of “Hornet Squadron” throughout the Battle of France and Battle of Brtain. Strictly speaking the series should have used Hurricanes, but with only a limited amount airworthy at the time, the production used Spitfires instead. Most of the Spitfires used were Mk IXs alongside a single Mk XI. AR213 was then the only MK1 flying and as such was the most appropriate airframe for the era the show was supposed to depict. You will notice in the above shot that at that time AR213 sported a four bladed prop meaning that it fit in rather well with its younger colleagues on set. Today this Spitfire still flies as part of the Commanche Fighters fleet looked after by the Fighter Collection at Duxford, having been returned to Mk I configuration sporting an Eagle Squadron paintscheme. This fighter recently took another starring role, this time on the big screen as part of “Dunkirk”. It can be seen below leading it’s fellow Dunkirk star in a pairs routine at Duxford.

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PL983

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PL983 was the other “odd” aircraft in the filming, noticeably lacking cannons along with AR213. That is because this airframe is a MKXI Photo Reconnaissance aircraft. The Spitfire returned to the skies in the 1980s owned by Robert Fleming and based out of Goudhurst flown by Martin Sargent. This airframe was a regular on the display circuit until a tragic accident in France saw the aircraft crash following an engine failure, sadly with the loss of Martin. The Spitfire itself has actually just returned to the skies following a lengthy rebuilt with the Aircraft Restoration Company. Seeing this Spitfire in the skies again will no doubt be bittersweet for many but pays a fitting tribute to an iconic figure in the UK warbird scene. Below is a shot of the airframe on an evening airtest at Duxford last weekend.

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ML417

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The first of the trio of Mk IXs used as part of the filming was ML417, well known to many as one of the staple warbirds of the 1990s as part of the Fighter Collection having returned to the skies in 1984. In a definite buck against the current trend ‘417 was actually converted back to single seat status, having been converted to a two seater for the Indian Air Force in 1946. This Spit typically flew with clipped wing tips making for a distinctive sight on the airshow circuit (and based on the Fighter Collection’s Mk V and Mk XIV they have operated, clearly Stephen Grey’s preference). In order to fit in during the filming the Spitfire gained wingtips again. In 2001 the Spitfire was transferred to Tom Fredkin and moved to Chino. It now forms part of the Commanche Fighters stable along with fellow star, AR213. Interestingly ML417 has now regained wingtips again, as can be seen in the photograph below taken at Chino this year, for which I am grateful to Kieran Lear for sharing.

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NH238

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Perhaps the most illusive of the five Spitfires used as part of the production, NH238 originally served with the Royal Netherlands Air Force before eventually joining the Belgian civil register in the 1950s. Eventually this airframe was shipped to the states and formed part of the Tallichet collection, before joining Warbirds Of Great Britain, owned by Doug Arnold. The Spitfire flew again in 1984 and aside from the filming of Piece of Cake and a selection of airshow appearances was not seen much in public. The permit to fly for this Spitfire expired in 1993 and is reportedly in storage, perhaps one day this Spitfire may reappear.

MH434

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A Spitfire that certainly needs no introduction and arguable the starring aircraft, given Ray Hanna’s incredible bridge flying antics. MH434 is one of the most famous examples of this classic fighter and Piece Of Cake forms a small but significant chapter in a legendary story. This airframe remains as the sole aircraft in the Old Flying Machine Company collection and continues to perform graceful displays, most recently in the hands of Stu Goldspink at the 2018 season opener at Old Warden.

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“The Enemy” Hispano Buchons

Three Buchons took on the role of the enemy during the filming, though based on the images available, only two based out of Headcorn. The third example was a German registered D-FEHD, later re-engined with a Daimler-Benz to depict a 109 G-10 and flown at Duxford for a short while, before returning to Germany and now a static airframe (though flew at least as recently as 2006) as part of the Messercshmitt Foundation, registered D-FDME.

G-BOML

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The aircraft above, kicking up plenty of dust is G-BOML, then owned and flown by the late Nick Grace. Nick rebuilt this 1947 built Buchon returning to the skies in 1988, fitting given that his son, Richard is now leading Air Leasing in the return to flight of a number of Buchons. The fighter moved to Ray Hanna and the Old Flying Machine company in 1989. G-BOML played a popular role in many airshows throughout the 90s and the first season of the Breitling Fighters. Sadly this airframe is another filming aircraft marred with tragedy. In September 1999 while landing following a display in Spain, the aircraft crashed, taking the life of Mark Hanna. Mark, together with his Father, Ray, was arguably one of the greatest display pilots the warbird circuit ever saw and everything I’ve read confirms he was a great man too. He is still certainly greatly missed.

G-HUNN

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With a  distinctive black nose scheme, G-HUNN was the other Buchon to spend some time at Headcorn in the summer of 1988. While based in the UK this example was owned by Charles Church. The UK registration was cancelled in 1991, moving on to the United States. Since moving to the states the airframe is now with the Cavanaugh flight museum and does not, to my knowledge, currently fly.

The Camera Ship – Harvard IIb G-AZBN

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Last but not least, the camera ship that made many of those dynamic air to air combat scenes possible, the Harvard. After a brief spell on the RAF register without any active service, the airframe was passed to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and remained in service until 1970. After which a number of private owners looked after the airframe before it passed to the Old Flying Machine Company. Though largely a camera aircraft the Harvard does have the occasional starring role as the tail clearly in shot during a number of dogfights. The Harvard is still very much active and can often be seen displaying at UK events, notably Duxford Air Festival 2018.

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And finally…the more things change…..

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…..the more they stay the same!

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I hope this further look back at a memorable time for the UK Warbird scene has been of interest. If anyone reading this has any more modern photos of the Buchons or Spitfire NH238 that they would be happy to add for completion then please do get in touch!

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