NOORDUYN AT-16 HARVARD IIB, G-AZBN
Ordered in 1943 as part of a large batch of aircraft under Lend-Lease for Royal Air Force use. Built by the Noorduyn Corporation in Canada as North American were at the time fully committed to the production of their P-51 Mustang aircraft. On the production line allocated the USAAF ‘paper registration 43-13132 and taken on charge with the Royal Air Force as FT391, early 1944 and shipped to the UK aboard the SS Empire Wintunuma on 30th March 1944, almost certainly bound for Liverpool. Checked out and flight-tested by Rootes Securities, either at Speke or Shawbury, was issued to 10 MU at Hullavington, where it remained, in storage, for the rest of the war and beyond. In 1946 steps were taken to reduce the RAF’s holding of Harvard trainers, as a result, aircraft were passed onto Denmark, France, Belgium, Norway and Holland to help reconstruct their Air Forces post-war. FT391 was one of 116 former RAF Harvard aircraft passed on to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1947, so was dispatched from Hullavington to Pershore on 24th October 1947 with delivery to the Dutch recorded on 29th October.
Initially, FT391 was placed in storage at Gilze-Rijen. With the Dutch, it took the identity B-97 and first use was with the Base Flight at Twente from November 1951. On 8th October 1956 B-97 joined 306 Sqdn, based briefly at Laarbruch in West Germany, then at Deelen. This was followed by service with the Base Flight at Vokel from August 1957 and then the Base Flight at Eindhoven from May 1958. B-97 was then back at Gilze Rijen for use as a basic trainer with Voortgezette Vliegopleiding (VVO) from 7th October 1959. On the disbandment of the VVO remained at Gilze Rijen with the Base flight. It was struck off active charge on 5th October 1964 and from 25th November 1964 joined the Luchtmacht Elecktronische en Technische School (LETS) at Deelen as an instructional airframe. The aircraft returned to Gilze Rijen on 19th February 1966 and put up for sale with a number of other Harvards.
Sold as surplus in July 1970, it for a short period became PH-HON with a Mr C. Honcoop at Veen. However, his period of ownership was short, with the registration cancelled in July 1971 on sale to a British owner.
Left – B.Cal captain John Kelly taking FT391 on a test flight, with Strathallan engineer Derek Barnes as a passenger 1980 Strathallan. (copyright – Phillip A Hapka)
It was registered the same month in the UK as G-AZBN to Sir W.J.D. Roberts of Strathallan, near Perth. Preparation for civil use was carried out by Shoreham Aviation Services and a British C of A issued in January 1972. The aircraft was flown to Strathallan in early April 1972 and joined Sir William Robert’s rapidly growing collection of mostly airworthy historic aircraft that acquired museum and visitor attraction status. He repainted the aircraft during 1978 from a faded pale lemon-yellow overall to the scheme still worn today with a bright yellow underside and camouflaged sides and top with RAF roundels and serial FT391. When the Strathallan Collection was auctioned off in June 1981, the brochure reserve price for the Harvard was £20,000. Purchased by The Colt Car Company Ltd of Cirencester, it was based at Staverton Airport for several years.
G-AZBN was delivered by air Strathallen to Staverton on July 21st 1981 following the sale by auction In September 1985 ownership passed to Ashbon Associates Ltd in the London Area and the aircraft possibly stored off-airfield.
G-AZBN – FT391 reappeared in public view when purchased by the Old Flying Machine Company in early 1987 and based at Duxford, in the hangars alongside the Imperial War Museum’s collection. During this period it was used as a ‘camera ship’ during the filming of the tv series ‘Piece of Cake’. OFMC sold it in May 1990 and it changed hands again in January 1991 to a company named Swaygate Ltd, with whom it is still registered 30 years on. It was based initially at Shoreham and later on Chichester/Goodwood. Apparently slightly damaged on the ground in bad weather 2016, it was repaired and noted being flown by Richard Piper at Air Shows around southern Britain during 2018.
The aircraft was flown to Liverpool John Lennon Airport on Thursday 25th June 2020, arriving from White Waltham airfield. After overhaul and a respray with Keenair Services, FT391 appeared out of hangar 4 to fly a number of short ‘local’ flights on Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th September before leaving for Blackpool at 10 am the following day. The side code ‘3’ in white and the individual aircraft name ‘Audrey’ were added during the 2020 respray, which completely revised the camouflage pattern and colours worn since the OFMC respray many years earlier. In September 2020 the aircraft had a declared total of 3,485 airframe hours.
The article put together by Brian Jones & ‘In Uniform’ MAS 1983, Ken Ellis
G-AZBN was also operated by the Old Flying Machine Company at Duxford. Notably, during her time with the OFMC, she was used in a number of filming projects including the TV series “Piece of Cake”. For this purpose, the rear canopy was removed and a camera installation together with a rear-facing cameraman installed to film the many dog fight scenes. The rear fin appears in many shots but being in camouflage, only the antenna gives G-AZBN away.