New in 2020 – First Flights, New looks and Welcome Returns

Following on from the earlier post looking at some of the aircraft that have moved around the world in the last 12 months, I thought I’d take another look at some of the aircraft that have either flown for the first time since restoration, returned to the air or received a new look this season.

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Things started off pretty early in late January 2020 (how different everything looked then?) with the first flight of the “Greek” Spitfire MJ755 from Biggin Hill. I was lucky enough to be at Biggin Hill to catch the first flight from the cafe and this remains one of the high points of 2020. Especially with the excellent “Spitfire Factory” documentary series recently aired that followed the rebuild of this distinctive Spitfire.

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Biggin Hill were busy all year with two further projects taking to the sky. In late July they completed the overhaul of Spitfire T9 TE308. For many years this was one of the few two seat Spitfires flying worldwide and flew extensively in the hands of the previous owner Bill Greenwood (who sadly passed away recently) until it was damaged in a landing accident over a decade ago. Acquired by the Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill in 2019 the airframe now wears the colours of the famous Grey Nurse squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force. Living under the Biggin Hill Spitfire route to Dover I can confirm this machine has been kept very busy throughout the summer and even remains my only December warbird sighting so far.

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The final Biggin project to fly is one I am yet to see in person, other than at a hangar tour in early January at which time only the fuselage was complete, though still in RAF markings, is Peter Teichman’s Spitfire IX PT879. This Spitfire is completed in the distinctive Russian colour scheme as it wore during the war, making it a unique warbird. Test flying was completed early in the second national lockdown in November. Hopefully 2021 will offer some chances for enthusiasts to enjoy this wonderful machine in the air.

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Across the Atlantic, another great restoration came to an end during 2020. The Planes of Fame Museum have had their own Bearcat project underway for many years now. The pictures here are from my visit back in October 2019 and it’s incredible that in just a few short months the aeroplane was flying. it originally completed it’s test flying unpainted before being finished and later making its public debut at one of the museum’s flying days.

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Back closer to home there have been a few aircraft receive new colour schemes during the off-season/summer months. The first notable repaint came in the form of Shaun Patrick’s P-51D Mustang, formerly known as many as “The Shark”. The RAF paintscheme was removed over the winter to be replaced by a wonderful bare metal 4th Fighter Group scheme. This simple scheme combined with the natural finish of the metal makes for a striking example of the American fighter and offered a fresh look on the airshow circuit.

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The Duxford based Historic Aircraft Company’s Spitfire and Hurricane have been through a number of different paint schemes over the years, both long-term and temporary. This year they both received new looks, with the Spitfire getting a thorough update late in the season (recently unveiled in November). Both aircraft now wear the colours of Polish squadrons, ahead of their recently announced tour of Poland in 2021. While the Spitfire’s paint-scheme had become a legend in it’s own right over the years, it does look great for the refresh and I look forward to getting some updated pictures of it when restrictions ease sufficiently.

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Once again in this post, I’ve skipped through the year and no doubt missed a few key moments along the way, but there is one return to flight that sums up all of the good parts of 2020. That is Spitfire XI PL983, affectionally known as “L”, until it picked up another nickname this year. Having only returned to flight again following a long time on the ground in 2018, the airframe was damaged in a landing accident in Europe in the summer of 2019. The aircraft restoration company got the Spitfire flying again in May and it soon started timing test flights with the weekly “clap for our carers”. To co-incide with the final tribute, the team painted “THANK U NHS” on the underside of the wing and a whole new story began. I won’t repeat the full story here but what followed was a national tour of this Spitfire and a NHS fundraising campaign that saw hundreds if not thousands of names hand painted on to the Spitfire. This was a wonderful tribute to the NHS in a difficult year and no doubt raised the spirits of thousands.

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Just another short post to show all that can still go on, even in as strange a year as 2020.

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