The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) is a Royal Air Force flight which provides an aerial display group comprising an Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane. The aircraft are regularly seen at events commemorating World War II, upon British State occasions, notably the Trooping the Colour celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday in 2006 as well as the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton in 2011, and at air displays throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The Flight is administratively part of No. 1 Group RAF, flying out of RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.Although usually seen flying in a formation of three, the Lancaster flanked by a fighter on each wing, the Flight comprises 12 aircraft, including six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a Douglas Dakota, and two De Havilland Chipmunks.
Individual aircraft have historic heritages; the oldest of the Spitfires, P7350, is a Mk.IIa, which originally flew in the Battle of Britain in 1940, with 266 and 603 Squadrons. In 2011 she was repainted in the 41 Squadron letters EB-G, those of Pilot Officer Eric Lock.
The Mk Vb Spitfire, AB910, escorted convoys in the Battle of the Atlantic, flew escort patrols during bombing raids on Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, then (as part of No. 133 squadron) fought in the Dieppe Raid. Capping this long career, as part of No. 402 Squadron RCAF, she flew cover patrols over the Normandy beachheads on D-Day and in the subsequent weeks – as did another of the Flight’s Spitfires, with No. 443 Squadron RCAF. She now wears the 133 squadron letters MD-E which she actually wore during the Dieppe Raid.
The Mk LFIXe Spitfire, MK356, was built in March 1944 with clipped wings optimised for low level flight, and fitted with a Merlin 66 engine. Allocated to the Royal Canadian Air Force, 144 Canadian wing, based in various locations around southern England. She took part in the Rodeo fighter sweep over occupied France in the weeks leading up to D-Day. After the war she served as a gate guardian at Hawkinge and Locking, and was later recovered and refurbished in 1992 for the BBMF. As of 2008, she is painted in a silver paint scheme used in late 1944 bomber missions over the Balkans from bases in Southern Italy.
There are also two MkXIX Spitfires both built in 1945 with Griffon 66 engines. PM631 was too late to see operational services in World War II and carried out civilian duties until 11 July 1957 when she became part of the Historic Aircraft Flight; she is the longest serving aircraft in the BBMF and is currently painted to represent a 541 squadron Spitfire. PS915 performed various reconnaissance duties at Wunsdorf in Germany. She returned to the UK in 1954, and was retired to gate guarding duties. In 1987 she was modified with a Griffon 58 engine and refurbished to flying condition by British Aerospace. She currently carries the markings of PS888 of 81 Squadron based at Seletar, Singapore, during the Malayan Emergency. This aircraft conducted the last operational RAF sortie on 1 April 1954, photographing communist guerrilla hideouts over an area of jungle in Johore. The ground crew painted the inscription “The Last!” on the left engine cowling.
One Mark XIX Spitfire, PS853, was sold in 1994 to defray the costs of rebuilding Hurricane LF363 after her crash landing due to engine failure in 1991.
There is also a Spitfire Mark XVI, TE311, acquired in 2002 and initially allocated for spares, but officially added to the BBMF collection in 2007. TE311 is nearing completion and may be ready to fly during 2012.
Hurricane MkIIC LF363 in 2009.There are two Hurricanes. LF363 is a Mk IIc and the last Hurricane to have entered service with the RAF. She appeared in the films Angels One Five, Reach for the Sky, The Battle of Britain and a TV series The War in the Air. PZ865, a Mk IIc built six months after LF363, is the last Hurricane ever to have been built. She once wore the inscription “The last of the Many” on her port and starboard sides – the original fabric with this inscription is now located in the BBMF Headquarters at RAF Coningsby.
The Lancaster bomber PA474, acquired by the BBMF in 1973, is one of only two surviving airworthy Lancasters; the other is in Canada. She was built in mid-1945 and assigned to reconnaissance duties after appearing too late to take part in the bombing of Japan. After various duties, she was adopted by the Air Historical Branch for display work. She appeared in two films: Operation Crossbow and The Guns of Navarone. Having been flown for much of her service with the BBMF as the “City of Lincoln”, PA474 presently wears the markings of the “Phantom of the Ruhr”, a Lancaster that flew 121 sorties (a so-called “ton-up” Lancaster). Originally assigned to 100 Squadron in June 1943, the original “Phantom” was transferred to 101 Squadron in November that year and finished the war as part of 550 Squadron at Ludford Magna. PA474 displays the markings of bombs for operations over Germany, ice-cream cones for operations over Italy and poppies when she releases poppies during exhibition flights. During the 2008 RAF Waddington Air Day, PA474 was flown in formation with the recently restored Avro Vulcan XH558 in a historic display of two Avro “heavy metal” classics.
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