July 17, 2002
British Aircraft Restorers
Posted by scott at July 17, 2002 04:42 PM
BBC news has this cool article about the Old Warden aerodrome. Something I've seen again and again is that when the British have themselves an old machine, be it an airplane or a ship or a monstrous steam engine, it isn't enough to just have it sit there to be looked at, it has to do what it was meant to do. They regularly trot out what in the US would be considered a priceless artifact, turn it on, and let it do its thing. During Battle of Britian memorials, for example, one of only two airworthy Lancasters trundles into the air after having been pulled out of the museum it sits in.
Robert UK: Any other examples? I personally think it's damned neat.
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I live about 3 miles from a former US Army Airforce base at Duxford, in Cambridgeshire. For several years B-17's flew from there to give the Nazi's five tons of bad news (rather before my time, of course). After the war (and after they blew up one of the now-priceless hangers filming The Battle of Britain the Imperial War Museum took it over to house a burgeoning collection of classic aircraft. And yes, they fly! Usually on a Sunday in the summer they have 'flying days' where they'll fly lots of aircraft. Often they fly right over my house :) We can always tell when a 'good' aircraft goes over (Lanc, Spit, Hurricane, Mustang) because of the unique sound of the Merlin engine, so we know when to rush outside.
Probably the best example of what this thread is about would be the Blenheim. When Churchill was saying 'we will fight them on the beaches', the Bristol Blenheim was the only aircraft capable of attacking Axis forces in Europe. Anyway a few years back a team at Duxford got one flying again. It took them 12 years, it was the first one to fly in several decades. A week later they crashed it. Complete write-off. I think they're currently restoring another one.
Someone else managed to flip a Bf-109 on landing (ever managed to land a 109 in Sturmovik? If it's a good simulation the answer should be 'no':) Both the Spitfire and the 109 had reputations as being bastards to land. The undercarriage is hinged from edge of the fuselage (cf the Hurricance where the wheels fold in under the cockpit from hinges half way along the wing). You've also got the weight of the Rolls-Roycs (or BMW) engine well in front of the wheels, so if the wheels dig in (most fighters operated from grass strips, Duxford had its runway paved for the heavy bombers, but a lot of the fighters and civil light aircraft fly off the grass) where was I? Oh yes, wheels dig in nose hits the ground and the aircraft ends up on its back.
About a month ago a couple of guys ended up on the M11 (Oi! You can't park that there!) after overshooting the runway. Fortunately there was no traffic on the road at the time. The M11 isn't quite your LA freeway, but it's a busy six-lane road (limit 70mph) so it could have been very nasty. They were in that plane that was in that Bond movie Tommorrow Never Dies? not sure. Anyway the one that looks like a Russian Gnat or Hawk (probably the A4 or F5 would be the closest US analogue). I don't the AIB has reported on that yet, but it looked like they had some kind of hydraulic problem and couldn't stop.
I shouldn't be too glib, of couse. All three of these accidents involved fatalities.
There are a similar groups that race classic racing cars, which are even rarer than warbirds. I've seen guys interviewed on the grid with 1950's Maseratis and Ferraris that had won races for people like Fangio and price tags that read like telephone numbers. Ask the guy if he's worried about crashing it and he'll just shrug. They don't race them quite as hard as Schmacher and Montoya, but they do race and they do crash.
The attitude is exactly as you describe - aircraft should fly, racecars should race, otherwise they're just relics.
And you know what? They're right! Seeing the Battle of Britain Memorial flight - a Spitfire, Hurricane and the other airworthy Lanc, that don't live in a museum, but regularly fly to commemorate the Allied Airmen of the Second World War in Europe - is a fantastic sight that's quite different to walking round an aircraft on an apron.
The Lanc doesn't live at Duxford, unfortunately, although it does visit, but a B-17 called Sally B is a much loved resident.
If you thought Dayton was a slog, BTW, you'd better train if you want to visit Duxford! It started out as a place to park the the IWM's flyable exhibits, but it's now too big to see everything in a day. The USAF have donated a lot including a B52 and a - gulp - SR71. They've built a huge hangar for the more fragile American exhibits (try to imagine a building with a B29 inside. OK. Now try to imagine the B29 looks small!). They've also added a Tank museum plus various recreations of war time installations including a command and control centre, bomb shelters, big gun emplacements. Plus, of course two hangars full of aircraft being restored to airworthiness and maintained in flying condition.
Thanks for the note!
Actually, it sounds like Duxford is a lot like Dayton. As I recall, the really big sections of the museum are relatively new? I say that because years ago I got a sponsorship request from an english air museum that was going to put a B-52 under glass. Didn't contribute because a) I was in college and $100 was a lot of money to me back then and b) I still don't know how I'm ever going to get out there. Maybe we'll have a convention in Britain one day!
In one of the Dayton "hangars" they have a B-29, B-17, and B-24 on one end with about thirty, forty feet between each (and you can walk right up to the B-29), and a **B-36** at the other end. In the other "hangar" they've got some monstrous ugly transport on one end and an SR-71, B-52, B-58, and **XB-70** on the other. But of course, none of them fly. :(
Yes, I fly the 109 all the time in Sturmovik. It took a lot of practice to bring it down safely. One of the advantages of the sim is that it doesn't model crosswinds, so you don't have to worry about getting tipped over or ground looping (much).
If it's modeled correctly (at least three "real life" 109 drivers have said it is), then the challenge is putting it down VERY GENTLY. Otherwise you get BIG bounces and end up pogo-ing down the runway. Of course, eventually it bounces hard enough to crush the gear, and then you have to face the crew chief! It probably took me about a week of afternoons to figure out how to gently put it down, but I still mess it up sometimes. I've flipped them a few times as well, but mostly because I was standing on the brakes. Again, a fortunate byproduct of grass-grabs not being modeled.
About vintage racing: Stirling Moss was given the keys to a priceless Aston (I think it was an Aston) at one of the big vintage races at Laguna a few years ago. He got excited coming out of the corkscrew, put two off into the dirt trying to make an outside pass and then snapped back into a Ferrari Testa Rossa, flinging both off the track and creating a near NASCAR-like pileup. The owner of the Aston had a death-like grin (I mean, even getting your car wrecked by Stirling Moss is an acheivement) when he took the keys back.
Oh, and by the way, living less than 5 miles from a place where they regularly fly vintage aircraft officially puts you in the "ok, you suck" category :) :) :).
am currently recovering 2 p38s from phillipine jungle plus 3 cosairs ect p38s ex restorable cond 1xcosair very restorable also many parts available photo not obtainable till after rainy season (8weeks)is there interest out there in purchaseing these aircraft or parts