Cockpit section being prepared as new attraction for Sussex museum
At the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, a Supermarine Spitfire IX cockpit is nearing completion and will soon be put into service as a flight simulator at the former fighter base.
Volunteer Tangmere engineer and retired design and technology teacher Simon Fielder says, “Back in early 2014 the museum’s engineering special projects team investigated the possibility of building a Spitfire IX cockpit that visitors could sit in to experience this great fighter aircraft”. In spite of having limited workshop facilities, they decided construction of an accurate replica cockpit in aluminium could be achieved.
The team is led by an ex-RAF flight simulator engineer, Bob Goodrick, with another former RAF flight simulator technician, Mike Burton-Dowsett, retired engineer Greg Walker, Simon Fielder — and during 2020 Elyot Harmston, a gap-year student, who spent 12 months with the team before beginning an apprenticeship with BAE Systems — being some of the other crucial personnel.
To commence the project, they constructed frame 12, one of the frames to the rear of the cockpit. One difficulty they faced early on was that many of the drawings obtained were ‘assembly’ drawings, lacking the dimensions shown in ‘parts’ drawings. Fortunately, later a copy of the 2007 book Spitfire IX and XVI Engineered, written by Paul Monforton, was of great assistance providing more dimensional construction details.
Simon continues, “The Spitfire was constructed using high-strength aluminium alloys, but these materials were not available to the team, who have had to use commercial-grade aluminium, some purchased new and some salvaged. To construct the frames for the cockpit, pairs of MDF formers were shaped with the aluminium hand-forged between and around them. Where parts were required to carry heavy loads in the build, additional stiffeners were provided and hidden in the structure. The only wooden parts used were four ‘through beams’ at the bottom of frame 5, and the aerial mast.
“After two years’ work a recognisable cockpit skeleton had been achieved, but it was at this point Matt Jones, managing director of the Boultbee Flight Academy [now Spitfires.com], based at nearby Goodwood airfield, approached the museum with an offer to buy the completed cockpit for a simulator Boultbee were planning to construct. It was soon agreed that Bob and his team would suspend work on the museum’s cockpit and build a new one with Boultbee supplying as many original parts as possible.
“This project took the team three years to complete and the finished cockpit, in the markings of the fighter flown by Wg Cdr J. E. ‘Johnny’ Johnson on D-Day, is now the centrepiece of a state-of-the-art simulator at Goodwood.
“Work on the museum’s cockpit recommenced with parts and instruments gathered from the museum’s collection. Other parts, including the curved fuel tank cover in front of the windscreen and the centre of the Perspex windscreen, were obtained from other sources. Bob Goodrick’s home workshop was used for complicated machining such as the creation of the adjustable rudder pedal mechanism and the pilot’s control column. Although the core of the construction was the forming and riveting of aluminium parts, there was also the complicated manufacturing of small parts, and this was achieved by another of our ‘retired’ engineers, Greg Walker, using his computer-aided drafting and 3D printing skills.”
During the build, school work experience students were occasionally involved and successfully taught by Simon Fielder to make small parts such as simple brackets to be incorporated in the final structure.
To enhance the visitor experience, it was decided to make the angle that the cockpit sits on the ground adjustable. The rear of the cockpit can be lowered to provide a 12° angle — the same angle at which a Spitfire ‘sits’ while on the ground — to enable the visitor to walk up a short wing section the team constructed before entering the cockpit. The cockpit can also be left in the horizontal position with an additional step box to assist entrance for less mobile visitors. An original laminated glass armoured windscreen was obtained but the decision was taken, due to its weight, not to incorporate the part into the build. Instead it will be mounted in a bracket on the front of the cockpit so visitors can handle the windscreen and appreciate its weight.
In late 2022 the museum’s curatorial department agreed that the aircraft should be finished in the markings of Wg Cdr Hugh Constant Godefroy DSO, a Canadian pilot who flew with No 403 Squadron from RAF Tangmere.