French-built Bf 108 emerges in spectacular colour scheme
Nord 1002 Pingouin II G-OTME made its first flight since October 1960 on 19 January, following completion of a restoration by Vintage Fabrics at Audley End, Essex. At the controls was well-known warbird display pilot Clive Denney, who has previous experience with the type having been associated with two other UK-based examples, G-ATBG — the famous ex-Lindsey Walton airshow ‘Messerschmitt Bf 108’ — and G-ETME.
Built in 1945 by SNCAN with constructor’s number 197, the Pingouin’s early history remains vague, but on 8 June 1946 it was registered F-BAUL to the French Secretary General of Civil Aviation for use as a communications aircraft, and served in that role until being struck off charge in October 1960. It was subsequently sold into private ownership and became a gate guard at a Shell petrol station near Barrême in south-eastern France.
During the 1970s the Nord was purchased by Raymond Jones and later exported by his son-in-law Michael Dutter, via the port of Nice, in July 1980, settling at Stuart, Florida in September of that year. Jones sold the aircraft to Richard Rooney on 20 December 1980 and it was registered as N108E in 1994. Many parts were missing and it was decided to fit a more easily supportable Lycoming TIO-540 injected engine and a modern Hartzell three-blade, variable-pitch propeller. Other alterations included additional fuel and oil tank capacity, carried out to the manufacturer’s own modification design, replacement instrumentation and a completely new-design engine bearer and cowlings. Glazing which had been damaged during its days as a gate guard was replaced and more effective Cleveland wheels and brakes incorporated. The fabric covering was replaced on all the flying controls, and in late 1996 the Nord was painted in a sand-brown desert scheme to represent a Luftwaffe Bf 108. Some engine runs and a taxi test were completed, but then the project stalled and the aircraft was not flown.
With the death of its owner, N108E was sold to UK-based operator Simon O’Connell in September 2014. The Nord was registered G-OTME and shipped to the UK, where it spent time in storage in Berkshire undergoing initial inspection by Adam Lewis, and later at Southend Airport, where work was carried out by Paul Baisden to build a new engine frame and cowlings. A temporary relocation took place to both Bentwaters and White Waltham when used as a static prop for the BBC television drama series SAS: Rogue Heroes. Following this it moved to Vintage Fabrics in October 2021, and was placed into the hands of project engineer Owen Mansfield with assistance from his father Steve. However, the restoration to fly was interrupted by the requirement to have it taxiable for use in a further appearance in front of the cameras, this time a major film production, again on set at White Waltham. Systems were made operational and G-OTME was repainted by Andrew Denney into the required colour scheme of an aircraft from a fictional Italian civilian flying school. On its return, it was put into a thorough overhaul of systems and a detailed airframe inspection. The engine had already been changed for a Lycoming O-540 with carburettor, and this had to be properly set up, along with switching the propeller for a two-bladed unit to match the owner’s other Nord 1002.
Much work was undertaken to change American-substituted parts for ones either original or acceptable for UK certification. Finally, after a series of engine runs and submission of paperwork for certification, good weather arrived at Audley End on 19 January. The first flight lasted 27 minutes with no significant problems. In keeping the film production colour scheme, the owner has a colourful contrast to his more sombre sister Pingouin, G-ETME, and they will make an interesting pairing should they subsequently fly together.