As the D-Day anniversary approaches, the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group’s efforts to return Typhoon RB396 to the skies have reached a major milestone: the start of the rebuild itself
Judging by the response to recent fundraising efforts, the British public wants to see a Hawker Typhoon flying again. On 7 April, the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) launched a crowdfunding campaign, with the aim of raising £50,000 towards the rebuild of Typhoon Ib RB396 to flying condition. It met its target comfortably with five days to spare, had broken through the £60,000 mark by the time we went to press towards the end of April, and is carrying on from there — the latest indication of how effectively the project has captured the wider imagination, not least in this D-Day anniversary year.
Since the group was officially launched in 2016, efforts have been targeted at keeping the Typhoon in general, and RB396 in particular, in the public eye. “We’ve spent the past couple of years raising awareness and building up our supporter base”, says HTPG special projects director Matt Bone. “‘RB’ herself starting to come back to life is a huge milestone for us, and a tangible thing. The rather beaten and battered bits of aircraft that everybody’s had so much interest in are actually going to be restored.”
He was talking shortly after Airframe Assemblies, based at Sandown on the Isle of Wight, had been selected as rebuilders/restorers of the Typhoon’s fuselage. “This is a major step forward for us”, said Matt, “as it means ‘RB’ is taking her first step back to being airworthy. The goal of Steve Vizard and his company is to, where possible, reuse as much of the metal as they can, so the lifeblood of ‘RB’ will be in the aircraft to the greatest extent possible. Of course, that’s going to be purely dependent on what happens when they strip it down on the Isle of Wight. The frames and the stringers that make up the stressed parts of the aircraft will all be individually reviewed and as many of those as can be reused will be.”
Having part of RB396’s fuselage in its original wartime colours has, no doubt, been a significant boost. Being able to display a tangible airframe section with an identity, both at open days staged by the group at its Uckfield, East Sussex base and at external events, contributes much to the feeling that this is an achievable project.
‘RB’ is taking her first step back to being airworthy. The goal of Airframe Assemblies is to reuse as much of the metal as they can
The section in question is among those acquired by Dave Robinson, one of the HTPG’s co-founders, whose decades-long efforts in bringing together Typhoon parts were instrumental in getting things under way. He is one of two trustees, along with airline pilot Sam Worthington-Leese, whose grandfather, Plt Off Roy Worthington, flew Typhoons with No 184 Squadron at Westhampnett during wartime. With a strong background in vintage aeroplanes himself, Sam hopes to follow in his footsteps by flying the restored machine when it takes to the air.
Serving with No 174 Squadron, RB396 was hit by flak during a mission on 1 April 1945 from its then forward base at B100 Goch in Germany, later part of the site used to build RAF Laarbruch, now Weeze Airport. Flt Lt Chris House force-landed near the town of Denekamp, the Netherlands, and evaded capture to rejoin his unit. The wreckage of his Typhoon survived, the fuselage section ending up in preservation in two Dutch museums before it returned to Britain in 2013.
“The skins will be removed and preserved”, Bone confirms, “so the original 2nd Tactical Air Force paint that’s been on display whenever we’ve taken ‘RB’ to airshows or at our members’ days will be retained.”
The news of Airframe Assemblies’ involvement followed last October’s confirmation that the Duxfordbased Aircraft Restoration Company will provide engineering support and oversight to RB396’s rebuild.
In Matt Bone’s words, “The Aircraft Restoration Company is overseeing the project as a whole. Airframe Assemblies is essentially a sub-contractor.
Much as the original Typhoons were built at various subcontractors and then assembled by Gloster, we’ll be taking the same approach, with John Romain’s team assuring and ensuring everything’s up to CAA standards for when it’s finally assembled at Duxford.
“The Aircraft Restoration Company is a known entity to the CAA, and it has worked closely with Airframe Assemblies on a number of projects. There’s nothing we move forward with without John’s stamp of approval, and Steve Vizard’s as well. We are enthusiasts — we are not engineers. We don’t make decisions without firm consultation with the experts.”
All the while, the collection of parts has continued. Some of the most substantial items have come not from Typhoons, but Tempests, their interchangeability being a boon. In 2017 a complete rear fuselage, tail and rudder from a Tempest II were bought in what was the HTPG’s most expensive single acquisition. On that occasion, an appeal to the supporters’ club generated £75,000 in just a week. The empennage, in fact, had a Typhoon part number on it, indicating its transfer to the Tempest production line at a late stage.
The result of a further appeal in the autumn of 2018, this time for £50,000, became apparent in early March this year when major sections and components from Tempest V JN768 arrived at Uckfield from their previous home in Essex.
This project had been registered as G-TMPV in 2014, and itself involves a very notable aircraft, JN768 having scored 15 V1 kills between June and August 1944 while with No 3 Squadron.
“The aim”, says Matt Bone of this purchase, “is two-fold.
It gives us access to the fuselage jigs that were prepared for that project, meaning that as ‘RB’ starts to be put back together once the initial work is done to see how much can be reused, those jigs will be vital to building up the restored fuselage and tail. The secondary one is that a large number of items within that batch of parts are compatible with the Typhoon.
There are a lot of items from the fuselage, mainly around the cockpit area, which can be used for templating for bits and pieces that we’re going to need.”
There is also, he confirms, a view to the future. “The goal with the items from the Tempest project is to reuse as many of them as we can. In the future, once ‘RB’ is flying, the question will be what we do next. We will have a large section of Tempest that we’ll have to do something with…”
That’s a long way ahead, though. There remains a lot still to do on the Typhoon, the wings being a particular priority. Some wing drawings were included in a set of drawings obtained in 2012, but they are not complete.
“Understanding how Hawker designed and built up the stress members of those wings is something we’re still researching. Looking at the Typhoon as a whole, we’re basically working from the tail forwards. That’s the project plan at the moment. Once the rear fuselage is done, the next section will be the cockpit. That will buy us a bit of time to move forward with the wings, and the Napier Sabre engine, which will be one of the longest elements. We are very keen to get as much information on the wing structure as possible.”
MEET THE TEAM
At its Uckfield premises, the HTPG will continue to hold special events for members of its supporters’ club in the spring and October. There will also be a summer open day open to all in July, the date of which was still to be confirmed at time of writing. Airshow attendance this year will take in seven major displays, listed below:
Duxford Air Festival:
Saturday 25-Sunday 26 May
Daks over Duxford:
Tuesday 4- Wednesday 5 June
RAF Cosford Air Show:
Sunday 10 June
Flying Legends Air Show, Duxford:
Saturday 13-Sunday 14 July
East Kirkby Air Show:
Saturday 3 August
Biggin Hill Festival of Flight:
Saturday 17- Sunday 18 August
Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show:
Saturday 21- Sunday 22 September
While it is no longer possible to show sections of RB396 itself, now that the rebuild is starting, the project’s Napier Sabre engine will be exhibited at the Duxford displays, and the latest images of the work going on at Airframe Assemblies will be on hand. It is also hoped that veterans may sometimes be in attendance — see the HTPG website and social media feeds for details.
The mighty 24-cylinder Sabre IIa engine is a story in itself. This very rare survivor, owned for many years by Cranfield University and latterly kept with the Rolls- Royce Heritage Trust in Derby, was secured by the HTPG at the start of 2017. “There’s a lot of interest in it”, Bone says.
“We’re not in a position to announce who will be overseeing the engine at the moment, but, as with the Aircraft Restoration Company and Airframe Assemblies, the selection will be based on the best in the business. We hope to be in a position in the near future to announce it. Possibly after the wings, it is the most extensive part of the rebuild.”
As this will be the first Sabre to run in many years, presentday knowledge of the complex unit’s intricacies is at something of a premium. “The Centaurus being a sleevevalve engine, Bristol assisted Napier in solving the sleevevalve issues on the Sabre, so there’s a little bit of knowledge there”, Bone continues. “The main difference, of course, is that it’s an H-configuration engine with a very unusual crank and cam design. I think it will be a challenge for whoever takes it on, but it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime challenges for a company to show just how skilled it is at rebuilding these sorts of engines.”
I think the engine will be a challenge for whoever takes it on, but it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime challenges
All the while, anticipation builds and, crucially, support grows. A giant, four-times-size Typhoon model will tower over the Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire this summer, adorned in RB396’s markings and highlighting the type’s role in the liberation of Europe 75 years ago. And the HTPG’s presence at UK airshows will continue (see panel at left).
The target remains to have RB396 flying for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in 2024, but if it happens after that, so be it. The spectacle will be worth it, whenever it occurs.
Some words from historian James Holland, referring to the heroism of wartime Typhoon pilots, sum up well what this will mean. “To see this stunning aircraft flying again”, he said, “will be a reminder not only of their selfless sacrifice but also of Britain’s immense air power and that the Spitfire was not the only superb fighter aircraft built by Britain during the war.
For me, the Typhoon, more than any other British aircraft, is the symbol of Allied dominance in the skies during the last year of the Second World War and I literally cannot wait to see it airborne once again”. So say all of us.
For more information and to sign up to become a member of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group, visit www.hawkertyphoon.com