Spirit of North Weald

18 Sep 09 5 Comments

The 13th of September was a Fly-In and Community Day at North Weald in Essex and I had the good fortune to be in the area.

Fun for All the Family

The airshow featured F16 Fighters of 132 Wing Royal Norwegian Air Force, who flew in from their base at Bodø, north of the Arctic Circle. They returned to the Wing’s Second World War home, to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the “birth of today’s Norwegian Air Force” and celebrate their close bond with the local community since 1942.

13th September 2009 – Spirit of North Weald Community Day Fly-in | North Weald Airfield History

There was no landing fee for the day so the place was packed, aircraft parking went right the way down the field. Many of North Weald’s regular visitors, including aircraft from the RAF’s 72 (Reserve) Squadron flew in so there was a wealth of interesting planes to coo at. Unfortunately, N666EX was in the hanger for maintenance.

In FormationAs we arrived there were four planes on the runway, taking off one after the other. We watched the some impressive formation flying by this group of Bulldogs and a Pup. G-IPUP, G-JWCM, XX630, and a fourth plane (whose registration I missed) circled North Weald offering for plenty of photo opportunities.

According to my flyer, the Norwegians were represented by: Norwegian Air Force Chief of Air Staff, Major General Stein Erik Nodeland, Brigadier Per-egi Rygg the Commander of 132 Wing and 5 Norwegian veterans who flew from here in WWII, along with the Mayor and community representatives from the City of Bodø.

The real guests of honour were a group of Norwegian veterans who were stationed in North Weald during the second World War. They boarded the Falcon to be escorted by the two F16s for a circle of the airfield and then back home to Bodø. One of them made the comment that it was sad to think it would be the last time he would be flying from North Weald as he had many fond memories of the place.

Norwegian AirforceThe Norwegian Airforce attended with two F16s, a Falcon and a de Havilland Vampire. I fell a little bit in love with the Vampire. The pilots were pretty cute, too.

F16The F-16 is a single-engined, supersonic, dog-fighting aircraft designed to be flown VFR. I like to think that I could fly one if I was given a chance to sit in the front seat. To be honest, I’d probably just sit there staring in awe if they did let me climb in. It took them quite some time to prepare the F-16s for flight. Meanwhile, we had a fly-over, Battle of Britain style.


“The distinctive silhouette imparted by the wing planform helped the Spitfire to achieve legendary status during the Battle of Britain. Despite a public perception that it was the RAF fighter of the battle, the more numerous Hurricane actually shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe.”

Lucky us, we had both a Hurricane and a Spitfire. Now I have to admit, I can’t tell the difference between the two. Luckily, they flew so low that I could easily see the registration and identify the planes that way.

The lower plane on the left is LF 363, Hurricane (Mk IIc) which was believed to be the last Hurricane to enter service in the RAF. LF 363 currently wears the colours of Hurricane Mk1 P3878 ‘YB-W’, the aircraft of Flying Officer Harold Bird-Wilson of No 17 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.

Goodbye, Spitfire

The grey plane is P5915, a Supermarine Spitfire. They were so close and so fast, it was difficult to train the camera on them, let alone get an in-focus shot. I have a few more misses than clear shots but I was very pleased with this one of the Spitfire as he passed straight by me before they flew off into the distance.

On the SpotMeanwhile, the engines had started on the F16s and they started rolling away.

I heard later that there was some damage to the runway. Apparently, the first F16 to take off heated up the tarmac to melting point and then the second one lifted the surface.

SpectatorsThe original briefing was was to do two fly-by’s of the airfield, flying out to Brookman’s Park VOR and back before escorting the Fan Jet Falcon back to Norway. Unfortunately, there seemed to be some issues with getting clearance from Stansted.

The F16s had to stay under 1,500 feet which is a lot lower than it sounds when 17,000 kilos of machinery are flying past!

Falcon taking the Norwegians back home

Can you imagine being an Easyjet pilot flying into Stansted as these planes thundered below you?

F16 and VampireIt’s hard to portray the speed with which the F16s hurtled past us. F-16 pilots must go through special training to deal with the high-G effects.

The US Air Force has lost 12 pilots and 16 aircraft to gravity-induced loss of consciousness (GLOC).

F-16 Fighting Falcon:

Sharp turns can induce loss of consciousness when gravity pulls blood toward the lower extremities, carrying oxygen away from the brain. After about 5 seconds of pressure, vision is progressively lost from peripheral vision to central vision. When blood flow is allowed to resume, vision is smoothly and rapidly recovered. Cerebral failure and recovery is much less graceful and predictable . After about 5 seconds of blood flow stoppage to the brain, GLOC occurs suddenly and lasts from 10 to 30 seconds (average about 13 seconds). When consciousness is regained, it is usually accompanied by brief seizure-like activity and a period of confusion,which lasts about 12 seconds. During this 12 seconds, the aviator is unable to function effectively.


The Norwegian Airforce de Havilland Vampire took off with the F16s and the Falcon but after the initial fly-by it broke away. The Falcon, escorted by the F16s, continued to the Brookman’s Park VOR and on to Norway. The Vampire circled the airfield giving us great views of one of the most beautiful planes I’ve ever seen. It was soon joined by a second Vampire which is based in North Weald. There are very few Vampires still flying so it was a great treat to see them flying past in formation.

Representatives of NorwayI got to see the Norwegian Vampire on the ground after the display – it had a Mickey Mouse sticker on the side and a Norwegian flag lying on the dash. I wasn’t sure which of these was the pilot but the way the man in green leaned on it like he owned it, I suspected he was the one that flew it.

Flying has taken place on North Weald’s still very active airfield since 1916; with more than 50 units from seven nations (UK, USA, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Poland) operating from RAF North Weald prior to the station’s closure in 1964. They hope to arrange a series of fly-ins at the airfields leading up to the 2012 Olympic, each featuring a nation who had squadrons based at North Weald.

A Different Type of PlaneThere was plenty to do on the ground. Part of the field was set up as a “village green” with a bouncy castle and rides and military displays. It was very much a family event, with kids of all ages having a good time with barely a glance to the sky. I also got to take a closer look at some very details model aircraft from the North Weald model flying club. I have only ever seen them in the distance, usually thinking “is that a plane?” before watching an impossible spiral climb and realising that it’s unlikely.

All in all, it was a wonderfully pleasant day out.

I took hundreds of photographs but I managed to narrow it down to my favourites on Flickr. So if you have a moment, take a peep at the full set of photographs so that I don’t feel quite so guilty for spending all week sorting through them: Spirit of North Weald – a set on Flickr

Category: Photography,


  • The Spitfire was beautiful but I have to admit, the Vampires stole my heart. Partially because they hung around for a much longer time and allowed me plenty of chances to take photographs….

  • Thanks for the write-up and the photo stream on flickr. People around airplanes are always an nuisance when trying to frame a shot at an airshow, you did a great job including them in the photos, and the short depth of field (I guess you didn’t have a choice given the low light) adds some dramatic effect. Which camera and lens do you use?

    I didn’t know about Spitfire the “Bottle of Britain” beer :-) Excellent pun!

  • Excellent write up. I wish I had been there and you made me feel as if I was! :) I flew a couple of WWII RAF aircrew to a reunion last year and you’re right, meeting these guys is a privilege and quite moving. My grandfather was in the RAF during the war and it made me think of him.

  • Julien: I made an active decision to try to include people and context into the shots; as you say, it can be quite frustrating to photograph around them. This makes it a much better experience for me. :)

    The light was very low – I had to throw away a lot of shots and I think pretty much every one, I increased the exposure in Lightroom afterwards. But I have to admit I also have a tendency to photograph with a short depth of field.

    If you like ale, you should try Spitfire, it’s very nice!

    Matthew: I wish I could have had a chance to be introduced to the vets but as there were several hundred people there, it was pretty clear that this would be a real nuisance!

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