Another New Zealand aircraft honour
The Croydon Aircraft Company Limited of Mandeville, near Gore, recently won worldwide attention at the hugely popular Goodwood Revival in the UK when an aircraft it had restored earned the prestigious Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Concours d’Elegance Award.
Retired United Airlines Capt Bill Charney’s Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17S NC16S Red Rockette — named in honour of one of his daughters who became one of the famed New York Rockettes dance troupe — was restored to certification standard by Croydon over a six-year period, and Bill (aka Capt Biff Windsock) has been flying it back home to Nevada around the world in gentle stages since its completion in 2009. One of his objectives is to return to Royal Navy stations where it saw service during WWII.
So delighted with the standard of restoration was Bill that he invited Croydon’s Malcolm Smith to be with him and the Staggerwing at the mid-September Goodwood Revival. Originally intended to celebrate motor cars of the pre- and postwar period until 1966, when Goodwood ceased to be an active motor racing circuit, the event also celebrates vintage and classic aeroplanes built up to that cut-off year.
The Goodwood circuit was later used for testing, and New Zealand F1 and Can-Am champion Bruce McLaren died in June 1970 when testing his new M8D and the rear bodywork came adrift.
The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation award is one of the most prestigious in the United Kingdom — or anywhere else — and for the first time the winner has a New Zealand connection. The panel of seven judges, including the editor of Aeroplane Monthly, comprises expert aviation historians and enthusiasts. They hand-pick around 30 important aeroplanes from around the world, with the ultimate winner gaining the coveted Freddie March Spirit of Aviation trophy at the prizegiving ceremony on the Revival Sunday.
To be eligible for this award, every aeroplane must be airworthy, and the judging panel considers each entrant’s condition, originality, flight time, flight experience and maintenance record. Distance flown since its rebuild doubtless worked in the Staggerwing’s favour.
The Goodwood Revival, which started with motor racing in 1998, added the aeronautical award in 2007 to recall the style and excitement of flying as it used to be. Aircraft have long formed a key part of the Goodwood Revival activities, and at the 2006 event no fewer than eight Supermarine Spitfires took to the air over Goodwood, the most seen in West Sussex skies since WWII.
The Goodwood motor circuit was based around the perimeter road of former RAF Westhampnett, a key Battle of Britain airfield. Freddie March, the present Earl of March’s grandfather, was a keen aviation engineer as well as an accomplished racing driver and vehicle coachwork designer during the 1930s, serving in the RAF during WWII.
The aim of the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation is to bring together some of the world’s finest, most elegant, original and rarely seen aeroplanes from the evocative pioneering days of aviation.
Inspiration for this important static aviation concours d’elegance event comes partly from the Cartier Style et Luxe car design competition, held annually during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, as well as the successful Vintage Aeroplane Fly-In, staged for the first time in 2006 at the Goodwood Aero Club.
Malcolm Smith says it was a memorable occasion, and he was thrilled not only to have been part of the team that restored the Beechcraft Staggerwing but just to have been there to experience the Revival.
- Report by Peter Owens, photographs by Malcolm Smith
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