A FAMOUS World War II aircraft that achieved legendary status in a dogfight in Paris in 1944 was temporarily grounded in the far north yesterday by a helicopter in distress.
The Berlin Express P-51B Mustang was on its way to Duxford in Kent when it touched down at Wick John O’Groats Airport on Monday afternoon. The four-day, 5470-mile transatlantic flight began on June 28 in Texas and went via Canada, Greenland and Iceland.
The old war bird was flown by specialist US Air Force pilot Lee Lauderback, following the same route it took in 1942 as part of the military troop build-up in the United Kingdom during WWII.
The plane, piloted by American Bill Overstreet, featured in an epic World War II dogfight over Paris in 1944 when it flew under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a German fighter. Overstreet eventually downed the German plane and eluded heavy enemy fire while escaping the battle unscathed.
Andy Bruce, who runs Far North Aviation at the airport, said that it is not unusual to have vintage aircraft drop by. It was also very apt that these aircraft can have the use of a hangar that dates back to the global conflict of 1939-45. Wick’s airfield was administered by No. 18 Group, RAF Coastal Command and it was from there that a Spitfire located the infamous Nazi battleship, Bismarck, before she was eventually sunk.
Mr Bruce explained that Wick was an important stage of the route for the Berlin Express as it provides customs and immigration cover as well as a refuelling service.
After the necessary paperwork was complete and the conditions favourable for take-off, the Mustang taxied into position yesterday morning but was recalled after a warning siren sounded across the area. Police and fire vehicles appeared within minutes.
Andy Bruce said that a helicopter in distress was found to be the problem.
“A helicopter launched from Aberdeen on the way to an oil rig north-west Shetland when a warning light showed there was an issue with the gearbox. Our facilities at Wick airport are the best in the immediate area for dealing with such problems.
“It landed here and there are engineers working on it at the moment. The Berlin Express was held back a bit but eventually got airborne at 8.35am,” said Mr Bruce.
The Berlin Express will perform with the Air Combat Command’s F-22 aerial demonstration team at the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford in Gloucestershire on July 14-16.