A unique opportunity for a small number of photographers to visit Maurice Hammond's
Hardwick Warbirds facility was arranged on Saturday 18th April. Although Hardwick Warbirds hold open days and other special events through the year, this restricted advance ticket only event was intended to be something rather special, with a focus on photography of the collection's aircraft, assisted by a large supporting cast of living history re-enactors who superbly brought the aircraft to life in their own unique manner.
To many aviation enthusiasts, Hardwick Warbirds represents a collection of exquisite historic aircraft that have been immaculately restored back to their former glory by owner Maurice Hammond. Speaking as one of the organisers of the event, our plan was to utilise all of these aircraft and to place them in interesting positions for photography around the collection's grass strip during the afternoon and into the evening. At any event, a Mustang would be an exciting sight to behold – but with a pair available the event provided the rare opportunity to photograph these stunning aircraft at unrestricted close quarters and in different scenarios against different backgrounds.
With a total of six hours of photography planned, our intention was to present a relaxed event with plenty of time to view and photograph the gathered aircraft, re-enactors and vintage vehicles. There was only an informal timetable, so we could allow everyone time to think about their photography and compositions. This also enabled adjustments to aircraft positions as the light changed. The Hardwick Warbirds ground crew and engineers had kindly given up their Saturday to help, and under lovely blue skies placed the aircraft around the grass landing strip, with Janie and Marinell in front of the main hangar, besides a tall viewing platform. The collection's Texan, Stearman and Auster were placed slightly further away to allow the Norfolk countryside to provide uncluttered backdrops.
Although naturally the stars of the show were the warbirds, special mention should be given to the re-enactors who added such interest, intimacy and character to the event. Thank you ladies and gentlemen!
With tea, coffee, fruit juice and snacks provided for our visitors during the day, an early evening hot meal was also provided (many thanks Leah). This break allowed the ground crew to reposition Marinell and the Texan into better positions for static ground running as twilight turned to darkness. First to run was the Texan, which ran for around ten minutes. With Maurice at the controls, a wonderful display of exhaust flames appeared. This was a unique view for me, and I doubt many of the event's visitors had seen anything similar before.
With the sun setting behind Marinell, Maurice undoubtedly provided the highlight of the event with the silver Mustang looking stunning under mobile LED lights and with blue exhaust flames emanating from the Packard Merlin's exhaust stubs. A ten minute night time Mustang run was a major coop for the event, as it is believed to be over a decade since the last public after dark runs took place.
I am very pleased to say the successful event raised nearly £1600.00, which will assist with the construction of a permanent memorial to the 490th Bombardment Group, who called nearby Eye Airfield home during the Second World War. Whilst Hardwick was also once a United States Army Air Force airfield, as Station 104, and the home of the 93rd Bombardment Group, the airfield at Eye has been lacking a memorial, an oversight which can now be rectified. Unveiling and dedication of the memorial will take place during 2016.
Little Friends – Album #1 (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).
Little Friends – Album #2 (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).
Hardwick Warbirds Collection
P-51D G-MSTG Janie
The first Mustang to join the Hardwick Warbirds collection was P-51D 45-11518. Now better known as G-MSTG Janie with a yellow and black chequered nose, Janie represents 414419/LH-F, an aircraft flown by Major Bill Price from the 350th Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group. Built at North American's Dallas production line in 1945, the aircraft was immediately shipped across the Pacific to the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a planned replacement for their Vought Corsairs. With the ending of the Pacific war, the unused Mustang was registered NZ-2427 and placed into storage until 1951. The aircraft was then recommissioned and assigned for operations by 3 (Canterbury) Squadron at Wigram, but by 1955 and with only 403 total airframe hours, she was once again returned to storage. Two years later the aircraft was declared surplus and sold to a private buyer for £80.00! From May 1958 the aircraft took up residence on an Outback farm, and after a period on static display was dismantled and placed into storage under the farmhouse. In 1990 the Alpine Fighter Collection at Wanaka purchased the remains and offered them for sale in 1996. Maurice acquired the aircraft in 1997 and had it shipped back to the UK where a meticulous restoration took place and, on Friday 13th July 2001, G-MSTG returned to the skies, performing a faultless first post restoration flight from the grass airstrip at Hardwick, by Rob Davies MBE.
P-51D G-MRLL Marinell
Marinell is a rare example of a Second World War combat veteran aircraft restoration based upon the original wartime remains. Maurice's second P-51 rolled off North American's Inglewood production line during early 1944 and as 44-13521 was assigned to the 504th Fighter Squadron, 339th Fighter Group, at Fowlmere Airfield on 30th June 1944. Marinell became the regular mount of Captain Bradford Stevens, but the Mustang was only to have a relatively short combat career; just 45 days later the aircraft was shot down over France. On that fateful day, Lt. Myer Winkleman was assigned to fly an afternoon sortie to Beauvais, north of Paris, after Captain Stevens had returned from an earlier bombing and strafing sortie against railway targets. Sadly Lt. Winkleman failed to pull out of an attack dive (it is though he was hit by anti-aircraft fire) and Marinell crashed directly into a house, destroying the aircraft forward of the wing root.
No one is really sure how the aircraft wreckage escaped the attentions of the local scrap man, but it survived for over fifty years to ultimately turn up for sale in 1998. With the aircraft's identity established, Maurice purchased his second, and undoubtedly his most poignant, Mustang. The restoration was lengthy and complex but Marinell returned to the skies on Saturday 26th July 2008, with a very proud Maurice at the controls.
Although the Mustangs are often in the spotlight, the collection has three further warbirds that are of equal interest:
AT-6D Texan Fools Rush In (G-ELMH) is a superb looking example of the Harvard/Texan family. Delivered to the Fleet Air Arm at 46 MU Lossiemouth in July 1944, the aircraft 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 serve until 1973 as serial number 1662. Restored by Maurice between 1992-1994, the Texan carries a scheme representing a hack aircraft of the 100th Bombardment Group based at Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, and named after a 100th BG B-17G.
Hardwick Warbirds acquired their PT-13D Stearman in March 2004. Although the aircraft's early history is currently being researched, it wears a US Army Air Corps Primary Training paint scheme.
The collection's Auster Mk.V saw wartime service with 652 Squadron, RAF. However, a forced landing in Holland during July 1945 restricted any further active service and following a lengthy period in storage was sold into civilian hands in October 1952. The following decades saw the aircraft operated by several private owners in the UK and France, and was eventually acquired by Hardwick Warbirds in October 1997.