The team at ‘Fly a Spitfire’ were honoured to welcome WWII Veteran Casimer ‘Casey’ Bukowski to our Biggin Hill HQ to celebrate his 99th birthday.
Staff Sgt Bukowski was a waist gunner on B-17’s and his story includes his ordeal as a POW, including interrogations, two POW camps, and an 82-day forced march during the coldest winter on record in Germany.
During his aerial duties he had the distinction of bailing out of not one, but two burning B-17s.
Bukowski began his war time service as a young man in Buffalo making parts for the P-40, and eventually it led to his aerial duties, capture and liberation as a POW by Patton’s Third Army.
As well as showing Casey our Spitfire Factory, vintage vehicles and USAF aircraft, we were delighted to take him up in one of our 2 Seat Spitfires where he was joined by two other WWII warbirds, our P51-D Mustang and Spitfire RW382 both proudly carrying USAF liveries.
Casey is now set to travel to Normandy in Northern France to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day – when troops from the USA, Canada and UK landed on the beaches of Nazi-occupied France – on Tuesday (June 6).
Happy Birthday Casey – thank you for your service!
By: Darren Dray
Kent and the Spitfire
Kent and the Spitfire are synonymous with each other for two reasons. The first is that together with the Hawker Hurricane it fought the Battle of Britain in the skies above Kent. The second is that the good people of Kent donated money from 1941 onwards to purchase a squadron of Spitfires.
This ‘gift of war’ came about due to the unfortunate luck of Wg Cdr Robert Stanford Tuck. Taking part in a particularly ferocious dogfight over Kent in which he claimed two enemy aircraft shot down, Stanford Tuck unfortunately had to abandon his aircraft which had received several bullet holes. As he floated down under his parachute he saw that he was going to land in the gardens of a large Kentish house near Maidstone called ‘Plovers’.
This was the Kent home of Lord Cornwallis, the then president of the Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men. Watching the parachute descend, his Lordship despatched a car to pick up the unfortunate airman. Bringing him back to the house, a bath was prepared for Stanford Tuck as he was informed that the doctor was on his way. Meeting Lord Cornwallis, Tuck thanked him for the loan of his bath and immediately fell asleep for seven hours. When he awoke, Lord Cornwallis told that he had just received a cheque for £5,000 from Stanley Johnson of Bearsted with the suggestion that the money be used to purchase a new Spitfire, an idea that immediately caught the imagination of his Lordship. After chatting with Stanford Tuck, he proposed that the money would be the first instalment towards not one Spitfire but a flight of Spitfires to be known as ‘The Invicta Flight of Spitfires’.
Lord Cornwallis made an appeal to the people of Kent and after a meeting of the War Emergency Committee came the inauguration of the Kent County Spitfire Fund. The idea fired the imagination of the people of Kent and many towns were soon in competition with each other to see who could raise the greater amount. Soon £29,370 had been collected, enough to purchase a flight of three Spitfires aptly named ‘Man of Kent – Kentish Man – and Fair Maid of Kent’. In acknowledgement of this, Lord Beaverbrook wrote to Lord Cornwallis: ‘Your letter tells a tale of great endeavour and generous-hearted patriotism that must command the admiration of us all. The nation’s thanks are due in full measure to the men and women of Kent for their magnificent contribution to the strength of the Royal Air Force’.
By March 1941 the fund had risen to £67,677 and in November to over £100,000, enough money for an entire squadron. Lord Cornwallis once again received a letter, this time from the President of Aircraft Production, Col Moore Brabazon which read: ‘We are very pleased that the County of Kent has been successful in achieving sufficient money to pay for a full fighter squadron. This will be a County of Kent Squadron and Kent will be the first county as usual to have a squadron named after it’. The final amount of money was obtained by bringing together the funds of Ashford, Bexley, Beckenham, Chislehurst and Sidcup, Crayford, Dartford, Faversham, Folkestone and Hythe, Gillingham, Gravesend, Snodland, Tonbridge and finally Royal Tunbridge Wells. In acknowledging his thanks, Lord Cornwallis said: ‘ Just remember that when you look upward to the skies, it may be your squadron that is defending the gateway of England and ask for God’s blessing and protection for those glorious men who are riding on the wings of the White Horse of Kent’.
Later Lord Cornwallis presented two flags bearing the White Horse of Kent and the motto ‘Invicta’ to the squadron. Though the Kent Squadron, No.131, it was never based at a Kent airfield. It did stay at Biggin Hill for a number of days but mainly served at the airfields of Sussex, Surrey and Wales. In 1945 it was sent to India where it disbanded at the end of the year. Its pilots destroyed 13 enemy aircraft with seven probably destroyed and 19 damaged. It also gained a name for excellent work in low level strafing attacks in preparation for the invasion of Normandy and the conquest of Europe. Five of the commanding officers had gained the DFC with several of the airmen Mentioned in Despatches. In a letter to the squadron the Air Officer Commanding expressed regret that it had been necessary to terminate the existence of 131 (County of Kent) Fighter Squadron. This was due to the process of reduction of the strength of the RAF.
Today TA805, a Spitfire Mk9, flies in memory of the squadron. It bears the inscription ‘Spirit of Kent’ emblazoned on the fuselage and is a reminder of those days when Kent was and still is, the only county in the UK to have paid for an entire RAF Squadron.
Spitfire Flights from Cotswold Airport – announcement by Peter Monk, Managing Director of flyaspitfire.com and the Spitfire Company (Biggin Hill) Limited:
“We’re delighted to confirm that ‘FlyaSpitfire.com’ flights will be in operation from Cotswold Airport starting this summer. A brand new hangar and office facilities are currently under construction and flight operations are scheduled to begin in June 2023.
This is not a temporary operation, it’s a permanent extension of the ‘Fly a Spitfire.com’ organisation. We’ll have space for multiple Spitfires with full engineering support on site and all year round operation.
Having Spitfires based here echoes history as Maintenance Units and Air Transport Auxiliary operations were here at RAF Kemble in the 1940’s ”
“Cotswold Airport is the largest private business airport in the South West with easy links to major road and rail networks. It boasts a 2009m hard runway and immaculate grass strip with excellent viewing areas and onsite Café for visitors.”
“This new location makes it easy for anyone to the West of London, the Midlands and South West England to enjoy a FlyaSpitfire.com flight in a genuine WWII era Spitfire. With routes that can include the Cotswolds, Severn Estuary, North Devon coast and the Isle of Wight, you can Fly a Spitfire over some of the most picturesque countryside that the UK has to offer. We will of course continue with Spitfire flights and restoration projects from our existing Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar location in Kent.
“There’s a proud history of aviation here and the Cotswold Airport team are at the forefront of sustainable aviation technology.
In 2021 Cotswold Airport hosted the Worlds first flight using 100% Synthetic fuel and in January this year another ground breaking flight took place; a test flight of the worlds largest aircraft powered by a hydrogen-electric engine.
Sustainable aviation technologies like these will ensure we can continue to fly Spitfires and other historic aircraft for generations to come”
Suzannah Harvey, CEO of Cotswold Airport;
“We’re thrilled to welcome FlyaSpitfire.com to Cotswold Airport and this is the fruition of 4 years of planning and talks. They will be a most welcomed addition to our historic aircraft already on display at Cotswold Airport and providing incredible experiences for aviation enthusiasts”.
1940’s Dispersal makeover for Biggin Hill Spitfire Facilities
The flight ops team and volunteers have been busy at Biggin Hill performing a 1940’s Makeover on our Spitfire guest lounge.
Whilst the facility has always offered a comfortable space with elevated views across the aircraft ramp area, taxiways and runway; it was decided to recreate the look of a 1940’s RAF dispersal hut to enhance the experience for the 2023 season .
The new facility now boasts a period paint scheme, light fittings and taped glass detailing. This is complemented with WWII information posters, RAF pilot galleries, vintage radio equipment, the famous Biggin Hill Squadron chalk boards and of course the classic Scramble Bell. This 1940’s makeover adds another level of authenticity for visiting guests.
Our outside garden area continues to provide the perfect spot to soak up the sunshine, enjoy a picnic and enjoy the views of our Spitfires and other WWII aircraft departing and arriving.
A massive thankyou to all the team who gave up their time to create this fantastic new facility, we have plans for further improvements so will share more updates soon!
By: Darren Dray
Restored Mosquito to be based at Biggin Hill
Mosquito at Biggin Hill – announcement by Peter Monk, Managing Director of flyaspitfire.com and the Spitfire Company (Biggin Hill):
“Following previous announcements and patiently waiting for availability in a busy restoration programme we’re delighted to confirm that we’ve now commissioned the team at AVSPECS NZ to commence the restoration of a Mosquito FB.VI . Upon completion the aircraft will join our fleet of 2 seat Spitfires and other WWII aircraft that are available for flight experiences here at Biggin Hill.
The team at AVSPECS are leaders in the field of Mosquito restoration and this will be the 5th airframe that they have restored to an airworthy condition. Whilst there’s always an appetite for us to take on different restoration projects at our own ‘Spitfire Factory’ at Biggin Hill, the unique skill set and proven experience of the team at AVSPECS makes them an obvious choice for this special project.
The restoration is scheduled to take 3 years and once completed the aircraft will complete a commemorative tour of New Zealand, Australia and then on to the UK in honour of the Commonwealth pilots that flew Mosquitos in WWII.
The Mosquito has a special place in history and we’re still deciding which specific markings the aircraft will carry upon its completion. Recognition of the pilots and French resistance fighters that took part in ‘Operation Jericho’ on 18th February 1944 is a popular choice, however we’re still considering a number of options and will be releasing regular updates on the progress of the project on Facebook.
We believe this will be the only airworthy example of the Mosquito in Europe and we’re excited at the prospect of offering members of the public the chance to ‘Fly a Mosquito’ from Biggin Hill in 2026.”
Image shows two Mosquitos of 464 Squadron crossing the channel during Operation Jericho (Ramrod 564) 18th February 1944
By: Darren Dray
Special Tour ‘USAF Aircraft and Vehicles’
As part of our 2023 Special Tour series we’re pleased to announce our ‘US Aircraft and Vehicles’Tour.
Join our guides for up close viewing and discussion of some icons ‘from across the pond’ including:
The tour lasts for two hours with numbers limited to just 10 places on each session,
Tickets for the first US themed tours can be purchased here (select 30th April or 25th June) for £49 or call us for more details.
*P-51D Mustang viewing subject to weather conditions
By: Darren Dray
Spitfire Flight Winners announced
flyaspitfire.com were proud to continue support of the RAF Benevolent Fund with our 2022 Spitfire Flight competition in partnership with The Daily Express.
The competition ran during December 2022 with the chance for 2 people to win a ‘Weald of Kent’ Spitfire Flight, entrants were encouraged to make a donation to the RAF Benevolent Fund
On Friday 6th January all the entries were placed in a WWII Spitfire ammunition box and two were drawn by RAF Veteran George Dunn. George, who turned 100 in September 2022, was amongst the first recipients of a Centenary Birthday messsage from his Majesty King Charles III. George completed 44 operations during the Second World War. He flew his first tour from May to October 1943 on Handley Page Halifax bombers with 76 Squadron, during one of the most intense periods of bombing of the war. On completion of his tour, and after a period as an instructor pilot, he then took up duties flying de Havilland Mosquitos, firstly with 608 Squadron and then with No. 1409 Met Flight.
George spoke fondly of the RAF Benevolent fund:
“I have been involved with the RAF Benevolent Fund since about 2009. We have a group in Sussex, which does book-signings at garden centres and museums, and we have raised in the region of £100,000. It shows that we can contribute to the welfare of those that are less fortunate, and the demand is still there. Even though we are not at war, there are still people that are suffering from the effects of the last war, or World War Two, or the Falklands, and they still need the help of the RAF Benevolent Fund.”
The lucky winners were: Richard Weatherall and Catherine Parker, both were thrilled to be selected and are looking forward to the flight of a lifetime in the worlds most famous aircraft.
The competition is now closed but you can still make a donation to the RAF Benevolent Fund here
By: Darren Dray
Special ‘Battle of Britain Icon’ Tours for 2023
To celebrate the new year we’re rolling out a series of special themed tours for 2023. Each tour will have a different theme and will delve deeper into specific aircraft, pivotal periods in history or areas of interest.
We’re kicking the series off with ‘Icons of the Battle of Britain’ aircraft tour which will focus on three iconic aircraft – the Spitfire Mk1, Hurricane and the Messerschmitt 109E.
We’re lucky to have examples of all these aircraft based here currently :
This Battle of Britain tour is a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the different characteristics of each aircraft, how they came into production and the role they played in the Battle of Britain.
Tickets for our first ‘Icons of the Battle of Britain’ Tour can be purchased here (select 5th March) or call us for more details.
We plan to roll out additional dates throughout the year along with other Special Spitfire Factory themed tours such as WWII USA Aircraft and Vehicles, Spitfire Armament and the History of Biggin Hill.
By: Darren Dray
Spitfire Origins – the Mk.I Spitfire
How many people today realise that this iconic aircraft, with a name that sounds like defiance and victory was originally slated to be called ‘Shrew’ or ‘Shrike’.
Fortunately, the chairman of Vickers Aviation had decided that something more warlike was required. It is rumoured that his daughter inspired the name. “She’s a little spitfire” he is meant to have said. Others have suggested that the name Spitfire itself added to its potency as a weapon and that without such an evocative name we could have lost the war.
Almost cancelled at birth
Consideration was given to cancelling the project early on in favour of a Gloster design due to fears that Supermarine, a manufacturer of seaplanes, had insufficient capacity to build aircraft in the large numbers required. Gloster and companies like Hawker were still caught up in wood and fabric methods of aircraft building, whereas Supermarine had experience of high-speed metal monoplanes in their successful Schneider Trophy racing aircraft designs.
The brief included all-metal construction with good visibility for the pilot, a top speed of 195mph and the ability to carry four .303 machine guns.
When the brief arrived on R.J. Mitchell’s desk, work started straight away. The tender document was back with the Air Ministry just over a hundred days later. From the companies that submitted designs, three were awarded contracts, including Supermarine’s new design which showed the highest performance potential of all. Trials proved disappointing, after whichSupermarine pursued their own vision of what a next generation fighter should be like, principally with eight guns, a much greater top speed and an enclosed cockpit.
I don’t want anything touched
The prototype K5054 was flown for the first time on 5th March 1936, the test pilot Mutt Summers famously saying “I don’t want anything touched” after landing. The jury is out as to what he meant by this. Some say that he was declaring the aeroplane perfect, others say that he wanted the aeroplane left as it was so that it provided a benchmark for subsequent flights.
After the first flight, a variable pitch propeller was fitted to allow exploration of the aeroplane’s performance and the undercarriage was unlocked. It had been prevented from retraction on its maiden flight for safety reasons. Eight.303 Browning machine guns were also fitted to the wings.
Cutting edge development with peas
Trials followed, including a unique experiment, involving a bag of split peas. K5054 had been built with all flush rivets on the outer skins, but these were time consuming to use in production. The solution was to glue split peas on the rivet heads to simulate dome-headed rivets which were quicker to use. By removing the peas from various areas of skin and conducting tests, the optimum balance was found, giving the best performance but with the minimum time required to build each Spitfire.
In 1937, performance was given a further enhancement with the addition of a triple ejector exhaust on each side of the aeroplane. This modification alone produced 70lbs of propulsive thrust, boosting the top speed to 360mph.
From the initial flights onwards, the prototype was gradually developed and modified until it basically represented the MKI that would go into production.
Finally, in September 1939, the prototype was involved in a fatal landing accident where it turned over onto its back, killing the pilot Flt. Lt. G.S White. This revealed a flaw in the pilot’s harness and the installation was redesigned, saving many lives in the conflict that was to follow.
From the first squadron deliveries to the Battle of Britain
The Spitfire had a long and illustrious career, having been the sole fighter aircraft in the allied inventory that had been in front line service from before the Second World War to the very end, and beyond that in secondary roles. The first model to see service was, naturally the Mk.1 which grew out of the prototype’s constant testing and development.
First orders and doubts
310 Spitfires were ordered in 1936, before the prototype had even flown. Initial production was rather disappointing as the Supermarine Works was already fully engaged in building flying boats for the RAF. It wasn’t until August 1938 that the first MK.1 Spitfires were delivered to 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford, the unit to carry the honour of being the first to operate them. Even then the Air Ministry proposed that the programme should be abandoned altogether. They were persuaded otherwise by the management at Supermarine, with a promise to get production moving at a proper rate. By involving other factories, from 1938 to 1939 2, 160 aircraft were ordered, making it one of the largest orders in RAF history.
At this stage, the early Mk1s were powered by the Merlin II which produced 1,030 horsepower, with a fixed pitch, two-bladed propeller that allowed a maximum speed of 362mph and a maximum height of 31,900 feet. An external electric starter cart was required. A three bladed, two position propeller was fitted from the 78th aircraft onwards and later, a blown sided canopy replaced the early flat type, improving the pilot’s field of view, including, crucially, the view to the rear.
A major issue at higher altitudes, was the constant freezing of the guns due to condensation. Heating was installed early in the production run, which made the problem less common, warm air loss was minimised by covering the gun apertures with fabric patches that also prevented ingestion of dirt and debris. Fabric was also used to cover the rudder, elevator and initially, the ailerons, which later gained an aluminium skin instead, a feature not made standard until 1941.
Initially, the aircraft and its pilot were rather vulnerable even to small arms fire and shrapnel. Later in 1939, an armoured windscreen was added, giving much-needed protection for the pilot and a thicker aluminium cover for the fuel tank area immediately in front of the cockpit. The lower fuel tank itself was given a self-sealing rubber coating. From mid-1940 steel armour plate was added to further protect pilots. A quick-release canopy system was added to aid bailing out.
The two pitch propellers were converted to constant speed units, which improved the climb rate – a crucial advantage in an aerial battle, while also shortening the take off run at the cost of a slightly lower top speed. The availability of 100 octane petrol allowed the lost speed to be
regained for short periods, by advancing the throttle into emergency boost, breaking a wire guard that prevented accidental use and alerting the ground crew that this fact had to be entered in the engine’s logbook.
The Spitfire was on the face of it, outgunned by the Bf109 with its 20mm cannon armament. To remedy this, a number of Mk1 Spitfires were fitted with Hispano 20mm cannons themselves. Jamming was a problem and some pilots such as Douglas Bader refused to use Spitfires thus equipped, preferring the standard fit of 8 .303 machine guns. With the choice of armament, a new designation was made between them, the cannon version being the Mk1b and the original machine gun version being redesignated MK1a. The best mix was eventually proved as being two cannon and four machine guns.
In combat, the Spitfire had a serious issue. If required to make a negative G manoeuvre such as diving away, the engine would stutter due to the floattype carburettor becoming flooded, while the Bf109, with its fuel-injected engine, could dive away without loss of power. A Spitfire pilot in this situation had to roll the aeroplane on its back and pull to maintain positive G, losing time and temporarily losing sight of the enemy behind his nose. Both had their relative merits, the Spitfire could turn tighter, while the 109 had a better climb rate, but only a marginal difference existed. The outcome of an engagement often depended more on who saw the opponent first and had the element of surprise on their side than any technical aspects.
Spitfires with cameras
Reconnaissance versions of the Mk1 were created to exploit the small size and high speed of the aeroplane, to avoid interception that larger aircraft could easily suffer. In the conversion, all armament was removed, along with the radio equipment. The external finish was rubbed down, gun ports and panel lines filled to reduce drag and painted pale blue with a high gloss finish. These measures contributed to a top speed of 390mph for the MK 1 PR Type A. Provision was made for two cameras to be fitted with a heating system to prevent them freezing in cold conditions at high altitude.
Later versions had upgraded cameras and range was extended by increasing the fuel capacity, while the Merlin engine was upgraded to the Merlin XII. Armoured windscreens were removed and blown canopies were fitted with streamlined ‘blisters’ protruding from the sides that allowed better downward vision for the pilot.
Very long-range versions were produced by converting the wing leading edge ‘D-box’ structure to hold additional fuel. Aircraft so equipped were able to fly photo reconnaissance missions as far as Marseilles and Toulon.
Production of the Mk1 Spitfire carried on after the Battle of Britain into 1941, with a total run of 1,517 aircraft.
Check Our News Pages for upcoming articles detailing the SPITFIRE MK II and MKIII
By: Darren Dray
HISPANO BUCHON ‘WHITE 9’ JOINS FLYASPITFIRE.COM FLEET AT BIGGIN HILL
Powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin 500/45 instead of the Daimler Benz 605 found in the Messerschmitt manufactured 109 this aircraft served with the Spanish Air Force from 1958 to 1965.
The aircraft carries the colour scheme of ‘White 9’ ME109 flown by UFFZ Edmund Roβmann who flew with the Jadgeschwader 52 (Fighter wing) in the Battle of Britain before transferring to Russia.
The aircraft flew in the classic movie ‘Battle of Britain’ before being sold and stored in the USA. Returning to the UK its first post restoration flight took place in June 2018.
The aircraft will join the unique collection of WWII era aircraft based at Biggin Hill and ‘White 9 ‘ is expected to be available to accompany 2023 Two Seat Spitfire flights for formation tailchase experiences.
A Spitfire and ‘109’ pursuing each other over the fields of Kent will be an emotive sight.
UPDATE – 109 Tail chase is now available to book as an upgrade £1275 on any Spitfire and Mustang flights from 1st May onwards.