RAF Museum raises the last Dornier Do17

Well, they said that they’d do it and now they’ve done it. The RAF Museum has raised the last Dornier Do17 on Earth from its resting place on the Goodwin Sands.

The last of Goering's 'flying pencil' bombers breaks the surface of the English Channel

The last ‘flying pencil’ bomber breaks free of the English Channel

There were setbacks and dramas during the lift period, but the corroded and barnacled hulk was lifted almost complete after almost 73 years lying under the rampant tides of the Channel. The tyres were still inflated and there was still grease in the propeller gear, but one could divine a certain sense of disappointment among the attendant media that this was all that they were going to see.

Bringing home the booty: the Dornier under tow

Bringing home the booty: the Dornier under tow

Now the Museum’s job is to stabilise the metalwork before it can go on display, unrestored, for future generations to marvel at.

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Gladiator Survivors #2 – The Shuttleworth Collection

It’s rather a startling thought that one particular aircraft has been entertaining the nation for more than half a century as a relic of the last peacetime days of the 1930s. And yet there she is, the Shuttleworth Collection’s celebrated Gloster Gladiator, L8032, describing graceful arcs and sweeping climbs above Old Warden just as she has since 1960…

L8032 on a trip to Duxford's Flying Legends air display

L8032 basks in the sun on a trip to Duxford’s Flying Legends air display

L8032 was the last Gladiator I airframe built from the initial order made in 1935. All the components were built in 1937 but not actually assembled until 1938. Like her sister aircraft from this final batch, now on display at the RAF Museum, the completed L8032 immediately went into storage as the more modern Hawker Hurricane monoplane and soon-to-arrive Supermarine Spitfire took precedence in Fighter Command’s attention.

In the autumn of 1943 L8032 was brought out of storage and sent to 61 Operational Training Unit in readiness for a new job with a film unit called Independent Producers, which was to use the aircraft to shoot scenes for a film of the book Signed With Their Honour. This was to be a ‘factional’ retelling of the story of 80 Squadron and its Gladiators which fought to the last man and the last aircraft in the retreat from Greece and Crete in 1941.

At home at the Shuttleworth Collection’s airfield, Old Warden

Remarkably, all three complete surviving Gladiators – including The Fighter Collection’s N5903 – had an active role to play in the movie and were assigned to 61 OTU while the film was made. Two Gladiators were lost in a mid-air collision during filming but the survivors completed their tour of duty as stars of the silver screen before being mothballed once again.

L8032 would emerge once more in 1946 when she was put on display in Hyde Park. On 16 March 1948, L8032 was struck off the RAF’s charge list and bought back by the Gloster aircraft company along with N5903. Clearly the ailing Gloster company had no real idea what to do with these old machines and in 1950 both the Gladiators were delivered to Air Service Training for use as instructional airframes at Hamble and Ansty.

You can get up close at any time when the Shuttleworth Collection opens to the public

When RAF Ansty closed the two old aircraft were bought by Viv Bellamy for a nominal sum and L8032 was restored to flying condition using the engine from N5903 and the civilian registration G-AMRK. In 1956, Gloster decided that it wanted its aircraft back again and bought them from Bellamy, refitting L8032 was in full military specification and painting her in 72 Squadron markings, albeit with the fictitious serial K8032.

When Gloster Aircraft finally closed for business at the end of 1960,  L8032 was presented to the Shuttleworth Collection for safe keeping – and has remained there ever since. After many years of service she was completely overhauled in 1990 and repainted in a camouflage scheme of 247 Squadron, the only Gladiator unit to take part in the Battle of Britain. She wore these colours until 1996, when another new skin saw her returned to pre-war silver in hue – albeit in Norwegian markings for another film appearance.

Ready for another season in 2013: one of the longest-serving display aircraft in the UK

Finally in 2007 L8032 re-appeared in the colourful blue and yellow flashes of K7985, a 73 Squadron Gladiator that was flown with memorable vigour by the future WW2 ace ‘Cobber’ Kain at the 1937 Hendon Air Pageant. It is these colours which she carries to this day, and which are about to be replicated by a new model kit by Airfix.

The Scarf & Goggles proudly salutes this fine old girl and all who care for her. Here’s to another 50 years in the air over Bedfordshire…

 

Last Dornier Do17 to be raised next month

The Goodwin Sands, a 10-mile sandbank off the coast of Deal in Kent, have always been a place of mystery. Shakespeare declared that ‘the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried’ on them – and now it seems the last Dornier Do17 ‘flying pencil’ bomber is also there too.

A Dornier Do17z 'flying pencil' in flight

A Dornier Do17z ‘flying pencil’ in flight

The bomber was discovered in 2008 and confirmed as a Do17 in 2011. It has been confirmed as Dornier 17 Z-2, serial number 1160, of number 7 squadron, III/KG3, which was shot down by a Boulton Paul Defiant of 264 Squadron on 26 August 1940 and made an emergency landing in the sea.

Two of the four crew members died and two – including the pilot – survived to become prisoners of war. Three of 264 Squadron’s ‘turret fighters’ were also shot down in the engagement by defending Messerschmitt 109s.

The tragic story of 264 Squadron is key to the Goodwin Sands aircraft

The tragic story of 264 Squadron is key to the Goodwin Sands aircraft

Despite the water being only 50 feet deep, the Dornier turned turtle as it sank and came to rest on the bank. The sands quickly covered it and there it has lain in tranquility – until now. The RAF Museum is preparing to raise this last surviving ‘Flying Pencil’ and conserve the wreck in its current state.

Subject to weather and equipment serviceability the operation to recover the Dornier will take place in May-June 2013, from where it will be transported to the RAF Museum’s Conservation Centre at Cosford. A bespoke lifting frame will be employed to retrieve the Dornier from the seabed, with the modular structure also being employed as a transport cradle.

The RAF Museum's plan of how it will raise the Do17

The RAF Museum’s plan of how it will raise the Do17

Very few Do17s survived the war and those which did were quickly scrapped. The Finnish air force retained several until the 1950s but these were also scrapped, making this the last of the type left anywhere in the world.

Heritage Lottery Fund backs British aviation history

There has been some good news of late for those who seek to preserve and promote Britain’s aviation past. The Heritage Lottery Fund has decided to give backing to the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon and the Brooklands Museum.

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To quote from its official bumf, the HLF dedicates a proportion of the funds generated by the National Lottery ‘to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, it invests in every part of our diverse heritage.’

As a result, the RAF Museum has received £74,500 to develop a special exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the First World War in 2014. The museum in Grahame Park Way will display a collection of planes, letters, film and photographs depicting what it was like to be involved in the earliest days of the Royal Flying Corps.

The Grahame-White Watch Office and Factory

The Grahame-White Watch Office and Factory

For its part, the RAF Museum still hopes that this is only an installment, as it has set a target figure of £706,300 in order to complete its plans for the exhibition, which will be housed in the Grahame-White Factory, built in 1915 and moved brick-by-brick from its original location to the RAF Museum site in 2010.

Meanwhile to the south west of London, Brooklands has has received a first-round pass for a £4.85m bid from the HLF for the Brooklands Aircraft Factory & Race Track Revival Project.

This is how Brooklands wishes to look to visitors in the next 2-3 years

This is how Brooklands wishes to look to visitors in the next 2-3 years

In a similar move to that of the Graeme-White Factory, the plan is to relocate the wartime Wellington Hangar, built in 1939-40 on what was the race track’s celebrated Finishing Straight, to a new location on the infield. The Grade 2-listed building will then be refettled as The Brooklands Aircraft Factory, with a new annexe to house more of the museum’s outstanding collection of historic aircraft while the section of track which will be revealed after more than 70 years will also be renovated to allow more motoring events to take place.

The hangar as it looks today ,with the Finishing Straight hidden beneath

The hangar as it looks today ,with the Finishing Straight hidden beneath

The initial funding allocated in this first-round pass for this project is £286,500, to which the museum will add further cash and volunteer input to allow development work to a total value of almost £410,000 to be undertaken. It is then required to apply for the remainder of the full grant in 2015, once the initial work is approved by the HLF.

Major Savage’s Sky-Writing Aeroplane

One of the very few genuine S.E.5a fighters left in the world is this one, which has been dangling from the rafters of the Science Museum in London since 1939. But a fighter with no guns and a civilian livery always has a tale to tell…

A unique survivor: the Science Museum’s SE5a

In the days immediately before World War 1 an accidental discovery was made: if low viscosity oil inadvertently found its way into a hot exhaust it would vapourize, creating a vast and dense cloud of white smoke without any real detriment to the aircraft. In these early days of flight, any such discovery was investigated for its possible usefulness in war – in this case smoke signals to ground troops or a defensive ‘fog’ to confuse attackers.

An aspiring aviation engineer at the time was one John Clifford* Savage, born in 1891 and apprenticed to Claude Grahame-White in 1909. Savage had a flair for the theatrical and broke off his engineering career in order to become manager and agent to B.C. Hucks, the first Englishman to loop the loop.

It was not until the early days of hard-won peace that the idea of making smoke trails was revived. During the war, Savage had been a lieutenant in the wartime Royal Naval Flying Service, rising to become a major in the new Royal Air Force, but with the onset of peace he was wondering what to do with his future.

He tried his hand at being a journalist, writing for Flight magazine under the nom-de-plume of Oiseau Bleu but that lacked a certain je ne sais quoi

By 1921  ‘Mad Jack’ Savage had revisited the idea of producing smoke and experimented with making first shapes and then letters in the air… and the art of  skywriting was born.The entrepreneurial airman went in search of an aircraft fit for the job, and settled on the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a.

G-EBIB is a reminder of Savage’s entrepreneurial skill

This was not the most agile fighter of the war but unlike the Sopwith Camel it had a Wolseley Viper V8 engine that was easy to fix and which had a capacious pair of exhaust pipes. In addition they were in plentiful supply – more than 2500 of them had been sitting around since the end of the war and were available to buy at what amounted to pocket money prices.

Savage snaffled up 33 of these unwanted old fighters and converted them to his bespoke skywriting specification at his Hendon premises. When selling his services in later years, Savage declared that, as a wartime fighter, the S.E.5a was ‘designed and built to be eight times stronger than is needed to endure the stresses of sky-writing’.

The rechristened ‘Savage Wolseley S.E.5a’ had extended exhaust pipes that linked together through a hole cut in the tail and, suitably lagged with asbestos, this modification acted as the nib in Savage’s aerial pen. The smoke-generating oil was stored in front of the cockpit where the machine gun previously sat and delivered by a new control on the instrument panel while the pilot’s headrest was removed in order to give him a better rearward view of his handiwork. Finally the old drab camouflage of dark olive upper surfaces and cream linen below was replaced by an all-over silver finish.

The Savage Wolsley SE5a sky-writer

Savage’s inventiveness caused a sensation when his skywriting S.E.5a made its very public debut at the 1922 Epsom Derby. A bumper crowd for one of the biggest racing weekends of the year was enthralled as the silver speck 10,000 feet above them spelt out DAILY MAIL in vast white letters which, the newspaper later claimed, was ‘the greatest single development in outdoor advertising’ and that ‘everyone within an area of a hundred square miles – and there were millions – gazed spellbound at this fascinating sight.’

It was certainly a smash. Among those in the VIP enclosure at Epsom was none other than the leading novelist of the day, Virginia Woolfe, who used the occasion as the opening segment in her next book, Mrs. Dalloway.

Flushed with this success, Savage shipped one of his aircraft to the USA. With another ex-RAF pilot, Cyril Turner, at the controls, Savage’s S.E.5a carefully wrote ‘HELLO USA’ in the sky above New York. The following day the silver speck reappeared, writing: ‘CALL VANDERBILT 7100’. The number put potential advertisers through to the hotel where Savage was staying – and the demand for his $1000 service was insatiable.

Savage’s business thrived on both sides of the Atlantic. His 33 fighter aircraft were equipped with air-to-ground radio in order for him to give personal instructions to the men at the controls while they laboured away. The biggest European success for Savage’s skywriters came in 1928 when he was employed by German pharmaceutical company Henkel to promote its Persil brand of detergents. The response was swift and impressive.

Persil was Savage's biggest European client

Persil was Savage’s biggest European client

The Persil script stood an heroic 1.5km tall at the ‘P’ and ‘l’ and 1km tall for the ‘ersi’. The six letters stretched fully 7km across the skyline and 45 million cubic feet of smoke had to be generated in order to make the letters. The pilots also had to fly their route in reverse to make sure that it could be read from below, requiring them to rehearse the complex aerobatic moves until they became second nature:

The map for a Persil skywriter

The map for a Persil skywriter

The campaign was such a success that in many European countries a cloudless sky was called a ‘Persil sky’ right up until the 1960s. Whenever there was a sunny afternoon from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, people still half expected a flashing silver dot to appear and make its magical graffiti above them.

Savage stayed in business until 1939, although the fleet of S.E.5a’s grew tired and old and Savage invented a night time alternative to using smoke when he created a searchlight advertising beam to display words and logos – doubtless a great inspiration to the creators of Batman! One by one the old fighters were pensioned off – usually going to a breaker’s yard, but not always.

In 1934 two of his aircraft, registered G-EBIA and G-EBIC went to new homes- their first stops on a journey which today sees them, resplendent in their wartime specification, as mainstays of the RAF Museum, Hendon and The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden – although more of them later.

By 1 June 1939 only one aircraft was left in Savage’s keeping, so he sat down with what might well have been his last sheet of headed paper and dispatched the following note to the Science Museum in South Kensington:

Dear sir,

I have one genuine War time S.E.5a aeroplane left out of a considerable number I used to own.

I really cannot remember whether the Museum has a specimen of this really rather historic type of aeroplane, and if it has not I will be only too pleased to present to the Museum the machine to which I have referred above.

Yours faithfully

J.C. Savage

Savage offers his last S.E.5a to posterity

Savage offers his last S.E.5a to posterity

This kind offer was of course accepted, and so G-EBIB has been preserved intact, not only as an example of this legendary fighter of World War 1 but also as an icon of the advertising industry. As for Major Savage, he had already added another invention to his CV – the crop spraying aeroplane, which found tremendous use in the USA and Australia in particular.

As war approached he redoubled his efforts in developing the searchlight technology which, although outlawed in Britain, had proved to be hugely lucrative in the Americas. Founding Savage and Parsons Ltd as a pure engineering firm, he developed an array of sound locators and searchlights, including the Leigh Light anti-submarine technology, which was to prove vital in World War 2.

Jack Savage died in September 1945 safe in the knowledge that his life’s work had been worthwhile and mourned by almost the entire global aviation fraternity. Of the six genuine S.E.5a aircraft still in existence, three are ex-Savage and while the silver example which hangs in the shadowy reaches of the Science Museum might not be the most enticing at first glance, it might well be worth a second look…

*corrected 17/10/15

Western Front Warbirds #1

Aircraft of the 1914-18 war were far from durable. The survival of any at all after a century is something of a marvel, so let’s celebrate their ongoing existence – and those faithfully rebuilt, restored and replicated examples as well. It’s all a long way from Biggles and from Snoopy’s imaginary battles with the Red Baron…

The RAF Museum's FE2b - as good as a new one

The RAF Museum’s FE2b – as good as a new one

Our first survivor is this Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b, a type which flew as fighter, bomber and reconnaissance aircraft from 1916-18. It’s quite a work of art and features heavily in Derek Robinson’s brilliant tale of the Battle of the Somme, War Story.

This particular aircraft never saw action… indeed it took 90 years to build! The bathtub-like nacelle which holds the engine amidships and the crew of two out in front was built in early 1918 by Richard Garrett & Sons near Lowestoft, but was never delivered. Instead it sat around the factory until 1976 when it was donated to the RAF.

In the late 1980s the search began for original components to finally, belatedly build this FE2b into a complete aircraft, gaining an engine and ancillaries by the mid-1990s but then work ground to a halt. Finally in 2007 the 90% complete aircraft was sent off to Retrotech near Hastings and assembled, the gaps filled in and she was given the markings of A6526, which flew night bomber operations with 58, 102 and 148 squadrons in 1917-18.

Of course while all this was going on, Peter Jackson built two of them from scratch, using original Beardmore engines and as many original components as he could find!

For more information on the RAF Museum, visit the site.

Gladiator Survivors #1 – RAF Museum, Hendon

The Gloster Gladiator was the first aeroplane to really get my attention. I don’t actually remember the occasion, being rather young, but my parents took me to The Shuttleworth Collection where my particular excitement about the ‘Gladys’ – Gladiator being a bit of a mouthful – entered family folklore. I’ve also sought out as many as possible of the survivors…

This old stager has sat in a corner of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Hall since the day it was built. Two squadrons of Gladiators were sent to France in 1939 and not one aircraft survived the Luftwaffe’s assault when Hitler finally pushed west in May 1940. A further two squadrons were on the strength of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, hence the longtime presence of K8042 in the Hendon display.

The RAF Museum's Gladiator, K8042

The RAF Museum’s Gladiator, K8042

Delivered to the RAF in 1937, K8042 immediately went into storage, where she stayed until 1941. Gladiator aircraft were meanwhile making a name for themselves elsewhere in the world – most famously in the defence of Malta but also in Greece, North Africa and the bizarre but vicious little battle for control of Iraq’s oil fields where British and Iraqi forces both flew Gladiators against one another.

It was at this time that K8042 emerged from storage to try out some of the improvised ‘enhancements’ being made in the field, such as recreating the six-gun ‘Bloodiator’ that was hastily thrown together in a desperate bid for more firepower on Malta. This was not a success – in fact spent bullet casings from the extra guns caused considerable damage!

Thereafter the Gladiators were mothballed once again, although K8042 was used briefly for a propaganda film about British heroism in the defence of Greece. In this fictitious scheme she was stored for most of the next 25 years, save the occasional appearance for ceremonial duties, before being restored to pre-war colours in 1968 and then put on display in the new Battle of Britain Hall at Hendon in 1978.

The RAF's first enclosed cockpit fighter and its last biplane

The RAF’s first enclosed cockpit fighter and its last biplane

For more information on the Battle of Britain Hall at RAF Hendon, go to the website.