Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards and His Hangars Full of History

Some of the Hispano Buchons in Connie Edwards hangar, still resplendent in their Battle of Britain film livery. (photo by a friend of the Edwards family)
Some of the Hispano Buchons in Connie Edwards hangar, still resplendent in their Battle of Britain film livery. (photo by a friend of the Edwards family)
Some of the Hispano Buchons in Connie Edwards hangar, still resplendent in their Battle of Britain film livery. (photo by a friend of the Edwards family)

The marvelous Wilson “Connie” Edwards has been in the news a fair bit of late following the announcement of him placing his unique collection of a half dozen Hispano Buchon fighters on the market. With the apparent sale of these aircraft, plus Edwards’ Spitfire and Mustang, WarbirdsNews thought our readers might enjoy reading this piece by Brian Matthews concerning an encounter he had with Edwards some years back. We have added many fascinating photographs taken by a friend of the Edwards family in 2010 and 2012. The article makes for an interesting look at the charismatic Texan aviator, and we hope you agree.

Brian Matthews takes it on from here…

BOB-Poster

I can well recall the great excitement I felt when, back in 1969, my mother took my brother & I into Winchester’s Theatre Royal during our long summer holidays to watch the new Guy Hamilton-directed movie: ‘The Battle of Britain’.

It was my first real experience of a major World War Two motion picture up on the ‘big screen’… and, oh boy, what an action-packed film it was, (still is in fact), and it really was the talk of my school and amongst all of my other pals that had similarly also seen the movie during their holidays!

Once back at school after the break, as well as talking about the movie we’d all seen and thoroughly enjoyed during the summer, there was then the added excitement of the swaps & trades of the associated chewing gum ‘cigarette cards’ doing the rounds that were issued to co-incide with the movie’s release. Based on the myriad official press stills from the movies, I remember that my young pals and I soon had our fill of the revolting, bland gum contained within the packs that new school term as we laboured hard to collect all of the fantastic cards in the series..!

At the time I had absolutely no inkling whatsoever that I would, a lifetime later, actually be standing in a huge aircraft hanger over in deepest Texas clambering over & around the actual Messerschmitt Bf-109s and lead Spitfire from the movie and interviewing the chief stunt pilot in charge of all the American ‘crop dusters’ who flew the vintage fighters in the movie!

One of the reasons for my Texan trip all those years later was to interview an ME-109 pilot, however unfortunately the fighter that was due to be at the Confederate Air Force’s annual weekend show at its air-base at Midland-Odessa had been forced to ditch somewhere in the desert en route to the show. Mercifully, though the pilot was OK, the plane wasn’t, thus leaving me casting my eyes around for another opportunity, if that were at all possible.

Then somebody asked me if I knew of Connie Edwards…”Connie who?” I asked in dreadful ignorance…to be told that not only had Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards’ been the lead stunt pilot on The Battle of Britain, but he also owned about a dozen or so of the movie’s Spanish-built ME-109s… and he lived just a 50 mile drive from Midland…

Connie’s number was found, and I made a tentative call that was answered by a bluff voice that immediately mellowed when he heard my English voice. Apparently Connie was not in the habit of giving media interviews but as an ‘Anglophile’ said he’d would love to meet me if I would to come out to his ranch. So the following day, hire-car booked, I found myself on the highway driving out to Big Spring looking for his ranch, not realising that it was nearly half the size of Texas..!

Connie Edwards with one of the Spitfires during the making of Battle of Britain... somewhere in England.
Connie Edwards with one of the Spitfires during the making of Battle of Britain… somewhere in England.

I still remember the look on the faces of the construction workers on the side of a very hot & dusty road in the middle of nowhere when I stopped, wound down the car window and politely asked, (in something of an ‘Oxford-English’ accent), if they would kindly point me in the direction of Connie’s ranch..!

Once found, I began the long drive from the highway over hill & dale all through huge cotton fields to a long air-strip with massive hangers and, parking up, I walked over to the nearest and opening a small door, stepped in out of the blistering heat to see a huge Catalina flying boat and the backsides of two men in overalls bending over tinkering with some engine part on the floor.

“Mr Edwards?” I called out and up popped Connie, typical farmer’s oily dungarees, a grimy baseball hat to the back of his head and a grin from ear to ear…”Welcome boy…c’mon in and have a beer’..the warm Texan greeting I was beginning to get used to in this wonderful part of America. After our initial chat and introductions he invited me to jump into his old pick-up truck outside and, (accompanied by the most ferocious looking ‘attack dog’ I had ever seen that alarmingly jumped in behind me and stuck its head between the two front seats and slavered alarmingly near my right ear), we shot across the tarmac strip to another equally large hanger.

Here again stepping inside out of the searing noon-day heat, as my eyes slowly accustomed to the gloom I was met by the most incredible sight… a’ multiple plane crash’ with parts of ME-109s all over the shop, wings here, fuselages there, tails hanging from the roof… what on earth had just happened..?

Seeing my confusion, Connie quietly explained that for the movie in ’69, the production company had spent years scouring the world looking for the required ME-109s, few if any remaining in Germany. However the Spanish had been a customer of Messerschmitt during their Civil War and had acquired a number of the latest ME-109s in the late 30s, including a rare 2-seat trainer used, post-war WW-II, by a Spanish Air Force Colonel, and these had continued to fly into the 1950s and early 1960s.

Producer Harry Saltzman had managed to buy all of the ME-109s, (plus several still-flying Heinkel-111s), from the Spanish Government and these, with Rolls Royce replacement engines fitted, were the planes used in the aerial action scenes.

Connie was tasked with gathering together a ‘squadron of bush pilots’ to come over to Europe and fly most of the aircraft, including the Spitfires that we now see on screen… in fact Connie took the lead Spitfire role and so it was even more of a school-boy dream when we wandered into the next hanger to see the actual Spitfire standing there, albeit covered in dust & grime, before my eyes… but as I was still reeling from seeing so many of the movie aircraft from my youth standing here in various states of disrepair, my first questions to Connie had to be: “why and how..?”

One of the Spitfires Connie Edwards acquired as part of his role in making the film "Battle of Britain". (photo from a friend of the Edwards family)
One of the Spitfires Connie Edwards acquired as part of his role in making the film “Battle of Britain”. (photo from a friend of the Edwards family)

Apparently, according to Connie, the finished movie that we now regularly see on TV was not quite the film that was due to be eventually shown as much of the air sequences ended up on the cutting-room floor and indeed as the film company was running short of money, a number of short-cuts were taken. So when it came to being paid off, such was the shortage of money that Connie, (so obviously a fabulously wealthy oil-billionaire), simply said ‘fine, I’ll take the aircraft as IOUs’… and he actually had all of the ME-109s plus the two lead Spitfires subsequently crated up and shipped back home to Texas in lieu of his movie payment!!!

Connie Edwards (right) with this article's author (left) some years ago in front of one of the Buchons. (photo via author)
Connie Edwards (right) with this article’s author (left) some years ago in front of one of the Buchons. (photo via author)

Unbelievably, in a third hanger I saw through the further gloom a pair of sleek, but completely dust-covered, piston-engined fighter aircraft in an unusual gray & green camouflage: and when I looked closer my eyes nearly popped out of my head as I realised I was actually looking at 2 World War Two-era USAAF P.51 Mustangs..!

One of two Mustangs Edwards acquired as part of his role flying in Nicaragua. (photo via a friend of the Edwards family)
One of two Mustangs Edwards acquired as part of his role flying in Nicaragua…. with a Consolidated Catalina and Grumman Albatross sitting behind. Edwards has many flying boats on his property. (photo via a friend of the Edwards family)

Again Connie saw my querying expression and answered, “yep, two original Mustangs: I flew them in the Nicaraguan Civil War and they couldn’t pay me either… so I had these two beauties shipped home as well!”

Some of the many spare Merlin engines, and sundry parts for Mustangs, Spitfires, Buchons... you name it, in the hangars at Edwards' ranch. (photo via a friend of the Edwards family)
Some of the many spare Merlin engines, and sundry parts for Mustangs, Spitfires, Buchons… you name it, in the hangars at Edwards’ ranch. (photo via a friend of the Edwards family)

I have to say in all of my working life I have never met such a character as Connie, he was truly a Texan one-off and my time with him and his WW-II aircraft was just out of this world… but the strangest thing was yet to come. I was already being to realise that I was in the company of both a kindly man and a true eccentric and bordering on eccentric myself I certainly recognise the signs. However having taken me on a tour of the ranch and then walked me out, chest-high, into the middle of a cotton field (and when I enquired what the rattling noise near my feet was, told. “Oh that’s just a rattle-snake!” Jeez, I never realised I could move so fast!!), he calmly asked me if I’d like to take a look at the ’house’ he was building?

By now I was ready for anything, or so I thought, and after another drive we crested a hill and there before me… was a half-built Camelot! Connie had become so enamoured of our history during his time in the UK that on his return to Texas he set about building himself a true English castle – even down to building himself a ‘castle brick-making machine’..!

A guided-tour of this castle, (including a visit to his office to see photos on every wall of him in the cockpit of almost every fighter aircraft you could imagine), eventually led me to a huge oak wooden door through which was Camelot HQ, a huge hall with minstrel galleries & shields & lances on every wall, a massive banqueting table and even an entrance down on the rock floor through which you could swim from his outside pool, dive under the outer wall and come up in the main baronial hall..!

By this time I was beginning to wonder if the heat was getting to me as I continued to wander in stunned fashion after Connie around his castle… seeing all those original WW-II fighter aircraft in his hangar was one thing, but this was another.

However there was one final joke to come from this jovial ‘Anglophile’:.. leading me down an old, dark passage-way in the stygian gloom, we came up against another a massive old door.. “go on son, open it up…” Connie grinned, as he stepped back to let me through…

Gripping the huge wrought iron handle I opened the door and pushed the heavy weight inwards accompanied by a real ‘Hammer House of Horror’ squeal of rusty hinges… to be faced with a mass of cobwebs, and pushing through the dust & muck I realised I was in an ‘old’ wine cellar. Connie came past me and reached for a bottle and pulling it down off the dusty rack, blew away the cobwebs to proudly show me the bottle label… with last months’ date on!

Connie had only gone and built himself a cobweb-making machine as well… and there I was thinking it was only we Brits that were so wonderfully eccentric..!

Truly an incredible day… truly an incredible man..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

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As a special treat, we also thought that you might like to see a terrific video on Connie Edwards recently put together by talented photographer/videographer Mike Fizer explaining why Edwards has decided to sell his collection of WWII fighters. Be sure to look for the additional still photos below the video as well!


Connie Edwards from Mike Fizer on Vimeo.

In addition we have some more fascinating images from the Edwards aircraft collection, again provided by a friend of the family.

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29 Comments

  1. While stationed Webb AFB in Big Spring in the early 70s I remember seeing Mr Edwards spitfire on the fight line as it looked after the movie. It was then repainted by base personnel and looked like new. I understand they got in trouble because it was done on govt time!!!

    I also remember stories of him mesmerizing student pilots at the officers club with his flying stories.

    What a legend!!!

  2. I too was a student at Webb AFB in the early 70’s and first met Connie in the stag bar of the Officer’s Club on a Friday after flying. Connie was wearing a well used set of Oshkosh coveralls and work boots and just introduced himself as “Connie.” I recall buying him a beer as I judged that he may be a little short on cash. Duh! Never, ever, judge a book by its cover!

  3. I was airframe and engine mechanic assigned to Connie Edwards in the film Battle of Britain, I was responsible for the special FX on Connie’s plane eg:~ bullet holes and black or white smoke etc. I finished up as the only flight engineer in the country on the HE111 Heinkel bomber and still have a preflight check-list.
    I dismantled and crated the seven Messerschmitts that went to the USA back in 1969 so was the last person to see them flying.

  4. Our Great Uncle Col. José Manuel Álvarez Coterillo from Spanish Air Force was one of the pilots that flown those HA-1112-M1L’s in the movie “The Battle of Britain” as it were Bf 109’s.
    We heard many times stories about the great time that Spanish pilots had during the film.
    It was hard because thos planes were not in good shape but life in Spain at that time was easy and taking part in the film was like a dream for them.

    • Wow Luis Benavente… that is some story! Many thanks for writing in. We would love to hear more about this if you have any details or photographs to share!

  5. Sorry I did’nt answer before, I thought I would get some kind of notification…
    I’ll try to find out who kept, if so, his pictures when I go on vacations…

  6. ENJOYED THE VIDEO ABOUT YOU AND ALL OF THE PLANES. DAVID TALKED ABOUT YOU A LOT. I WAS GLAD TO GET TO SEE SOME OF YOUR AIRPLANES AND HEAR ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU TOLD . IT WAS VERY INTERESTING !!!

  7. Article by: Brian Mathews(Anglophile): 2013.

    “Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards and His Hangars Full of History.”

    Mr.Wilson:”Connie “Edwards,
    Texan Aviator: Mr.Wilson “Connie”Edwards aka: “Mr.Hispano, HA-1112-M1L: “Buchon!” All deserving titles for: Mr.”Connie” Edwards.

    Dear Sirs,

    (1) Back in 1969/1970? Probably in 1970 at least, for back then, there was a pause of about 6 to 12 months before International movie releases got to Australia. l was about 12/13 years old. l finally got to see the::”Guy Hamilton directed” movie: “The Battle of Britian.” l immediately fell in love with this movie for various reasons. And dare l say? Yes. The Hispano HA-1112 M1L,”Buchon” became my :”kinda girl,” and l have held true to her with passion, all this time. The fact is, for instance, for the movie: ” The Battle of Britian” those HA-1112 M1L’s were:”fitted-out ” to resemble Bf 109 E’s. And with their attendant :”Movie: Luftwaffe camouflage schemes too. Not a problem with me at all. And the :”Movie: Luftwaffe Staffel’s. which featured in: (a) White.(b) Yellow.(c)Red: colours to denote: “Movie; Staffel(s)=Squadrons.” Absolutely: Ingenius.”
    Howwever, l can not leave out the: CASA :”CA, Heinkel” bomber.
    And, l still have my set of the :”chewing gum cards” of about 5″X3″ in size, and the: “movie release A4 size booklette as well.

    (2) In my opinion this Guy Hamilton directed movie: “The Battle of Britian” with Connie Edwards presence and influence, has set in stone the cornerstone of historic aircraft preservation, especially those aircraft stemming from World War Two. In particular the: (a) Hispano HA-1112 M1L, Buchon: fighter. (b) CASA “CA, Heinkel,” bomber. Courtesy of being licenced built, in Spain, from aircraft design firms and manufacturers from other countries. Namely: (c)Heinkel: Germany. (d) Messerschmitt: Germany.

    (3) The facts of the matter, is that the: (a) Hispano HA-1112 M1L, Buchon fighter plane is an: “Historic” piston engine aeroplane. (b) CASA CA, Heinkel is an: “Historic” airplane. Both airplane designs are manufactured in Spain. And fitted with superb engines aka. Rolls Royce, from another overseas country: Great Britian. But for a :”Few” examples of both these machines :”Restored” to original Service camouflage and markings, and one :”movie Battle of Britian” version. l don’t believe there are “Any” HA-1112 M1L, Buchon fighters, or CASA CA, “Heinkel” bombers doing the :”Air show Circuits any where in the world? Not even in Spain their country of origin? However, l believe there is a least one example of the: Hispano HA-1112 M1L, Buchon fighter in, one version of: Spanish Air Force camouflage and markings, outside of Spain, in a museum in the United States of America. In the State of: Connecticut, USA.

    (4) If l were an archaeologist, l would be a stickler for historic authenticity. To this end, l would be a dedicated taskmaster. Historic aeroplanes particularly those types as described above, namely the: Hispano HA -1112 M1L, Buchon fighter, and the CASA CA, “Heinkel” bomber, both piston engine, propeller driven aircraft from World War Two era, are in my opinion, no exceptions. No exceptions. Also, l am a former airplane mechanic with: airframe, and engine training and experience from a “Service entity: AF.” And, a former Holder of a private pilots licence as well.

    (5) Lastly, l feel privileged and honoured to have been given the courtesy of winding my way through his splendid piece of authorship of: Mr.Brian Mathews on: Mr.Wilson “Connie” Edwards, exceptional aviator from: “Big Spring,” Texas, USA. The emphasis here is that without Brian doing the “Hard Work” to gather and create, then provide this article to the general public, especially, and to my: “Luftwaffe,” mate/pal: “Marty, from: “Taylors Hill,” l would be non-the-wiser on: Connie” Edwards and his Squadron of: Hispano HA-1112 M1L, Buchon fighters. A grand “historic aeroplane.”

    With that said, l would just like to say to “Connie,” I emphasis with him, for the loss of his son in a car crash.

    Regards,

    George Knott,
    Delahey,
    Australia.

    .

  8. Connie
    This is JR retired Coast Guard, we met about 20 years ago at an airshow in Big Spring for the VA hospital. The Coast Guard would like for you to come down and do a fly by with the HU -16. The fly by would be for the Coast Guard Aviation Centennial celebration at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. The date will be around the April 6th and that weekend just before the Kingsville Airshow. I hope you stil have that vett. It was a joy taking her for a ride!!

    JR

  9. Like someone said before: that Mustang isn’t Nicaraguan but a former Guatemala Air Force. Nicaragua only had one Mustang in natural metal finish which was traded to Guatemala for a P-47. Guatemalan Mustangs were painted in green and sand in 1972 for the “ReBel operation” (Recover Belize) that never took place. The other 2 users that had camouflaged Mustangs were El Salvador and Dominican Republic.

  10. Met Connie a couple times in the early 90’s at Coast Guard air Station Elizabeth City. He was flying the Goat. First time he was giving rides. Got to land/takeoff in the river. After the ride he met everybody at the door to offer them a beer. I declined as I had somewhere to go. He’d been waiting for someone to decline the beer just so he could use his line, “How are you going to Throwup in the morning”. Got me. Tickled him. Second time he was passing thru, just stopped to pickup a CG pilot for a ride to Brooklyn NY. I helped them with the plane to avoid washing a C-130. Tex was flying the plane. Wish my dad had a seaplane. Thanks for the memories Connie.

    • I was just helping a friend with some of Connie’s details and found your note.

      I was the CG pilot from Brooklyn that he was picking up. B-)) It was my first (but not at all my only…) time flying with Connie. The secret was to be in one of the front two seats as we neared our destination. When you heard the pop tops in the back you knew you and whoever was with you up front (always someone typed in the bird) were going to get the landing B-))… It was my great privilege to have VADM Thorsen in the ‘other’ seat on a number of these. The trip to Brooklyn was so Tex and Connie could land at CG Airsta Brooklyn (my unit at the time) in preparation for us all landing on the Hudson at the head of Fleet Week that year. We WERE THE LEAD element in that years Fleet Week Parade. We landed on the Hudson and picked up a buoy just off Gov Is. We all ..and we had a number of old Goat Herders in the senior enlisted staff at Brooklyn who were with us on that flight.. we all climbed up through the hatch and watched the rest of the parade with box lunches sitting on the wing….floating on the Hudson…hooked on the buoy…

  11. Connie..do you have any rudder fin tails , me 109 cowling and propeller for sale . Pls let me know soon. Thank john

  12. Connie, one of my father’s cousins worked for you as your accountant until he retired. My father always enjoyed taking me and visiting with you and “Willie Hull” at the office and an occasional trip to the ranch. The Castle House is “AWESOME”. I miss my days of my father/mother being alive and our visits with you Connie and Willie at he Ranch and Office. Yes mentioned in a movie “Fly Boys” a man had moved to Texas after the movie and lived on the biggest Ranch larger than half the size of Texas.
    Sincerely, thanks, “Noel Wayne “GOAT JR.” Hull formally of Big Spring Texas.

  13. Connie ,My name is John Scroggs. I spoke with you a couple of y ears back regarding the PBY 6A you have. BU 46662 . I had the Priceline of flying this bird in the early 50’s at NAS North Island using it as a flying classroom teaching pilots and their crews ASW procedures. I will be in your area the last week of May and would like to visit my old bird. Can it be arranged?
    Thanks
    John

  14. Super proud to be my dads first born and only daughter. It was an amazing place to grow up! My dad is a great father and a phenomenal pilot. Proud to read all of your posts.

  15. Connie Edwards is a living legend. A superb pilot, fentleman snd a good fellow.
    Kmown for many years, alwsys a kind respectful character.
    So sad to hear sbout Tex.
    God’s Speed, Connie
    Buddy

  16. We just met Connie while on vacation in the Caribbean this past week. What a joy to talk to him and listen to his stories…he certainly has a colorful history! It was a real pleasure!

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  1. WHO-Tube: Connie Edwards the man behind the collection - WAR HISTORY ONLINE
  2. Me-109-Staffel (6 Bouchons) kommt in die Schweiz! | IG Warbird Switzerland

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