My first warbird outing of 2019 came around a little quicker than usual with my second Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar tour. I last visited in December 2018 so was looking forward to seeing what had changed in the last 12 months or so.
The hangar tour really is a great experience with very knowledgeable guides on both visits who are happy to tell you as much or as little as you would like to know on the subject.
The facility consists of two hangars, the first being the restoration hangar which unsurprisingly houses aircraft in for major maintenance or restoration. The pride of which on this visit was the beautiful Greek Air Force Spitfire IX MJ755 which had carried out its first engine run just before Christmas. With the restoration approaching completion there were restrictions on photography so I’ll let you look in the usual places once the restoration is compelte to see the finished article. Safe to say that the combination of the Greek paintscheme and clipped wings makes for one of the most striking Spitfires around and will be a welcome addition to the airwothy population. (Since initially drafting this article MJ755 has now returned to the air, I was lucky enough to be at Biggin Hill to watch the first flight, congratulations to all at the Hangar).
A recent arrival at the hangar is Peter Teichman’s Mk IX Spitfire PT879 which will be completed in its Russian scheme in time. Though only a fusealage at this time, sitting alongside the long-term resident dessert schemed IX fusealage, it is hoped that this machine will join Mr Teichman’s other airworthy fighters in 2020.
Since the CAA adjusted the regulations to allow passenger flights in warbirds back in 2014, the two seat Spitfire population has grown at an incredible rate and Biggin Hill is now home to four examples, three of which are now in flying condition. The longest resident is MJ627, which was undergoing an engine change following another busy year. Reflown last year, MJ772 is now one of the main aircraft carrying out these two seater flights and was well positioned at the front of the other hangar. Tucked in behind ‘772 is the most elusive of the Biggin two seaters, the rare MKVIII MT818/G-AIDN two seat prototype. With MJ772 online this rare aircraft is not used often for flights so it was great to get an unclose look. The collection recently took delivery of the formerly US based TE308 which is set to emerge in the future to further strengthen Biggin’s already impressive fleet of Spitfires.
Joining the two seaters are a wide range of single seat examples, with the aircraft that started it all “Spirit Of Kent” MKIX TA805 the first Spitfire on show walking through the hangar. However, before you reach the impressive array of Spitfires you are first greeted by the other key participants of the Battle of Britain. Messerschmitt 109E “White 14” has achieved almost mythical status in recent years. After a brief period of being flown regularly based at Niagara Falls, the aircraft went into storage for some years before arriving at the Heritage Hangar late in 2014. A few flights have been carried out but otherwise this machine is rarely seen. Given the unique nature of this airframe and being one of those wishlist warbirds for myself, it is worth price of admission to get a look at this aircraft alone.
Aside from the Biggin Hill airshows themselves, most of the Biggin based fighters are rarely seen at public events, so it was great to have a good look at their Hurricane too. Rounding off the airworthy Spitfire line up in the hangar was Biggin based RW382 and TB885, a recent rebuild by the hangar now based in the Netherlands.
The Heritage Hangar tours offer something very different from what you might expect. In many ways more access is offered than a typical museum visit might entail and in fact the access to the restorations in progress simply can’t be enjoyed on the same scale anywhere else. The tour guides are very well versed in the aircraft and history so there is plenty of knowledge on hand. With two visits under my belt I certainly plan to make more regular visits to watch as further aircraft are completed.