de Havilland Chipmunk 70th Anniversary

Sunday 22nd May 2016

The 22nd of May 2016 marked the 70th anniversary of the first flight of the de Havilland Canada Chipmunk prototype, CF-DIO-X, at the hands of Pat Fillingham at Downsview, Ontario; the resulting aircraft became undoubtedly one of the most iconic and loved aircraft types in the UK and - indeed - overseas. In recognition of the occasion a Chippie fly-in was organised at Old Warden aerodrome, with nearly 50 of the type turning up on the day.

Sam Wise travelled to Bedfordshire to see so many of his favourite aircraft gathered together. Additional photography by Dan Ledwood.

Though the organisers were explicit on social media in the weeks before the event that this was not a Shuttleworth event, just a fly-in, nevertheless there quite a large crowd of visitors came to the airfield to watch over 40 aircraft fly in, land and take off again. And who can blame them? After all, the Chipmunk is surely one of the most recognisable and beloved post-war British aircraft, and to have such a fantastic gathering was a very attractive prospect indeed.

Old Warden’s usual commentator Tim Calloway was giving a rundown of proceedings, and explained how his first ever flight, many years ago, was in a "Chippie" - a story familiar to many up and down the country as the type introduced many thousands to the joy of flight over the years. Most incredibly, and with a great deal of emotion evident in Tim’s voice, that very Chipmunk that first took him up landed at Old Warden on Sunday as if to underline exactly what this type means to so many people.

There were even some international participants on Sunday, including a trio of "Chippies" from Denmark (team name - the Chip Chaps!). Undoubtedly the star of the event, however, was G-AKDN - the oldest surviving Chipmunk in the world. Shipped over from Canada for the event, the aircraft was utterly resplendent in a beautiful chrome and green livery and attracted a great deal of interest from visitors and pilots alike - in the morning, many of the visiting Chipmunk pilots could be seen going over to have a look. It was very appropriate that this significant aircraft took Sonja Fillingham, widow of the first flight’s pilot, for a flight in the afternoon - with the event being recorded for posterity from the Collection’s Miles Magister.

Along with the other aircraft that arrived before noon, 'KDN was moved to the top of the cross runway which was later opened up to the public - credit must go to the organisers and owners for arranging such close access to the aircraft for members of the public, especially at a "non-event". At 12 o’clock exactly, 19 Chipmunks that had been gathering at RAF Henlow in the previous days arrived overhead in a spectacular formation - 16 aircraft spelling out "70" with three aircraft behind them, flying in from the east before breaking up into groups of three or four to land. As the last aircraft shut down the crowd broke into appreciative applause for their efforts - for their part the pilots involved looked extremely pleased with the result.

Great weather - despite what was forecast - ensured that a large number of aircraft were able to make the event, and there’s no doubt that the Chipmunk community is as strong as ever. The day paid great tribute to a highly successful aircraft, and hopefully as equally a brilliant day will be had for the 75th Anniversary to come!

"Planning started in August 2015 following on from the successful event last year. When I realised the 22nd May 2016 was a Sunday I thought it important to 'book' the date ASAP to stop any other airfield pinching the idea so I proposed the event to Shuttleworth at that time and obtained their kind permission to host it.

"It was decided early on that there should be a 'happy hour' when the public would be allowed amongst the parked aircraft. We tried to pack the uphill section of the cross runway with interesting aircraft. Pilots and owners were given the opportunity not to have their aircraft parked where the public had access but no-one objected.

"We’re extremely grateful for the generous sponsorship by Pooleys Flight Equipment and Vintage Engine Technology (Vintech), not to mention the free time given by the Airfield Volunteer Fire Service and North Weald Marshallers (and the poor bloody air traffickers)"

Steve Le-Vien,
Event Organiser

"RAF Henlow were very interested in a Chipfest being run there in 2016 and following a very positive meeting in February, it was decided that this would be an ideal location for the required practice for the 70th event. Discussion then turned to the shape of the formation and the 70 was born as being a possibility if we could muster some 17 aircraft plus some reserves in order to cover cancellations and any technical issues that might occur. Also finalised were the accommodation, food and all the supporting logistics of fuel and oil which were all available courtesy of RAF Henlow Flying Club and the based 616 Sqdn.VGS organisation courtesy of their CO Sqdn Ldr Neal Battye.

"However, it was quickly realised that some line abreast flying in the numeral 7 was going to be required and that this would be a challenge as that formation is not usually flown and does not feature in our SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) manual.

"Such was the concentration of the pilots in the formation in maintaining spacing on the aircraft in front of them that all aircraft had an experienced crew member in the back seat who kept the pilot briefed on his position relative to the aircraft that he was aligned with across the formation and thus the whole formation was a huge team effort.

"My thanks to all the pilots and instructors who responded to my calls to take part and to supplying much information and documentation for the relative authorities in order that the event might take place. Their dedication, professional attitude and good humour throughout meant that the result on the day was a huge success.

"It is probably true to say that this might be the only time that a civilian group of pilots in the UK have flown a numerical formation as this is usually the province of the military during squadron celebrations."

Rod Brown,
'70' Formation Organiser