"Red 11" is the closest opportunity to flying a Messerschmitt 109 that the public can experience anywhere in the world. In this article I detail my flight experience and provide a history of "Red 11".
Be sure to read the History of the Buchon article for a brief history of the types development and more.
In 2021 I was privileged to experience a flight in Hispano HA-1112-M4L Buchon "Red 11" / G-AWHC with Ultimate Warbird Flights from their base at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire, UK. The first question many ask is what is a Hispano HA-1112 Buchon? It is a Spanish post-war license-built version of the famed German Messerschmitt Bf 109 that was used by the Spanish Air Force; it is essentially a 109G equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine in place of the Daimler-Benz.
From the moment I arrived at Sywell the anticipation started to build as I was met by the aircraft sat on the grass right in front of where I parked my car. Sywell really is a fantastic venue for warbird experience flights; not only does it provide superb views for your guests from the public viewing area, but there is The Aviator Hotel with its restaurant and garden on site too, so it is ideal for a celebratory lunch and beer after your flight! The aerodrome itself is steeped in history and dates back to 1928, during the war it was used as a RAF training airfield and repair station for Vickers Wellington bombers.
All warbird experiences require a pre-flight briefing, Ultimate Warbird Flights use The Aviator Hotel Club Room which has ample space and facilities. I was greeted by Sophie and Tom who then took care of me for the duration of my experience and were so very friendly and helpful – I could not have asked for more. Initially I was fitted out with my flying suit and gloves, however given how hot it was I opted to leave these off until it was time for my flight. The pre-flight briefing was one-on-one with Tom and took place at the Buchon itself, this made me feel quite at ease, there was no rush and plenty of time to ask questions at the aircraft.
With time before my flight I was able to take photographs of the aircraft at close quarters, and have a good look at the details - a real privilege to get so close to a warbird. Other flight experience providers run on a much more rushed timeframe with little time to take in the moment or spend time with the aircraft on the ground.
My pilot was Steve Jones, whose extensive experience includes time as a Red Bull Air Racer and many years as an airshow display pilot. It was a pleasure to be flown by such a well known pilot and to have the opportunity to speak to him before and after the flight. Ultimate Warbird Flights have a host of well known airshow pilots for their warbird experiences, and this really adds another exciting element to a flight.
Before long it was time to fly! Now changed into my flying suit, I walked out to the aircraft as Steve was completing his external pre flight checks. My parachute was fitted outside of the cockpit and I then used the steps to get in - much easier than climbing the wing and swinging my leg into the cockpit! I placed my feet on the seat and then turned to face forward and lowered myself in, unlike the Spitfire the Buchon has a solid floor and a specific space between the peddles for you to keep your feet flat and out of the way, so it was quite easy to position myself comfortably.
Much has been said about how "small" the 109 cockpit is, whilst yes it is smaller than a Spitfire or Mustang, by no means did I feel claustrophobic. I’m just under 6 foot and slim so fit comfortably into the rear seat, and whilst it does seem narrow around the shoulders, I had room to move my arms and position my legs comfortably as you sink quite low into the fuselage. We removed the optional seat cushion which provided me with some extra headroom, and once comfortable I put on my flying helmet. Due to the nature of the 109 cockpit there is no space to wear a "bone dome" / hard helmet, so you are provided with a cloth helmet with headset and goggles. Once connected to comms these were tested with Steve and we had a final briefing about where the controls would be during his inputs (the stick can come right back towards you) and he made sure I was at ease. The rear cockpit has a full instrument panel and everything you need to fly the aircraft once airbourne, so there is plenty to monitor.
So how much room did I have in the back compared to other fighters? A dual control TF-51 Mustang provides the most room from its dedicated rear cockpit, but I found the Buchon provided more space for my knees than in the jump seat of a standard P-51 Mustang where you are sat directly behind the pilot’s seat. In the rear of a two-seat Spitfire you are essentially on your own in a separate cockpit, but the Buchon is more like the Mustang and two-seat Hurricane in that you and the pilot are very much under the same canopy and feel like you are sharing the cockpit.
"Red 11" is fitted with a 109 style canopy, as such each seat has a large hinged canopy, and once this is closed you really do feel part of the aircraft. Another assumption people have of the 109 is it the canopy framing obstructs your view. Whilst of course forward view is limited in any tail dragger, the view from the back of the Buchon is surprisingly good for a passenger. The long canopy is made of several large panels and the framing is really not an issue, you have a good view upwards, to the sides and diagonally forward through the canopy over the pilot's shoulders, however when looking forward and down the view is blocked by the wings. Having sat in single seat Buchons, the view from the back of the two-seater gave me a better all round view due to the larger canopy.
From engine start the excitement continues to build with the feeling of the aircraft, the sound and the smell of the exhaust all adding to the experience! As with all piston engine aircraft the engine needs to warm up prior to taxiing, given the hot weather this did not take long! The Buchon performs better than the Spitfire in terms of over-heating on the ground as the underwing radiators are positioned more into the prop wash, however it sits tail heavy so needs alot of power to taxi and is not good at manoeuvring in tight spaces. The lack of forward view when taxiing is even more apparent from the back as we taxied to the hold and commenced power checks. The canopy includes a small sliding hatch for ventilation and I closed this as we positioned on the runway. Then we commenced our takeoff roll with the tail coming up very quickly and before I knew it we were airbourne - a goal was achieved, I was flying in a Buchon!
The flight itself was of course incredible. The canopy frame, wing shape and Luftwaffe markings all add so much character to the sound, smell and feeling of warbird flying. We climbed to altitude and I was given the opportunity to take control – an amazing feeling to feel my inputs making the aircraft pitch and roll. In constant communication with Steve, he instructed me on the how best to handle the stick, passengers do not take control of the pedals.
Initially I was just getting a feel for the Buchon, once basic manoeuvring had had been accomplished I was then taking instructions from Steve on where to point the aircraft. The view straight ahead from the back is very limited, so it is quite hard to judge when the nose is level, however whilst undertaking gentle turns it was easy to see where we were heading and position the aircraft. As with all wabirds the key is to be gentle, small inputs make a big difference! For example, not much backward pressure was required to bring the nose up.
Of course it would be a crime not to experience some aerobatics, not only was I in a high performance fighter, but had an accomplished aerobatic pilot! This is all optional and is discussed with the pilot both before and during the flight. The Buchon has an excellent roll rate so the experience this was just awesome – the thrill of diving to pick up speed before pulling up and into a roll is incredible. We undertook four manoeuvres with Steve fully in control; a positive G aileron roll, a loop, a half Cuban (like a loop but you roll out and face back the way you came), and a four point hesitation roll. These all demonstrated to me just how effective the roll rate is on the 109 / Buchon. I have undertaken various aerobatic flights before but these were my first hesitation roll and half Cuban, the only one that made me feel slightly disorientated for a brief moment was the half Cuban.
An interesting feature of the Buchon / 109 are the wing slats on the wing leading edge; these are fully automatic and the pilot has no control over them, so during certain manoeuvres you will see them pop out or retract. Throughout the flight I was comfortable in the cockpit and had the prefect view of the movements of the ailerons and slats which all adds to the sensation of knowing you are in a warbird. Looking out over the wing is certainly an interesting feeling as you see the German insignia over the British countryside and it makes you reflect on what it was like for pilots from both sides.
I was given control again for our return to Sywell, now feeling much more confident with the controls and the required inputs. Steve took control as we approached, the difference in my gentle turns compared to his experienced positioning did make me smile! We flew through the Sywell overhead for positioning downwind to land. The flaps are manually cranked down by the pilot so I got a good view of Steve having to undertake this task as they gradually lowered. The landing was smooth and as we rolled out I returned to the angled position in which I started, the Buchon sitting nicely on a 3 point landing. I opened my window hatch and enjoyed the long taxi back to base which involved taxiing past Air Leasing's hangars and a plethora of warbirds that were visible on the apron and through the doors.
As we parked the engine was soon shut down and there was silence, I unlocked my cockpit and Tom helped open it from the outside as I removed my helmet. As Tom went to get the steps I was left alone in the cockpit for a moment and it suddenly hit me - I had been flying in a Buchon. Not quite wanting it to be over, I unstrapped my harness and climbed out to speak to Steve about the flight and shake his hand. There was again ample time to pose for photographs and chat with Steve and the ground crew about the flight – whilst of course trying to hold in the post flight buzz the best I could!
Throughout my entire experience I always felt like this was “my flight” and not that I was one of several waiting to be processed, there was never any rush and I was always made to feel so welcome. I cannot recommend flying with Ultimate Warbird Flights enough. They also offer flights in Spitfire Tr.IX ML407 "The Grace Spitfire" and TF-51D Mustang "Contrary Mary", the only dual control Mustang in the UK, plus opportunities for formation and dogfight experiences.
So why did I choose the Buchon? With so many Spitfires available I always like to experience something a little different, and with "Red 11" being the closest to flying a Messerschmitt 109 that the public can experience anywhere in the world I certainly achieved that. However, the Buchon has become quite an iconic aircraft in its own right and is best known for its use in the iconic Battle of Britain film where they represented the Luftwaffe 109s. "Red 11’s" markings are from that time so I of course found myself thinking of the “Luftwaffe March” from the opening of the film! During the filming "Red 11" had the distinction of being flown by two WWII aces who were advisers on the film; General Adolf Galland (Luftwaffe) together with Wing Commander Robert Stanford-Tuck (RAF).
With Red 11’s unique history and the 109 lineage, this is a must experience for anyone looking to fly a warbird. Since 2018 it has added some exciting variety to the warbird flight market and I’ll always feel privileged to be able to say I’ve flown in a Buchon.
"Red 11" was originally 1 of 2 two-seat HA-1110-K1Ls built in 1954. This was the original designation for the two-seat HA-1112-K1L and at this stage she was powered by a Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine. However, she was modified into a Merlin equipped HA-1112-M4L variant in 1957 - this also included fitting a larger tail / rudder than the single seat versions to improve performance issues. Hispano designed their two-seater with a fully fitted out rear canopy and a large blown two-part bubble canopy. The wartime German two-seater 109Gs only had basic instruments in the rear cockpit.
Her serial was 40/2 and Spanish Air Force designation was C.4K-112. Lacking weaponry, armour and radios, she was actually faster than the single seaters. She served as a trainer with Wings 7 and 47 before the type was withdrawn from use in 1965. She was 1 of 28 Buchons acquired by Spitfire Productions Ltd for use in the Battle of Britain film (18 airworthy, 6 taxiing and 4 for studio shots / static use) and was used in large formation shots, as a cameraship, and in the film's publicity. After filming was complete, she was 1 of 13 Buchons and a large quantity of spares (plus a Spitfire) that were used as payment to American pilot Wilson "Connie" Edwards who flew in the "Battle of Britain" film. He had these aircraft shipped to Texas where the majority would remain in storage, untouched for 46 years.
Over the years a few of Connie's Buchons moved on, but the majority remained stored. The collection was purchased by Boshung Global for onward sale in 2015 and "Red 11" was acquired by an Australian group who contracted UK based Air Leasing to overhaul and return her to flight. Part of this saw the canopy changed to that of a 109 style for both safety and atheistic reasons. The 109 style canopy offers far greater protection to the crew and is more reliable and durable. Flying again on 24th November 2017 and back on the UK civil register as G-AWHC, she has remained in the care of Air Leasing ever since who maintain and operate her as part of their Ultimate Warbirds Flight fleet.