To many warbird and airshow enthusiasts Maurice Hammond and his fantastic collection of aircraft at Hardwick Warbirds needs no introduction. Throwing open the hangar doors to a small number of photographers on 18th April, a slight glimpse of the locations wartime past was brought to life for those in attendance. Adam Duffield went along to see what the event had to offer at a venue well known for its friendliness.
For many, owning a P-51 Mustang is but a dream however imagine owning not just one, but two of the finest examples of the type in the UK. On top of that, the Hardwick Warbird collection also boasts an AT6-D Texan, Auster MkV and PT-13 Stearman all housed together in a small hangar at the former WW2 B-24 Liberator base on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
Throughout the year the collection often opens its doors for open days along with other special events however this particular one, announced at the beginning of January, was somewhat different with an absolute focus on using the aircraft as subjects for photography rather than any form of flying display. Whilst the home of the collection was once the home of the 93rd Bombardment Group, the event was put on in order to raise funds for another related cause – a permanent memorial to the 490th Bombardment Group who were based just down the road at Eye to be erected on their former airfield.
Utilising the warbirds as the focus of the event provides both interest to aviation and general photographers alike as was shown by the range of those attending and its not surprising that the aircraft themselves drew much attention.
A pair of Mustangs at any event is always a sight to behold, especially when they are as immaculate as ‘Marinell’ and ‘Janie’. For anyone who has had a chance to get close to the pair of aircraft, it is clear to see the pride and level of detail that has been taken during the restoration, right down to the casings included within the ammo holders.
The first Mustang to join the collection was P-51D ‘Janie’ which carries the codes 414419/LH-F and is registered as G-MSTG. Built in 1945, the aircraft was immediately shipped across to the Royal New Zealand Air Force where it would spend its 10 years in service as NZ2427. Once retired from service, the aircraft was purchased by two private individuals. Maurice acquired the aircraft in 1997 and had it shipped back to the UK before a total restoration took place and, on 13th July 2001, NZ2427 returned to the skies. The livery it carries today, with a green topside and yellow and black nose, represents an aircraft flown by Major Bill Price from the 350th Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group.
Unlike its stablemate, ‘Marinell’ has been restored to the scheme the aircraft flew with during service. Joining the 504th Fighter Squadron, 339th Fighter Group based at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire the aircraft served for just over two months before it was lost in a forced landing north of Paris resulting in the death of pilot Lt Myer R Winkelman. The wreckage of the aircraft was acquired by the collection in 1998 and after significant restoration returned to the skies in 2008 once again resplendent in its wartime scheme.
The Mustangs are the most well known of the collection however thats not to say that the others are any less interesting or important. Infact, in the authors opinion, the AT6-D Texan ‘Fools Rush In’ is the best looking example in the UK and, having been off the display circuit for a few years, a rarity for many to see. Originally ordered in 1942 and delivered to the Fleet Air Arm two years later, it saw service with the Royal Navy as EZ341 until 1956 when it was subsequently purchased by the Portuguese Air Force with whom it continued to serveuntil 1973. Restored between 1992 and 1994, it carries a scheme representing a hack aircraft of the 100th Bombardment Group based at Thorpe Abbotts – something symbolised by the ‘Square D’ insignia on the tail which will be familiar to many modern military spotters along with a plaque dedicating the aircraft to that unit.
Another aircraft ordered and in service with the British, this time the Royal Air Force, was the collections Auster MkV. Following an incident during a forced landing it did not see much active service however it is seen plenty in the hands of private owners spending large amounts of time in both the UK and France. It is currently in the scheme of 652 Squadron representing the role that Austers played during operations such as Overlord as artillery spotters for the Army.
The final aircraft in the collection is a Boeing PT-13D Stearman. Used as a primary trainer during the war, reflected by the scheme is carries today, the aircraft saw service with the Army Air Corps during the war whilst based in the US. After changing hands privately a number of times along with being upgraded to a more powerful engine, it was sold to an owner in Singapore before eventually returning to the UK and, subsequently, being purchased by Maurice in 2004.
With a total of six hours of planned shooting, it was clear that the gathered group of 40 photographers (limited by the organisers) would have plenty of time to capture any required shots. The team at Hardwick had arrived earlier in the day and had spread the aircraft around the grass landing strip with the Mustang pair in front of the main hangar and Auster, Harvard and Stearman slightly further away. With so much space to play with, mixed with lovely countryside backdrops, there was plenty of room for the numerous military vehicles in attendance to be spread around.
The format of the days shooting was as relaxed as would be expected and followed no strict timetable. Instead, photographers were left to their own devices to wander amongst the different aircraft where plentiful numbers of re-enactors awaited. These guys and girls became the real stars of the event in terms of adding character to the shots and, with numbers matching the photographers, there was always a group around an aircraft either tinkering with tools, chatting or asleep against the wheel. Later in the afternoon, both Mustangs were ‘crewed in’ giving a further change of scene and drawing almost all the attendees attention.
After a break for a sumptuous tea of jacket potatoes and chilli which allowed time for a reposition of ‘Marinell’ and the Harvard, it was soon time for the sun (which had been out all afternoon) to set and preparation for the two planned ground runs to start. The Harvard went first and, at the hands of Maurice, started up and ran for a good 5-10 minutes which included a wonderful display of exhaust flames as the power was applied – something not normally seen. ‘Marinell’ was next to run and, with the addition of two small LED lighting panels giving some much needed lighting to the airframe, put on just as good a performance popping blue flames from individual exhaust pipes as it went. Being so close to both aircraft whilst running was an experience to behold especially with he rarity of an after dark run – something that has only occurred once before with the Mustang.
Whilst the immaculate warbirds of the Hardwick collection were involved, the event itself was much more than an aircraft photoshoot thanks to the involvement of the re-enactors. The importance of their role in adding interest and variation to the shots cannot be understated and had they not have been there, the event wouldn’t have had the impact that it did. Thanks to their willingness to be posed and re-arranged at the whim of photographers they really did play a massive part in making the event the success it was. On top of this, the willingness of the team at Hardwick to allow all attending, both re-enactors and photographers, to get so close and intimate with the aircraft should not be forgotten – how many other operators would remove an engine panel and allow two period dressed chaps with spanners get their hands inside just for a change of shot? But, for many, the lasting memory will be watching the after dark run of a Rolls Royce Merlin at such close proximity – an unforgettable experience.
AeroResource would like to thank the whole team at Hardwick Warbirds, especially Leah and Maurice, along with all re-enactors for making the event such a success. For further information on the 490th Bombardment Group memorial project, head over to their website – http://www.490th.co.uk – or ‘like’ them on facebook.