The name ‘Biggin Hill’ is synonymous with the Battle of Britain, when a small band of fighter pilots stood alone against the might of the Luftwaffe, a fighting force greater in number and already proven in combat. From this hallowed ground, young men, with little experience and only basic training, took off to engage this enemy, with the fate of western civilisation resting on their shoulders. Through sheer determination, they prevailed, as pilot Geoffrey Wellum simply put it: “we beat them.”
Long before those dark days there had been flying from this plateau at the top of the North Downs. In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps based its Bristol Fighters on ‘the bump’ to defend London from bombing by Gotha bombers and Zeppelin airships.
Hurricanes arrived before the Second World War started and the station’s first ‘kill’ came soon after hostilities began on 2nd November 1939 when a Dornier Do17 was destroyed. Spitfires began arriving by the start of the Battle of Britain and soon, the Luftwaffe turned its attention on putting the airfield out of commission. Between 1940 and 1941, the station was bombed 12 times, but despite direct hits on the Operations block and many other areas, it was never actually closed.
During WW2, the Biggin Hill sector was the first to claim 1000 victories over enemy aircraft, an event which was marked with a lavish party in London. By the end of the war the tally reached over 1400.
After the war, Spitfires continued to fly from Biggin with the RAF Auxilliary Air Force, transitioning to Meteor and later Hunter jets and operating up until 1957 when the Auxilliary squadrons were disbanded and the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre became the sole remaining RAF presence until it too left in 1992.
Biggin Hill is renowned for its annual Air Fair which has been a major highlight of the show calendar for decades and now takes place as the ‘Biggin Hill Festival of Flight’.
Today, Biggin Hill is a busy airport for business aviation as well as providing a base for Formula 1’s aircraft fleet. Public facilities include a cafe where visitors can watch aircraft take off and depart.
The ‘jewel in Biggin Hill’s crown’ is undoubtedly the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, where visitors can take a tour of the world’s largest Spitfire restoration facility, ‘sit in a Spit’ plus for the more adventurous, there is the chance to fly in a Spitfire and take the controls.
Why fly anywhere else?
Of course, there are other locations where such flights are now possible, but when you take into account Biggin Hill’s links with the Spitfire and its central role in the Battle of Britain, flying from anywhere else is surely a much lesser experience. Nothing compares with coming back into Biggin in a ‘Spit’. The combination of the Spitfire and Biggin Hill multiplies the meaning of the experience.
It’s simply the closest you can get to being a Battle of Britain fighter pilot.