Air Enthusiast 1996-09
??? - Spirit of Britain First
And so the world was given another precious gift. The effort was as great, not perhaps in terms of engineering - they knew the procedures, the alternative sources of parts and how to fabricate what they needed - but certainly in terms of doing it all over again and finding the capital with which to achieve this, and with the gaze of the world even more firmly locked upon the team. On May 18, 1993 'Hoof' Proudfoot was the pilot in charge of the first flight of ‘Spirit of Britain First’, G-BPIV in the night fighter colours of 68 Squadron as Z5722 ‘WM-Z’ as flown by W/C ‘Max’ Aitken. A lasting achievement that has delighted countless thousands in its performances ever since.
Keen to reflect the many and varied roles undertaken by the Blenheim, the BAM team unveiled anew ‘persona’ for ‘Spirit of Britain First’ in April 1996 when ‘India Victor’ was rolled out in Coastal Command colours as L8841 ‘QY-C’ of 254 Squadron. The Blenheim serves as a living memorial to the sacrifice of Blenheim aircrews who fought in every command and theatre of operations in World War Two and also as a shining example ‘par excellence’ of what the human spirit can achieve when determination, skill and devotion combine.
May 22, 1987, with John Larcombe at the controls, 10038 now civil registered as G-MKIV and bedecked in the markings carried by Hughie Edwards’ 105 Squadron Blenheim V6028 ‘GB-D’, took to the air above Duxford on its first flight. Alongside was John Romain, who had been with the project from the earliest days as a youthful volunteer. Today John is the managing director of the Aircraft Restoration Company, the highly respected restoration and operation organisation that blossomed from the experience of the Blenheim and the other restorations undertaken by the British Aerial Museum. The beautiful aircraft belied the huge amount of work that turned the pile of bits delivered to Duxford in 1976 into the world’s only flying Blenheim. The congratulations and the sense of achievement lasted but a fleeting time...
Humble beginnings, part of Ormond Haydon-Baillie’s Blenheim ‘kits’, salvaged from Canada in 1973, shortly after their arrival at Duxford, in 1976. The two airframes were 9893 and 10038 and were built as Bolingbroke IVTs by Fairchild Aircraft at Longueil, Port Quebec in mid-1942. Both airframes were struck off charge in May 1946 and acquired by Wes Agnew for as little as $50 apiece! Ormond was killed in a Cavalier 2000-converted P-51D Mustang I-BILL at Mainz-Finthen on July 3, 1977. Saddened to see the Blenheim restoration project gathering dust following Ormond’s death, Graham Warner acquired the project and the British Aerial Museum team set to the restoration of 10038.
June 21, 1987, and ‘V6028’ was performing at a small air display at Denham, Bucks, with the British Aerial Museum’s reserve pilot in command. The runway at Denham was short, and at that stage the Blenheim’s short field characteristics had not been calibrated. A landing had been requested and refused by the Blenheim’s operators, but the pilot elected to undertake a ‘touch and go’ within his display routine - an unauthorised and radical departure from the sequence practised. The pilot ‘lost it’ with the result that the beautiful Blenheim hit a tree and ended up battered and broken on Denham golf course. The three souls on board were hospitalised, it was a miracle nobody was killed. In the words of Graham Warner, a labour of love had been “needlessly sacrificed on the altar of [the pilot’s] ego”.
The story of the Blenheim to that moment had been an incredible one, an achievement difficult to assess in its enormity. In the aftermath of the disaster the story took on a more amazing hue as the team, battered and emotionally drained, decided on their next course of action - A Blenheim Will Fly Again. The waves of commiseration and consolation that saturated Duxford in the following weeks helped to rekindle the spirit that had jired the close-knit team throughout the long restoration. Fund-raising activities began and gained pace as the world realised that this goal was achievable. Bolingbroke 9893 had been sold to the Imperial War Museum for a future static exhibit, but it and the wreck of G-MKIV would provide parts. A new airframe was acquired from Sir William Roberts’ collection at Strathallan. Another former RCAF Mk IVT, 10201 had also been a Canadian ‘prairie queen’ (illustrated) and had been moved to Scotland in 1985 but lay unrestored and in store. On January 28,1988, 10201 arrived at Duxford and was moved into the BAM workshops - ‘Blenheim Palace’.