North Weald Gathering of Warbirds & Veterans Report

Sunday 25th April 2010

Following on from the success of their Hurricane event last autumn, the 'Gathering' team held a far larger event on Sunday 25 April - the 'Gathering of Warbirds and Veterans'. The excitement and anticipation had been steadily building from the time that the advert first appeared on the UKAR forum in late January, as had the participation list of attending aircraft and wartime veteran aircrew. Being so early in the season, this would be many people's first chance of aviation action of the year.

Words by Phil Whalley. Photos by the author, Daniel Butcher and Stuart Norris.

With this being a much larger event than previous, use was made of the extensive hard standing of the Weald Aviation apron, and Hangar Four housed the attending wartime pilots. The day saw the first public appearance by Historic Flying's Hispano Buchon 'Bf109' G-BWUE since its winter repaint. Now displayed as 'Yellow 10' in the scheme in which it appeared during the filming of United Artists epic 1968 production Battle of Britain, it was a poignant reminder that there were heroes on both sides of the conflict. One such in attendance was Major Hans-Ekkehard Bob, who was flying Bf109s with JG 54 during the actual conflict, ending the war with sixty victories. Clive Denney took the 93 year old veteran for a short flight during the day in the Vintage Fabrics operated Nord 1002 'Bf108', also in a similar wartime scheme.

"The day didn't start particularly well - heavy rain during the drive into North Weald, plus a closure of the M11. Fortunately this didn't deter many people, with an impressive turnout from an early stage. There was a good selection of aircraft on show and it was interesting to meet some of the veterans and former crew who worked at North Weald during the war. The afternoon was sunny, with plenty of photo opportunities - hopefully a similar event will be staged next year!"

Matt Hampton,
Vampire Preservation Group Chief Pilot

Most of the attending veterans were of course from the Allied forces, and all showed great stoicism by continuing to autograph the many items offered to them by the public throughout the day. Their numbers were also mirrored out on the concrete with no less than four Spitfires, two P-51D Mustangs, a Hurricane and a Seafire being just a few of the aircraft included in the impressive static display. Maurice Hammond's two immaculate Mustangs, along with his equally smart sky blue Harvard 'Fools Rush In', came late to the party having waited at their Hardwick base in Norfolk for the rainy weather to clear, which sadly blighted much of the morning. Once 'Janie' and 'Marinell' had taxied in, they were presented to the public without barriers, and with the panels removed to show their gun and belt fed ammunition bays. The work that has gone into these restorations is exquisite, and with no fencing and the now almost clear blue skies, the photographic opportunities were boundless and much appreciated.

"The Gathering of Warbirds and Veterans was not a photo day, as many people expected, so our first objective was to position the aircraft in such a way that people could get some decent photographs, with not too many barriers. All those aircraft that were "barrier off" were so at the wish of the owner/operator - including Maurice Hammond's pair of P-51Ds, Richard Meredith's Pilatus P-2 and several others parked on the grass - with just a few North Weald staff keeping an eye out. As it turned out, this was not really necessary as the paying public behaved wonderfully well.

Having seen the threads on the UKAR forum and looked at all the photos, there are some fantastic shots out there from the event. I would like to thank not only those who helped set up and worked on the day, but to everyone who turned up to support the Gathering. The atmosphere was one that I had not experienced at an airfield for a long time, and I hope we can do it all again next year."

Nigel Kemp,
North Weald Ground Crew

"We had a very full weekend with the normal Market and a number of participants flying in during the afternoon on Saturday. On Sunday, we had many separate events across the whole airfield: the Gathering of Warbirds & Veterans, the monthly RV formation school, a motor sprint, football, archery, model flyers and a large wedding."

It was tiring, but the public and enthusiasts attending were well behaved and there were no real problems for us. With all the positive feedback afterwards, which helps to raise the public profile of the airfield, we are looking forward to more innovative aviation events at North Weald in the future.

Trevor Jago,
North Weald Airfield Ops Team

Earlier in the day we were witness to an engine run by PBY-5A Catalina N423RS 'JV928' which arrived at the airfield on 8 December 2009. It is undergoing further restoration, following on from 14 months work previously carried out at Lee-on-Solent, towards an intended summer departure to the USA. The number two engine was particularly smoky on start up. It will be sad to see her depart, especially as her 'Killer Cat' markings hark back to the days when her Plane Sailing predecessor, G-BLSC, was a popular airshow performer in the eighties and nineties in this exact same scheme. Also of note amongst the 'static' was the impressive line-up of Strikemasters and Jet Provosts, including stalky T.1 XD693, which for a short time had a 'piston' Provost beside it showing the clear lineage.

Thanks in part to the inclement early weather, the day was interspersed with a number of other movements, including a few Yak52s, a Pilatus P.2 and the Air Atlantique DC3 'KK116', whose late departure was the most impressive of the day. We must also highlight one special movement from The Vampire Preservation Group's T.11 WZ507, taking aloft UKAR forum member Ben Montgomery who won their 2009 photographic competition and was cashing-in his prize. Well done Ben. The 'Gathering' team's ambition paid dividends with a highly-successful event, which will hopefully be repeated in the future.

"We were very happy to support the event and Help for Heroes. We thought the event was great mix of interesting aircraft, the wonderful veterans (who gave a lot of time to the event) in relaxed surroundings to effectively kick off the display season. Kevin, Ian and the whole team worked very hard to make it a success and fun, making us feel very welcome. I think everyone involved enjoyed the atmosphere created and we enjoyed seeing BN in such exulted company. It almost had a beginning of term feel for the display community!

I think the success of the event will encourage the team to continue with their plans for future events. Fighter Meet 2011?

Richard Piper,
Participating Pilot, Harvard G-AZBN