In the second of an occasional new series detailing developments at important aviation heritage airﬁelds
Richard Paver visits
North Weald Airfield, which is owned and run by Epping Forest
District Council, is one of the most historically important aerodromes in the country. It was a major operational airfield during the Battle of Britain and remained an RAF station up until its closure in 1964. It also had a long association with the Royal Norwegian Air Force which based its 331 and 332 Squadrons here during World War Two.
Today, the airfield is still very active and with the main Runway 02/20 having a length of 6,171ft (1,881m) it can easily cater for a wide range of historic aircraft, including fast jets. Several owners and operators of historic types are based here with hangarage, fuel and engineering services (with E4 and M5 approvals) being provided by two independent companies. One of these is known as ‘The Squadron’ (trading as North
Weald Flying Services Ltd) and the other is Weald Aviation Ltd. The Herts Air
Ambulance is also based at the latter’s facility, and flies an 902 Explorer. North
Weald is an ideal location for it as it can reach all parts of Hertfordshire in less than
20 minutes. The Squadron
Founded by Anthony Hutton and the late Ewan
English, ‘The Squadron’ is now managed by
Alan Crouchman. It offers training courses, members club facilities, catering, a bar and lounge. From time to time ‘The Squadron’ also organises fly-in days, reunions and other historic aviation-related events. In particular it has been instrumental in inviting representatives of the back to commemorate its links with the airfield.
The last of these took place in September
2012 when ‘The Squadron’ hosted a visit which included Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons, plus the two de Havilland
Vampires of the Royal Norwegian Air Force
Historic Flight. Twice a year ‘The Squadron’ runs three-day formation training courses for private owners to RAF Standard Operating
Procedures. These have proved to be very popular with Harvard, Yak-50 and Yak-52 owners in particular.
airSpace, airShowS and TranSponderS
During its airshow heyday in the 1980s the airfield regularly hosted one of the original UK warbird events, the Fighter Meet. However, the growth in recent times of London Stansted
Airport and its close proximity, its class D airspace is directly overhead and starts at
1,500ft (457m), severely restricts any potential air displays. Consequently, depending on the height they climb during their routine
North Weald-based display pilots and teams have to practise their routines elsewhere.
The Stansted Transponder Mandatory Zone was introduced in September 2009, and has also had implications for flying here.
Any flights inbound or outbound through the
TMZ are required to follow strict procedures, as agreed between NATS and North Weald, which also defines where aircraft may fly without a transponder. Nevertheless, despite the airspace issues, this is still a very popular location for historic aircraft owners in that it has a long runway, plenty of space and hangarage, plus easy access to London and generally a quiet circuit.
While airshows are now not possible,
North Weald does host a very popular event in the shape of the annual Air-Britain Vintage and Classic Fly-In, which this year is being held between June 21-23. This is run jointly by ‘The Squadron’ and Air-Britain to support the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance Trust.
It always attracts a good variety of vintage and classic types, and for 2013 both the popular American Mooney series and de
Havilland ‘Cabin Moths’
Fox Moth and Leopard Moth, will be featured. The event is open to the public and includes numerous sales and exhibition stands. Many of the aircraft owners make a weekend of it by camping on site, and because it is so busy airborne arrivals are strictly.
Other events planned for 2013 include a Wings and Wheels model show on July 28 and a community open day on September 8.
And the calendar includes other non-aviation related attractions, including a Triumph Stag car owners’ club meet on June 29-30.
Weald Aviation Ltd particularly caters for vintage jets and its two T2 hangars are currently hosting a variety of privately owned machines such as BAC Jet Provosts, a
Strikemaster, Vampire, Aero L-29 Delfin and a
Hawker Hunter. The last, WV372, is a T.7 variant which was previously based at Kemble and is a regular airshow performer.
Preservation Group, led by Matt Hampton, is also based here and owns and operates
Vampire T.11 WZ507. This aircraft has been a stalwart of the UK airshow scene for many years and was first displayed by the
Vintage Aircraft Team at Cranfield in the mid-
1980s. WZ507 underwent a major overhaul and restoration by de Havilland Aviation at
Swansea in 2002 and later passed to the
Vampire Preservation Group in 2005. The aircraft was re-sprayed in 2008 and had a new zero-time engine fitted in 2011. It took to the air on May 22 after undergoing a major maintenance inspection which is required every eight years.
Other well-known resident operators with their own facilities are the Gnat Display Team
(see the May 2013 issue for an article on this outfit), Peter Teichman’s Hangar 11 warbird collection and Tim Manna’s Kennett Aviation. The Gnat Display team is proposing to fly a three-ship display at a number of UK airshows this year and it is hoped that the third airworthy Folland Gnat will be test flown very soon.
Kennett Aviation has been based here for several years and has airworthy Douglas
Skyraider and Supermarine Seafire XVII (SX336).
The latter aircraft sometimes displays with the Royal Navy Historic Flight and so there s a close association between the two organisations. It is hoped that the Seafire will re-appear in 2013 as it has been under repair since July 2011 when it suffered a wheels-up anding at Bondues Airfield in France. This ovely Seafire first flew in May 2006 after a total ground-up restoration and will be a very welcome participant on the UK airshow scene when it hopefully emerges this summer.
Peter Teichman’s impressive Hangar 11
Collection comprises four pristine airworthy warbirds: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XI / PL965, Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIB /BE505, North American P-51D Mustang 44-72035 Jumpin Jacques and Curtiss
P-40 Kittyhawk. Peter is very active on the UK and Continental Europe airshow scene, and throughout the summer participates at various events. Consequently, providing the weather is decent a visit to North Weald is often rewarded with the sight of Peter flying one of his fleet. Unlike many warbird operators who generally fly very little in the winter, Peter tries to keep all his aircraft active throughout the year. He also has another Spitfire under deep restoration, with the fuselage currently being worked on by Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight. This is PT879, a which served with the Russian Air Force in 1944/45 as part of the World War Two ‘Lend Lease’ programme. It is hoped that final assembly of this newly restored fighter will begin in Hangar
11 at North Weald early in 2014.
The Hangar 11 fleet is notable in that complete originality in both restoration standards and colour schemes are insisted on by the owner. For example, the Spitfire
Mk.XI PL965 has been returned to exactly as it was during its wartime service, including re-fitting its original wartime engine
– a rare Rolls-Royce Merlin 70HF. As far as Peter Teichman is aware, it is the only airworthy Spitfire flying with its original wartime powerplant.
The Hangar 11 P-51D Mustang also recently had a complete refurbishment of the cockpit interior. Unlike many other airworthy
Mustangs this example has never had a major rebuild and as such is still ‘as built’ in
1944. To have such an original untouched airframe is very rare in the Mustang world today. The Hangar 11 P-40 Kittyhawk which had worn the name Clawin Kitty for its use in the Red Tails movie about the Tuskegee
Airmen was unveiled in new markings on June
2. It now represents 2104590 LuLu Belle of the 89th Fighter Squadron based at Nagaghuli in Burma in 1943-44 and flown by
Lt Phillip Adairs.
CATALINA & DC-4s
One long-time resident, Consolidated
Catalina PBY-5A N423RS moved on in March
2013, when it was flown to Biggin Hill to be prepared for an Atlantic crossing to the USA later this year. It is painted in the scheme of Catalina JV928/Y as flown by John
Cruikshank of 210 Squadron of the RAF’s
Coastal Command when he won a VC on July
17, 1944, after sinking a German U-boat. This
Catalina had resided here for a number of years after being sold by Greenpeace (which used it for surveying related to airborne environmental work) in 2001.
Another couple of North Weald stalwarts are Douglas DC-4 N31356/44-42914 and
C-54D Skymaster N44914/56498 owned by
Air Venture Ltd. Both of these aircraft were originally owned by Aces High and were flown to North Weald for possible film use in
September 2002, but this did not materialize and they haven’t flown since. They are currently being assessed for a return to flight.
DC-4 N31356/44-42914 underwent engine runs in November 2012, for the first time in over eight years. However, it is not known what the eventual plans are for these aircraft.
In 2005 and 2006 the airfield was the subject of much controversy when the government provisionally allocated it for up to 10,000 new homes as part of the East of England Plan. In
May 2007 after an extensive period of public and private consultation the East of England
Regional Assembly published its development plan. Much to the relief of many people in
Next to the airfield’s main entrance is a replica of Hawker Hurricane. Due to substantial losses this unit was withdrawn from the frontline to be reformed and this aircraft was passed to 249 and flown by well-known pilot Tom Neil during the Battle of
Britain. The replica was unveiled in May 2008.the historic aviation community, this did not contain any proposals to build on the airfield, and it was clear that the campaign led by the
North Weald Airfield Users Group had been successful.
With the onset of the global financial crisis and reduced demand for new housing it seemed that future flying activities were secure. However, last year Epping Forest
District Council commissioned consultants to carry out a new study to assess all options for future development of the Epping Forest
District (which includes the airfield) as part of the council’s ‘Local Plan’ and this is due to be presented in July. Despite extensive open areas of grass, airfields are classified as ‘brown field sites’ – in planning terms this means they are considered to have been developed before, and consequently present a better option than building on a ‘green field site’. However, the view of the historic aviation community is that any proposal to build houses on North Weald would be an appalling mistake, as it would lose its immensely important heritage value. The airfield is currently vibrant, active and a major operational centre for the historic aircraft movement. Let’s hope it remains so.