FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Biggin Hill – Festival of Flight 2017

Posted in Biggin Hill, England by folkestonejack on August 19, 2017

It is all too easy to overlook the sights and attractions that lay closest to home. Unfathomably, I never attended the Biggin Hill International Air Fair, the largest privately organised air show in Europe in its day, even though it was more or less on my doorstep. I only appreciated my mistake when time was called on the event in 2010 after a 43 year run. The closest I got was looking up at military jets in transit whilst mowing the lawn!

The Saab JAS39C Gripen from the Czech Air Force

In 2014 a smaller event, the Festival of Flight, was launched at Biggin Hill and this year’s show was extended to two days to celebrate the centenary of the airport. The airport has come along way from the airfield used by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War and is today mostly used by business jets.

I finally made it out to the air show by bus (regular local buses from Hayes on the first day and the special bus from Croydon on the second) and spent two enjoyable days taking photographs with the terrific backdrop of some of the older buildings of the West Camp.

Mil Mi-24 Hind and Mil Mi-171 Hip

The highlight for me had to be the Mil Mi-24 Hind and Mil Mi-171 Hip from the Czech Air Force but there was a lovely variety to the air show, in part from the regular and irregular traffic interspersed with the displays that included civilian flights and military jets departing for air displays in other parts of the country.

Other aircraft at Biggin Hill included the Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon, the B-17 Flying Fortress, Typhoon, Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, JAS39C Gripen, EADS CASA C-295 and Boeing CH-37 Chinook.

The Red Arrows taxiing in at Biggin Hill

As always the Red Arrows put on an excellent display (on this occasion the flat display as the full display is impossible here due to the restricted airspace overhead) but the biggest surprise of the show had to be the display from G-Force aerobatics which features the unusual double act of an Extra 300s with a 40% scale radio-controlled model Extra. The precision of the acrobatics these two planes performed was simply astonishing and it was easy to forget that you were looking at a model at times.

It may not be the slickest of air shows but the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight has a lovely atmosphere, a great setting and doesn’t feel too overcrowded. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back!

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Remembering the hardest day

Posted in Biggin Hill, England by folkestonejack on August 18, 2015

The hardest fought day of the Battle of Britain took place exactly seventy-five years ago, with the Luftwaffe flying 850 sorties in an attempt to knock out the fighter airfields of Southern England. The RAF matched this effort with 927 sorties. All the more astonishingly this act of resistance was performed by just 600 RAF aircrew, compared to 2200 aircrew from the Luftwaffe.

Three Spitfires prepare to join their patrol

Three Spitfires prepare to join their patrol

Today’s tribute saw a remarkable gathering of eighteen Spitfires and six Hurricanes scramble from Biggin Hill as a siren sounded across the airfield. The location was highly appropriate as seventy-five years ago this was one of the Luftwaffe’s targets, along with the airfields at Ford, Gosport, Hornchurch, Kenley, North Weald and Thorney Island.

After reaching the air the planes split into three formations, heading out to patrol the skies above Dover, the Solent and the former 11 Group stations which had taken the heaviest battering during the battle. On their return one flight kept up a patrol around Biggin Hill whilst the remaining patrols landed, echoing the defensive tactics used during that tumultuous summer.

Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe TE184 (wearing the colours of Flt Lt Otto Smik, 'B' Flight Commander, 312 Czech Squadron)

Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe TE184, wearing the colours of the mount flown by Flt Lt Otto Smik of 312 (Czech) Squadron

The attack on Biggin Hill on 18th August 1940 was carried out by nine low flying Dorniers, followed up by high level bombing raids by Heinkel and Ju88 bombers. In just ten minutes, five hundred bombs were dropped on the airfield and the surrounding neighbourhoods. However, the dogged defence from 32 and 610 Squadrons prevented the bombers from delivering these with any accuracy. The nearby RAF station at Kenley was not so lucky, suffering considerable damage.

One remarkable tale of heroism from amidst the aftermath of the attack at Biggin Hill was that of Sergeant Joan Mortimer, who was awarded the military medal for her bravery in marking out the unexploded bombs on the airfield to warn the returning aircrews. One of the bombs exploded, knocking Elizabeth to the ground, but after dusting herself down she carried on. The citation praised her ‘exceptional courage and coolness which had a great moral effect on all those with whom she came in contact’.

The sight and sound of twenty four fighters in the air today was quite breathtaking and a superb way to remember the brave young men and women who served their country with such dedication during those dark days, often at the cost of their own lives.

The fighters on the ground at Biggin Hill after the commemorations

The fighters on the ground at Biggin Hill after the commemorations

After a fire destroyed the wartime chapel at Biggin Hill in 1946 Winston Churchill led the fundraising for a permanent memorial chapel at Biggin Hill, believing that ‘as a nation we have short memories and it is well that memorials such as this should bring to our remembrance the cost of victory in the days when one of our fighter pilots had to be worth ten.’

The campaign resulted in the construction of St George’s RAF Chapel at the station in 1951. The panels inside the chapel commemorate all those airmen killed or missing in action while operating from Biggin Hill during the war. The future of the chapel had been in some doubt, until funding for renovation was announced by the Chancellor in the budget earlier this year. Plans have now been drawn up to construct a memorial museum alongside the chapel.

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