Connie Edwards' Fighters Get Loose

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Sooner or later, I knew it was coming: Connie Edwards' aircraft collection wasn't going to molder away in his hangar forever and this week, the day arrived. Over the weekend, the U.K.'s Sunday Express announced that Edwards' collection of about a dozen World War II era fighters had been sold for $17 million to a European dealer. I have to imagine that Edwards isn't entirely happy to see them go, but at 80, he also probably knows it's time. Tragically, he lost his 41-year-old son to a traffic accident a year ago this Friday and figures family interest in the airplanes may have ended.

I met Edwards about 17 years ago, and spent a bit of time with him in the cockpit of his immaculately restored Consolidated PBY. Edwards had brought the airplane to Grand Cayman where it showed up on the ramp during what was then the islands' International Aviation Week. Although I was one of the principal organizers of that event and the Cayman Caravan, which brought U.S. pilots to the islands, I didn't know the PBY was coming. But there it was. At the time, Edwards owned a hotel on Grand Cayman, so technically, he was on a business trip not related to our event.

I'd never been in a PBY—and haven't since—but it was interesting to see how nautical it was. It looked as much like the inside of a naval ship as an airplane. I remember seeing rope cleats on some of the inside bulkheads. The airplane was a hybrid of sorts, restored to some original and some modern standards. My memory might be failing me, but I think it was the same PBY that made the evening news a few years earlier when it got dunked and capsized in the U.K. Edwards brought it over the pond to the U.S.

We were doing parachute demos on Cayman Brac that year and Edwards casually mentioned using the PBY as the jump ship. That would have been novel and I would have jumped at the chance, so to speak. But the single belly hatch available for exit was just too tight, so we ended up using a Seneca instead. Booooring.

The same couldn't be said of Edwards, however. Our news story explains how Edwards ended up with his remarkable collection of unique World War II fighters, having traded them as an IOU for his pilot duties during the 1969 filming of The Battle of Britain. He was a mere 35 then, but was well enough known in the warbird community to be the go-to guy, along with three other Texans, for flight duties in that film. It didn't hurt that they were already in the U.K. buying aircraft that would eventually be used in the film. His Spitfire, a Mark IXB, the most-produced of all the Spitfire Marks, also appeared in another blockbuster, The Longest Day.

I knew about his collection but didn't really appreciate the extent of it, especially the original Bf 109, also used in The Battle of Britain. I'm not sure if that one was Spanish built, but my impression is that it has the original Daimler-Benz 605 engine. There are also nine Buchons, which are Spanish-built Merlin-powered 109s. I'd heard Edwards speak about the differences between the airplanes, but I must have forgotten how much he felt the Daimler-Benz-powered Bf 109 to be the best of the lot, including the Spitfire and the P-51 Mustang. But in this nice video done by Mike Fizer, you can hear him talk about it and see some of the airplanes in the collection. It's worth the time to watch it.

So now the airplanes escape from Texas out into the wild. I guess that's both sad and good. Edwards' legacy is so fascinating that you almost hate to see him part with them. But nothing is forever, including ownership of some of the most unique aircraft in the history of aviation. A tip of the hat to Connie for keeping them preserved for posterity for nearly half a century.

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During the filming of "The Battle of Britain.

"On one occasion, Edwards went down in flames for real when the engine blew up on his two-seater ME 109, with (the former child star) Vincent Winters as his passenger. "Hell, you can't do much save shut off the gas and jump, but old Vince was having none of it. 'Oh, I caaan't jump, I don't have the intestinal fortitude'. It takes some kind of an idiot to come up with a phrase like that when the aircraft is on fire. So I belly-landed. Got my honorary RAF wings for that.""

Connie Edwards is the epitome of skill and guts of a the American pilot. He will live forever.

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