27.10.21 Liveryman Richard Haycocks

Coachmakers revisit the Battle of Britain

The 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Britain was recognised as 15th September 2020 but Covid meant that date passed without being marked. Partly to rectify this omission, a party of Coachmakers visited the Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill on 17th September.

The hangar is a repair and restoration facility, primarily for Spitfires but when we visited a Hurricane was being rebuilt, and a Messerschmitt Bf1o9e and a Curtiss P40 Tomahawk were both under maintenance. The hangar also manufactures some components – we saw a Spitfire wing under construction. The standard of work was extremely high – the overall impression was that the aircraft were probably in better condition than when they left the wartime assembly lines!

We were shown round by two knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides who explained the development of the Spitfire and in particular its Rolls Royce Merlin and (later) Griffon engines which in later versions exceeded 1,800hp. These developments, focused in particular on the supercharger, together with better fuels, kept the Spitfire competitive with the Focke-Wulf Fw190, the best of the German fighters prior to the emergence of jet powered aircraft.

Engine overhaul is carried out by a specialist firm based in Dursley, Gloucestershire – Retro Track and Air (UK) Limited, which, among other things, specialises in these large piston aero engines – the Merlin was a mere 27 litres.

Coachmakers then enjoyed lunch at the nearby Old Jail pub, regularly used by pilots from Biggin Hill in the Battle.

Thanks to John Knightley for arranging the visit.