Edwards Ranch: Forgotten World War Two Fighter Planes Hidden Away for 40 Years

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-7 (All images courtesy of Mike Fizer/AOPA; 40 years of hidden aviation history)

Occasionally, an old warehouse, abandoned garage or aircraft hangar turns up a vintage treasure trove of almost unbelievable proportions. Such a “barn find” hit the public consciousness last year, when the mind-blowing wartime collection of Wilson Connell ‘Connie’ Edwards was auctioned for millions of dollars. Among those aircraft were six Hispano Aviación HA-1112 ‘Buchons’, a Spanish-built version of the Luftwaffe’s feared Messerschmitt Bf 109, and a rare Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, all of which were used in the filming of the 1969 Battle of Britain movie. It seemed appropriate, therefore, as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the epic climax of the Battle of Britain, to take a look at that unique collection in more detail.

On that fateful Sunday in 1940, some 630 young pilots of RAF Fighter Command defeated a massive German aerial offensive comprised of 1,120 aircraft. Thanks to the courage and determination of that small group now forever known as The Few, Hitler’s plan to crush the Royal Air Force as a prelude to invasion was thwarted, and the Third Reich’s Operation Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely. Thereafter, September 15 was commemorated as the Battle of Britain Day.

edwards-ranch-spitfire (Image: Mike Fizer; Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX serial number MH415, built in 1943)

But how did these historic aircraft used during the filming of the movie, including what could be the world’s most original Spitfire, find their way into a barn at Edwards’ west Texas ranch and remain there, dismantled and collecting dust, for 40 years? It turns out that some came as payment for film work, while others were purchased privately over the decades.

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-two-seat (Image: Mike Fizer; rare two-seat Messerschmitt Bf 109/Buchon trainer stored for four decades)

In July 2014, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association visited Connie Edwards at his ranch to find out more (full video below). It may come as a surprise to many that such an historic collection of airframes has never been displayed publically. But as Edwards pointed out: “I’m not a collector. It’s not a museum. I’ve ended up buying it up with this big bunch of Messerschmitts from the Battle of Britain movie.”

edwards-ranch-warbirds (Images: Mike Fizer; intact wartime instruments inside the Spitfire cockpit (left), Bf 109 wings at right)

The intrepid former movie pilot, now 81, made his fortune in oil and used the profits to fund his life-long passion for aviation, particularly World War Two-era warbirds that over the years have included a dozen P-51 Mustangs, a rare P-38 Lightning and an F-4U Corsair. Edwards donated the latter two to the Experimental Aviation Association in the 1980s, several decades after he helped found the Confederate Air Force (now known as the Commemorative Air Force). According to AOPA, Edwards never paid more than $15,000 for a Mustang, which can sell for around $1.5 million today.

edwards-ranch-p-51-mustang (Image: Mike Fizer; historic P-51 Mustang imported from Guatemala)

In addition to the historic European warbirds, his Texas ranch housed two Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats and a remaining P-51 that Edwards imported from Guatemala in the early 1970s. It remained in much the same condition as it was in when it arrived.

Warbird restorer Terry Adams told AOPA that the collection was utterly unique. “There’s nothing left like this, where a person could come out here and purchase something and take it home and make a showpiece”, he said. “When you come here it always happens the same way: [people say] “oh my gosh, I can’t believe what I’m seeing”, and everyone does it. No-one misses that part.”

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon (Image: Mike Fizer; four Messerschmitt Bf 109s (really Buchons) in various states of repair)

At the time of AOPA’s visit in July 2014, the Spitfire and Buchons hadn’t flown since around 1973, and Edwards’ warehouse seemed more like a long-forgotten storage facility for historic aircraft than a prized collection. But that’s what made the scene so incredible, as highly coveted airframes unseen for 40 years stood semi-dismantled beneath a blanket of dust, amid a seemingly endless supply of parts.

edwards-ranch-warbirds-engines (Image: Mike Fizer; Spitfires and Buchons used the same Merlin engine during Battle of Britain filming)

Dozens of prized Rolls-Royce Merlins sat alongside a restored Pratt & Whitney R-985, wrapped in plastic sheeting. Several Messerschmitt 109 fuselages, still displaying the markings they wore during the 1969 movie, were stored side by side near their carefully stacked wings. In short, this breathtaking scene was nothing short of an Aladdin’s cave for plane buffs, though one that remained strictly off-limits to all but a select few over the years.

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-2 (Image: Mike Fizer; Messerschmitt Bf 109/Buchon wings and propellers disassembled and stored)

Among the rarer machines was a two-seat, dual-control Messerschmitt 109 (technically a Buchon) which, once restored, will likely be the only airworthy one of its kind in existence. At one point during the filming of Battle of Britain, the aircraft was piloted by former foes Adolf Galland and Robert Stanford Tuck, who were both employed as technical advisors on the movie set. Despite having fought each other during the real Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, the German fighter ace and his British counterpart were to become firm friends in later life.

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-8 (Image: Mike Fizer; Buchon trainer flown by Adolf Galland and Robert Stanford Tuck during filming)

During production of the movie, with its star-studded cast including Sir Lawrence Olivier, Michael Caine, Susannah York, Christopher Plummer and Trevor Howard, Connie Edwards was employed as a stunt pilot on the set, tasked with choreographing and flying the complex aereal dogfighting sequences that saw the Fighter Command’s Spitfires and Hurricanes pitted against the might of the Luftwaffe’s Heinkel bombers and their formidable Messerschmitt Bf 109 escorts.

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-3 (Image: Mike Fizer; Four Hispano Aviación HA-1112 Buchons stored side by side)

But having worked on similar roles in other films, Edwards was concerned about compensation for his work on the movie. Instead of a cheque, the Texan aviator asked to take a handful of period aircraft home with him instead. It turned out to be a shrewd move, though the pilot had no intention of selling them until the tragic death of his son, Wilson Connell “Tex” Edwards Jr., also an aviator, in a car accident in 2013.

Edwards told AOPA: “They owed me a bunch of money at the end of the movie. They were going to give me an IOU and you don’t want to take an IOU from any movies. I just told them that I’d take airplanes so I ended up with 16 Messerschmitts, and I traded two of them for this Spitfire.”

edwards-ranch-messerschmitt-bf-109-buchon-6 (Image: Mike Fizer; a complete Buchon still wearing its Battle of Britain livery)

The Spitfire IX, which first flew in 1943, was one of a number of examples of Supermarine’s most famous aircraft which stood in for the earlier Spitfire Mk.Is flown during the battle. The aircraft also appeared in the 1962 movie The Longest Day and despite having not flown since 1973, was sold last year for £1.5 million. Fully restored, the prized Spitfire – which was delivered to No. 129 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch and later flew with 229 and 622 squadrons during World War Two, followed by a period with the Dutch Air Force – could reportedly be worth upwards of £4 million.

edwards-ranch-spitfire-2 (Image: Mike Fizer; Spitfire MH415 was flown by Connie Edwards during the 1969 movie Battle of Britain)

“This is one I flew during Battle of Britain and got shot down 72 times in this plane for actual takes”, said Edwards. “I got shot down 128 times in a Messerschmitt. Only the Brits would keep count; I didn’t have the foggiest idea.” He added that, in his experience, and in the hands of a talented pilot, the 109 was superior to both the Spitfire and the P-51.

Edwards concluded: “I’ve enjoyed my flying life. I’ve busted a few of them and I got my RAF wings for belly-landing a burning Spitfire out near Bedford, England during the Battle of Britain movie. All I can say is that I’ve probably lived more lives than anybody I know”

According to AOPA, Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards’ sold his incredible ‘collection’ for more than $15 million last year after steadfastly refusing to negotiate. Auctioned through Platinum Fighters, the Buchons apparently sold with 24 hours, the remainder within four weeks. Perhaps one day soon, the historic wartime aircraft will finally fly again.

Related – A Definitive Guide to the World’s Last Airworthy Hawker Hurricanes

 

About the author: Tom

 

Website: https://www.urbanghostsmedia.com

 
 
 


 
 

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