Aviation’s Loch Ness Monster

“Landing on Loch Ness was very easy – the only difference was it was water, and of course below those waters was the monster.” This is the story of how a Wellington Bomber was briefly mistaken for the world’s most famous mythical sea creature… 

In 1970, during a mission to finally locate the Loch Ness monster, a radar picked up a large, mysterious object beneath the surface. Yet the 'monster' in question didn't have scales or a long neck. It had two wings and Perspex windows: it was Wellington Bomber N2980. 

The story of this non-conventional monster began in 1939 during a training exercise with 20 Operation Training Unit. Based in RAF Lossiemouth, the aeroplane and its crew weren't too far into their exercise when they were forced to ditch into Loch Ness due to an engine failure. It remained at the bottom of the infamous loch, hidden from view, for 46 years. 

In 1985, the year the plane was discovered and rescued from its watery resting place, Squadron Leader NWD and pilot Marwood-Elton recalled the night the plane went down: 

“It was New Year’s Eve, and snowing slightly - but not too bad because the sun came out between the showers - and we took off from Lossiemouth. We headed out towards the west coast of Scotland, and whilst we were over the mountains, the starboard engine spluttered and came to a stop. 

“That in itself meant the aircraft could not fly back to Lossiemouth. It didn’t mean we had to bail out or force land immediately because we were at 8,000ft and had quite an amount of time, but we had to do something. The first thing we did was to look around for somewhere to land - but all we could we see was the tops of mountains through the snow storms. Not seeing anywhere that the plane could have come down without crashing, I gave the order for [the crew] to bail out. 

“I happened to look around again to see if there was any chance of a landing and, as luck would have it, Loch Ness came into sight. So I cancelled the order for bailing out and said we would land. 

“Landing on Loch Ness was a very easy thing because Loch Ness stretched out like a runway. The only difference was it was water, and of course below those waters was the monster and we weren’t quite certain what he would think about it. 

“We came on down and kept our undercarriage up, opened our escape hatch above us, and landed quite gently. A certain amount of spray came up automatically and it came in through our escape hatch, so we got a nice dose of cold water over us. And the dinghy came out on the wing tip. So, we got out, walked along, got into the dinghy and the aircraft sank. And there it’s stayed all those years.” 

Unfortunately, one of the crew members, Sgt JS Fensome, 20, who did not hear the second order confirming the ability to land, continued to bail out of the aeroplane and was killed. He is buried at the Holy Trinity Churchyard, in Biscot, Bedfordshire. 

Wellington Hoist
The Wellington 'R for Robert' as it was hoisted from Loch Ness. Source: The Brooklands Museum

The Wellington's recovery effort actually took 15 years in total. In 1970, 31 years after the Wellington sunk to the bottom of the lake, a chance expedition by two Americans hoping to locate the legendary Loch Ness monster uncovered quite a different monster altogether. Using a Klein side scan sonar, Dr Robert Rines, Martin Klein and Tim Dinsdale picked up something unexpected on their radar. It was the Wellington. Despite the discovery, it would be another eight years until the aeroplane was first viewed and an analysis on its condition was performed. A subsequent survey was released by Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, which revealed the aeroplane had suffered some serious damage. Robin Holmes, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt, set up a charity called Loch Ness Wellington Ltd. His aim was to recover the medium bomber before the damage it had sustained became unrecoverable. As a result, a recovery operation began in 1985. 

After two attempts, the recovery of the aeroplane was successful. The Wellington, nicknamed 'R for Robert', was hoisted from the north end of Loch Ness on September 21, 1985. 

Following its recovery, the wreckage of 'R for Robert' was donated to the Brooklands Museum in Surrey. Over 100,000 volunteer hours have been spent restoring the aircraft since 1985. Now fully restored, the Loch Ness Wellington today takes pride of place in the museum. 

Brooklands Museum
The Wellington on display at the Brooklands Museum. Source: Brooklands Museum