UK Transports and Bombers: Where are We Now?

With April’s theme being the heavier types that don’t often get featured as part of Warbird Tails, I felt that for Bank Holiday Monday a round-up of UK based aircraft from this corner of preservation was long overdue. I’ve limited this post to “live” (taxi/engine run condition included) examples and only up the end of the Second World War. With the upcoming D-Day commemorations later this year some of these numbers are expected to increase, if only for a few weeks, though some longer term projects are coming to fruition (such as Night Fright at Coventry).

This months theme will round off next week but I certainly anticipate featuring the heavier types throughout the year and another month in the 2019/2020 off-season will see a series of dedicated features and posts for these often unsung types.

Bombers

B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”/G-BEDF

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Alongside the Lancaster, Sally B is arguably the most well known heavy on the UK airshow circuit. A constant presence now for over four decades this iconic aircraft has served as a fitting living memorial to those American aircrews who gave so much during the second world war.

Avro Lancaster PA474 – Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Another longstanding airshow performer is the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster. This machine has, aside from downtime for maintainance/repair work has also been a workhorse of the RAF over the last few decades providing the evocative and now traditional sight of the four engined bomber accompanied by a Spitfire and Hurricane that marks the start of an important tribute display to the men and women of bomber and fighter command in WW2.

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Avro Lancaster NX611 “Just Jane”

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An exciting prospect on the horizon is the ongoing restoration work of Just Jane, based at East Kirkby. Throughout the summer this example of the iconic Avro can be seen given taxi demonstrations and rides to the paying public providing what is the only insight in the UK into being aboard an active WW2 bomber. During the offseason work continues towards getting this mighty bomber into the air again, hopefully to one day join the RAF operated example in the skies over Lincolnshire again.

Canadian Vickers Canso/PYB Catalina – G-PBYA – Plane Sailing

While strictly a patrol aircraft, bombing would have been part of the Catalina’s role during the war. This airframe has now been a regular on the UK airshow circuit and really forms the third of the seemingly constant heavy machines on the UK airshow circuit.

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As long as I can remember there has often been some combination of Lancaster/B-17/Catalina, an impressive feat that certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted. This airframe appears in the colours of Miss Pick Up and flies not only at UK airshows but also tends to take long trips across Europe (notably even to Russia and Turkey in recent years).

Fighter/Bombers

de Havilland Mosquito NFII HJ711

Resident at the Yorkshire Air museum, Elvington for many years, Tony Agar’s Mosquito project was painstakingly moved down to East Kirkby in the summer of 2017 and now takes pride of place alongside Just Jane. For many years a static restoration last year saw the major milestone of one of the airframes Merlin engines coming to life, performing a number of single engine runs in the later months of the 2018 season.

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In just a few weeks time it is hoped that for the first time since 1996 it will be possible to witness a Mosquito fire up both Merlins and taxi around a grass airfield. How evocative a sight and tribute will that be not only to the crews who flew these machines, but also Tony Agar, who has worked throughout his life to see this dream come to fruition.

Bristol Blenheim IF (Bollingbroke IV) – G-BPIV

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A notable exception to the less represented comments earlier in the post, the Aircraft Restoration Comapny’s immaculate Bristol Blenheim has been an unquestionable star at airshows up and down the country since its return to flight in 2014. Though completed as a night fighter variant the Blenheim still represents an important link in the chain of the bomber command story from WW2.

Transport

BBMF Dakota III ZA947

This example of the classic Douglas transport/airliner joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1993 adding to the Lancaster in terms of bomber/transport representation and providing a good proving ground for trainee Lancaster crew.

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Much like the Lancaster and other flight airframes the Dakota has been through many identities over the years and currently wears a distinctive D-Day scheme of FZ692 “Kwicherbichen”. A fitting scheme as we move into the D-Day commemorations over the summer.

Aero Legends’ C-47 “Drag ’em Oot” N473DC

Operated for many years on the UK circuit based out of East Kirkby, “Drag Em Oot” joined the expanding fleet at Aero Legends in 2017. This added to the operations numerous training airframes Spitfires and de Havilland Devon. This airframe joined the USAAF in December 1943 and went on to participate in both D-Day and Market Garden. For the later operation the airframe was part of the RAF carrying out glider towing duties. A third military operator beckoned postwar with time spent with the Canadian Air Force. Having returned to the UK many years ago and regained original USAAF configuration the aeroplane now participates in a number of flying displays and parachute drops across the country.

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Aces High C-47 “Mayfly” N147DC

Arguably the most prolific example of the C-47 in UK skies of recent years, the Aces High machine typically based at Dunsfold performs at many events throughout the summer. In recent years the airframe has word a D-Day paintscheme with L4 codes on the nose. This example has an ever-changing appearence due to constant involvement in filming contracts.

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Last year saw the airframe change to an all over olive drab scheme following the Catch 22 filming in early summer. As of last week the airframe has been stripped back to bare metal ready for further film duties, before ultimately returning to a D-Day scheme ready for June 2019.

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Douglas Dakota IV/C-47B KN353 – Yorkshire Air Museum Elvington

The only Dakota preserved in engine run/taxy condition (only) in the UK is with the Yorkshire Air Museum. Though a wartime example the museums airframe actually came off the production line in early 1945 so saw limited service.

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The airframe did spend some time in RAF service before ending up with Air Antlantique based out of Coventry. It was donated to the Yorkshire Air Museum in 2001. Following extensive restoration work this airframe can now be seen firing up at Museum Thunder Days throughout the summer. The aeroplane also makes great viewing on non-event days, with internal access available.

Dragon Rapide 

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Though perhaps a step down from the heavier machines the Dragon Rapide played a key part in wartime operations and provided much needed crew transportation. The UK is lucky to have a handful of airworthy examples, many of which operate passenger flights up and down the country throughout the summer, most notably with Classic Wings at Duxford.

Avro Anson 

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Another airframe with strong wartime connections (though both UK examples are post war variants). The Anson flew alongside types such as the Blenheim in the early days of the war providing much needed (if outperformed) bombing platforms. As the conflict continued the Anson took on more of a training role and post war this continued together with Civil use as the Avro XIX. Today two airworthy examples remain in the UK, both of which wear post war RAF schemes.

Beechcraft 18

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Though a couple of examples of this type are airworthy and active in the UK, none have been more regular on the airshow circuit in recent years that Leicester based G-BKGL. This example has been a longstanding performer in the UK, having previously been operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford. After a number of years off the circuit, the last few years have seen a welcome return with many spirited performances.

The future?

Looking forward over 2019 and beyond there is hope that those numbers above could perhaps be expanded. There are numerous DC-3/C-47 projects/possibilities on the horizon, as well as the DC-4 project coming together at North Weald. On the smaller end of the scale there is the wonderful Percival Q6 that will hopefully fly in the not too distant future. Though already featured in this post, there is hope that in time Just Jane may join the airworthy ranks, as well as the more short-term achievement of Mosquito HJ711 moving under its own power. I am sure there are other significant projects that I have overlooked as part of this piece but rest assured in the coming months and certainly across the next off-season I hope to feature more and more of the larger types that are in need of preservation and focus in the future.

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