The More Things Change….2020’s Moving Warbirds

One thing that didn’t change, despite everything else that has been going around the world, is the ever-present movement of warbirds changing hands and locations around the world. Throughout the year there were various announcements as familiar favourites and some newly restored machines changed hands and moved to a new base, or even country. Whilst opportunities worldwide to enjoy these machines may have been few and far between, this means there are plenty of new local machines for new audiences to enjoy.

Turning attention first to the United States and a couple of big name movements. The first of which was Rod Lewis’ Mosquito PZ474, test-flown in early 2019 with a very successful appearance at Oshkosh in July as well. As it turns out 2019 would the only airshow season that the Mosquito would operate under the Lewis Air Legends banner (with a planned appearance at the Arsenal Of Democracy Flyover in Washington in May being cancelled). Fittingly, on its way to its new home in Sacramento in Northern California, the airframe made a night stop at Planes of Fame in Chino, where it the airframe spent many years in storage. This made for a great homecoming and yet another impressive machine to have passed through the Planes of Fame hangar. Though lower profile, it is understood that Lewis Air Legends’ P-40C and P-51D also departed around the same time to the same owner in Sacramento, where they join a further P-51D and Corsair. Hopefully with a California base it may be possible for these wonderful warbirds to become more regular sights on the display circuit.

Sticking with the Planes of Fame theme, they put out some excellent videos of the collection early in Lockdown, narrated by Steve Hinton himself. In one such video, featuring the museum’s jet hangar, it was mentioned that the museum would soon be acquiring an airworthy example of the type. With few options available aside form the Martin Baker pair in the UK, it became quickly apparent that the former Classic Flight T7 would be moving to Chino. The aircraft last flew in the UK publicly in 2015, before being acquired by an American owner in 2017. Following some familiarisation flights in the UK the Meteor was shipped to the states and re-flown. The airframe was acquired by Marty Tibbitts, founder of the World Heritage Air Museum in Detroit, operators of many other vintage jets. Tragically on the way to the aircraft’s US debut at Oshkosh, Marty Tibitts was killed whilst flying a de Havilland Venom. Understandably, following Oshkosh 2018, the Meteor has not been active. In late August 2020 the Meteor began the long ferry flight from Detroit to California, arriving with a spectacular run and break at its new home in Chino. As one of the premier operators of vintage aircraft around the world, including jets, Planes of Fame will be a fitting home for the Meteor where it will no doubt be well looked after. It is also worth noting that without Marty Tibbetts purchasing the airframe and giving it a new home in the United States, it would most likely still be ground bound in the UK as so many of the classic jets remain. I look forward to attending a Chino airshow in the future and seeing this wonderful machine in the air again.

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Back in the UK, it has been another busy year of aircraft moving between collections and around the world. A late arrival in 2019 was the wonderful Mk XIV Spitfire RN201 at Sywell, which many will remember for it’s distinct silver and red air racing scheme. Unable to fly in 2019, RN201 returned to UK skies as the first lockdown ended. Hopefully this machine will remain until the 2021 season as many would love to see this Spitfire flying again. Joining RN201 at Sywell was another new Spitfire for the UK MH415. Much of the restoration work of this very original Spitfire (part of the Connie Edwards collection, alongside the many Buchon’s at Sywell) was carried out in Australia before being shipped to Sywell for the final stages of restoration and to take part in the Battle of Britain 80th displays (if only!). Hopefully this Spitfire will fly next year.

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While there have been some arrivals at Sywell, there have also been some departures. After the incredible sight of no fewer than five Hispano Buchons gracing the skies at Flying Legends in 2019, it was inevitable that the collection would eventually scatter. All four Sywell restored examples have been for sale at one point or another since their first flights. The summer of 2020 saw both Yellow 7 and Chevron/White 5 depart. Yellow 7 has recently been unveiled in the hangar at Meir Motors in Germany, though no new owner has been announced. It is not known at this time where Chevron/White 5 has departed to but hopefully we will get a chance to enjoy these machines again and with any luck, they will keep their Merlin engines. Merlin powered Buchons were, ironically, becoming a rare breed before the Sywell revival of the last few years.

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Other notable bits of news towards the end of this year were the sale of Yak 3 G-OLEG (though not moving far, as it still appears to be based at Sywell for the time being) and Spitfire XVIII SM845.

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The Spitfire is expected to depart to an as yet undisclosed owner in mainland Europe. This airframe is a stunning example of the type and has taken on the leading role in many of the big Spitfire formations of the past few years, including that wonderful closing performance from Cliff Spink at Duxford last September.

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I’ve no doubt I’ve missed out a few changes, likely of types I don’t have too many pictures of. I know there has been a great selection of WWI types make their way to the NZ Warbirds Collection at Ardmore and of course Hurricane G-HHII has spent the summer at Biggin Hill carrying out it’s first two seat flights. With an ever changing world situation, it seems inevitable that we will see a few more movements in the next 12 months or so. Always an exciting chance to perhaps see something new in this country in the coming months and years.

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