The two de Havilland Canada Chipmunks (known affectionately as the "Chippies") held on charge by the BBMF are the last in RAF service and are probably the least-seen aircraft of the BBMF fleet. A total of nearly 1,300 DHC Chipmunks were built in Canada and in the UK (and under licence in Portugal). The prototype first flew in May 1946 and the RAF took delivery of its first Chipmunks in 1949, eventually receiving a total 735. The Chipmunk was used by the RAF as an elementary trainer and then continued in service providing Air CadetAir Experience Flying until 1996. The final Air Experience Flight (AEF) to use the Chipmunk was No 10 AEF at RAF Woodvale, after which the BBMF became the sole operator of the last two Chipmunks in RAF service.
The BBMF Chipmunks are used year-round primarily for the conversion and continuation training of BBMF fighter pilots on tail-wheel aircraft. Within the RAF, ‘tail-draggers’ are now unique to the BBMF and pilots new to the Flight commonly arrive with no previous tail-wheel aircraft experience – skills which have to be learned prior to flying the ‘historic’ aircraft. Other functions of the ‘Chippies’ include the reconnaissance of new venues, the delivery or collection of pilots and, occasionally, the delivery of small spare parts.
WK518 has been with the BBMF the longer of the two Chipmunks, having been delivered to the Flight from No 1 AEF at Manston in April 1983. This aircraft first entered RAF service in January 1952, going to the RAF College at Cranwell to be used for the elementary flying training of pilots. Other units who have operated WK518 include the University Air Squadrons (UASs) for Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Hull, Leeds and London Universities, and also the RAF Cottesmore Station Flight. WK518 is now painted in the colours it actually wore when it served with Hull UAS in 1961.
WG486 was also delivered to the RAF in January 1952 and served with No 5 Basic Flying Training School, No 9 Refresher Flying School and No 2 Flying Training School (FTS) before being used by the Army Air Corps with 651 and 657 Squadrons.
It was issued to the Middle East Air Force in December 1958 with 114 Squadron and was airlifted to Cyprus, where it was involved in the first phase of an unusual operational history for a training aircraft. With the other 114 Squadron Chipmunks, WG486 was used in operations against the EOKA terrorists, flying low-level reconnaissance patrols over Cyprus and on convoy escort missions from Famagusta, Xeros and Akrotiri airfields, with British Army officers in the rear seat. The crisis ended in March 1959 and WG486 was returned to the UK in 1961.
The aircraft returned to training flying for 16 years, with units that included the RAF College at Cranwell, Initial Training School at South Cerney and Church Fenton, No 1 FTS, Liverpool and Bristol UASs and No 3 AEF.
Then, in 1987, WG486 moved to Germany to operate as part of the Gatow Station Flight in Berlin, which was then surrounded by Soviet Communist Block territory, where it embarked on a second phase of operational flying. For the next 2 years it was flown on what were then highly secret, now declassified, ‘Cold War’ covert photographic reconnaissance ‘spying’ flights in and around Berlin. These missions had been flown by RAF Chipmunks from Gatow since the early 1950s and, operating at low level with hand-held cameras, the Chipmunk crews would often return to base with valuable photographs of Warsaw Pact equipment and personnel in operational and training roles. Sometimes Warsaw Pact personnel reacted in a hostile manner towards the unwanted over-flights and, on at least one occasion, a Chipmunk returned to Gatow with a bullet hole in the airframe. WG486 therefore became one of the most unlikely ‘spy planes’ and ‘Cold War warriors’ until the Berlin Wall came down. When RAF Gatow closed, the aircraft spent a year at Laarbruch before joining the BBMF in 1995, then still in its plain grey paint scheme and with the most immaculately clear canopy perspex!
Header Image: ( Larger size) Both BBMF Chipmunks (Photographer: Andrea Featherby)
Image 1: ( Larger size) Both Chipmunks during flight (Photographer: Andrea Featherby)
Image 2: ( Larger size) Chipmunk WG486 in Cyprus 1957