Movie Star to Appear in the Hardest Day Battle of Britain Re-enactment: MH434 Spitfire

Arguably the most famous military aircraft of all time and perhaps the best known Spitfire still flying today, aircraft royalty MH434 will be gracing the skies over Biggin Hill once more.

Chiefly remembered as the symbol of the Battle of Britain, the list of films, documentaries and TV programmes that it’s appeared in reads like a Hollywood A-lister’s showreel:

  • Operation Crossbow
  • Battle of Britain
  • The Flaxton Boys
  • A Bridge Too Far
  • The Blockhouse
  • Hope and Glory
  • Piece of Cake
  • Agatha Christie’s Poirot
  • A Perfect Hero
  • The Diamond Swords
  • Over Here
  • A Spitfire’s Story
  • Horrible Histories
  • Foyles War
  • Midsomer Murders
  • Britain’s Flying Past: The Spitfire
  • The Monuments Men

MH434’s history

The MH434 celebrates its 75th birthday this year. It was built in 1943 at Vickers, Castle Bromwich. For its inaugural flight at the beginning of August 1943, it was air tested by the legendary Alex Henshaw a record-breaking pilot from pre-war and within the same month the Spitfire was scoring with 222 Squadron.

It was first allocated to South African pilot Flt Lt Henry Lardner-Burke, DFC (1916-1970, seven and a half kills, three damaged, retiring as a Wing Commander). On the 27 August in the St Omar area over France, Lardner-Burke, in 1434, shot down a Focke-Wulf FW-190 and damaged a second during a mission to escort USAAF B-17 bombers.

On the 5 September 1943 they again shot down another FW-190 in the Nieuport area, and on the 8 September 1943 claimed a half share in the downing of a Messerschmitt Bf-109G in Northern France.

In 1944 MH434 was transferred to 350 Sqn. Hornchurch, before being returned to 222 Sqn. Lardner Burke had by now been posted on, and the aircraft was next assigned to Flt Sgt Alfred “Bill” Burge. He flew another 12 operational sorties in the aircraft before the Squadron’s existing Mk IXs were exchanged for a modified variant that could carry rockets. After over 80 operational sorties, MH434 was stood down in March 1945.

Post war

Post war however, MH434’s guns were loaded again when bought by the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1947. The Spitfire served with 322 Sqn. As H-105 – mainly ground strafing and light bombing missions – before crash-landing in Semarang, Java. After spending some time in storage, MH434 was repaired and flew again in Holland on the 10 March 1953.

The Belgian Air Force became the next owner of this Spitfire, and as SM-41 she served at the Advanced Pilot School at Koksijde and with 13 Wing at Brustem.

MH434 returns home

On the 26 March 1956 MH434 was put up for sale and bought and brought back to Britain by airline pilot Tim Davies. As G-ASJV the Spitfire was moved to Stansted then Elstree for a full overhaul. The aircraft was flown purely for pleasure and took part in its first movie role, Operation Crossbow.

November 1967 saw MH434 join the motion picture airforce of Spitfire Productions Ltd. Set up by Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie for the film Battle of Britain. At the end of the movie in 1968 MH434 was sold again. The new owner, Sir Adrian Swire, Chairman of Cathay Pacific Airways, had the Spitfire painted in 1944 camouflage colour scheme with his initials AC-S, as squadron codes. There were several film and television appearances during this period, including A Bridge Too Far.

MH434’s most illustrious owner

In April 1983 MH434 was sold at the Christies’ auction at Duxford to its most illustrious owner, Ray Hanna former RAF Red Arrows leader. He was a New Zealand-born fighter pilot who emigrated to England to join the Royal Air Force. During his RAF career he was a founding member of its Red Arrows aerobatics display team. It was Ray who established “the Reds” as the world’s premier team and star attraction at air shows worldwide, Biggin Hill being the first UK air show they appeared at.

Come and see the regal MH434 for yourself at the Festival of Flight 2018.

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