Billionaire buys historic warplane

ONE of the world's richest men has bought a new toy for one and a half million pounds - an historic warplane rebuilt in Suffolk which has just flown for the first time in 60 years.

By James Mortlock

ONE of the world's richest men has bought a new toy for one and a half million pounds - an historic warplane rebuilt in Suffolk which has just flown for the first time in 60 years.

American billionaire Paul Allen has just added a rare Hawker Hurricane to his extraordinary private collection of fighter aircraft.

The 53-year-old tycoon - named last week as the sixth wealthiest man in the world with a fortune estimated at $25 billion - is building up a unique museum of war planes from around the world.

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Now after an extensive two-year restoration programme, the Mark 2 Hurricane has taken to the skies from Wattisham Airfield near Stowmarket.

One of the key themes of Mr Allen's collection is the Battle of Britain - both the RAF and the Luftwaffe - and the Hurricane, though often overshadowed by the Spitfire, was responsible for shooting down more than 60% of all “kills”.

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The 1941 aircraft - which was last used by the Canadian airforce - made its test flight from the headquarters of the 3 and 4 Regiments Army Air Corps, whose military pilots fly helicopters including the new Apache attack machines.

At the controls was commercial pilot Stuart Goldspink, 49, who spends his normal working days taking holidaymakers to the sun in a 330-seater Boeing 767 for Thomsons.

After the initial 20-minute test flight he said: “It was hot, noisy and there were lots of vibrations - just like every other Hurricane.

“There was an anxious moment when one of the wheels of the undercarriage failed to drop down and I was looking for somewhere soft to land. But in the end the hydraulics worked and it locked into place.

“It is certainly a bit different from a 767 where I sit in a comfortable seat surrounded by the latest aero technology and get cups of tea brought to me regularly.

“But there is nothing to match the thrill and privilege of flying one of these old warbirds.”

Tony Ditheridge, whose Hawker Restorations company near Sudbury has now rebuilt five Hurricanes, said: “It is quite an emotional moment to see it in the air. There are more than a million parts in a Hurricane and some of the skills required to rebuild one are dying out.”

But the restored Hurricane is missing one original feature - under strict new gun laws in the US the authorities would not grant it an import licence unless the cannons were removed from its wings.

Mr Allen's Flying Heritage Collection - based on an airfield 40 miles north of Seattle - contains more than 25 historic war planes including a Spitfire, its “enemy” the Messerschmidt 109E, a Focker-Wulf, an American Thunderbolt, a B176 Flying Fortress and a Russian Ilyushin.

Future projects include a De Havilland Mosquito and Hawker Harrier jump-jet.

The super-rich aviation fan - who does not have a pilot's licence himself -- earned his fortune as co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation alongside Bill Gates.

He is a shareholder in Dreamworks Animation, famous for films such as Wallace and Gromit, and owns two professional sports teams, the NFL's Seattle Seahawks - losers of this year's Superbowl - and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.

Last year he took delivery of a 416-foot long boat the “Octopus” that cost $200 million, has a permanent crew of 60 and costs $20 million a year to run.

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