Hawker Typhoon RB396 Restoration

Saturday 29th October 2016

The Hawker Typhoon is possibly one of the most underrated and least known about types that served the UK in the Second World War. When pressed, most would probably respond with "Don't you mean Eurofighter?" before waxing lyrical about the achievements of the Spitfire. Much like its stablemate the Hurricane, the Typhoon plays second fiddle to the more "glamorous" types that fought in the war, and its significance in some of the most important battles of the 20th Century goes largely unknown. One group of volunteers aims to rectify this. The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group plan to restore one example to airworthiness, and recently launched the project at a small, public event.

Sam Wise attended the launch of the Hawker Typhoon RB396 restoration project at Goodwood Aerodrome. Photography by author.

It is no small undertaking at all to try and restore to flight a type of aircraft that hasn't flown in nearly 70 years. There are certainly no airworthy airframes around, and parts in any condition are scarce to say the least - almost all aircraft were scrapped after the war. What few genuine parts do remain are tucked away in museums and private collections and their condition cannot be guaranteed as usable, especially for a restoration to flight project. But where there's a will, there's a way, and the project team are absolutely passionate about the machine and their desire to see a Hawker Typhoon in the skies again. Currently formed of three Trustees, all involved are dedicated to bringing this forgotten warbird back into the history book; indeed, one of the trustees, Sam Worthington-Leese, has a highly personal connection to the aircraft as his grandfather, P/O R.G. Worthington, was a Typhoon pilot in the war. P/O Worthington was actually shot down in May of 1944 and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III camp. It is fitting that his grandson, an ex-RAF pilot and current warbird pilot, hopes to be one of the first to fly the newly restored machine when it takes to the air again. His research into his grandfather brought him into contact with David Robinson, another of the Trustees, whose childhood spent near RAF Lichfield had given him an interest in the Typhoon and a drive to catalogue all surviving parts eventually led to a plan to bring one to airworthiness. The two eventually made contact with the third of the project's Trustees, Jonathan Edwards, an engineer by trade whose initial offer of assistance with three-dimensional CAD drawings has escalated into an almost full-time effort of work on the airframe.

Despite the immediate obstacles, the team had already gathered a significant collection of parts even before the official project launch, including the part that was very much the genesis of the project - the original rear fuselage section of Hawker Typhoon 1B RB396, still with battle damage from its last flight and forced landing on the 1st of April 1945. This had been in the team's collection since 2013 - far more recent were the cockpit section which was recovered from a private location in the UK only 3 weeks before the launch, and the engine blocks at the front, which were delivered from Belgium just before the event (the previous owners found the engine blocks in a barn, and keen to help the project donated them to the airframe)! Speaking of engines, many consider the authenticity of the engine integral to any warbird restoration, and the Preservation Group have every intention of honouring the machine with a genuine Napier Sabre engine - though it will probably be detuned to give the modern pilots a bit more breathing space. While the details are understandably under wraps for now, the team are in the closing stages of acquiring their first engine for the aeroplane, and are in further discussion with the owners of two others. Within the next few years it is possible we may hear the first Napier Sabre engine run in over six decades. Many of the parts they have in their collection will not be airworthy, but the team have already gathered and designed a great deal of CAD drawings for the Typhoon and plan to manufacture a good deal of the required parts - possibly even reverse engineering components where necessary.

Of course, it's not just the bolts and cables that form the history of the Typhoon; it is the people who flew them, took part in combat with them and in some cases, gave their lives in them that the Group ultimately aim to tell the story of. Present at the launch were three surviving veterans of the Typhoon: Flt Lt Derek Lovell, Flt Lt Rev. George Wood and Flt Lt David Ince DFC. They are keen to bring the story of the Typhoon to a new generation and see its accomplishments recognised again. Flt Lt Wood, who flew with 263 squadron, had this to say: "It's an unforgettable sound on startup. It brings hairs up on the back of your neck! I had a three-propellor job called HE-Y that brought me back every time until the Wing Commander flew it one day, and said it was so slow he sent it back and had a four-propellor replacement! I had a lot of respect for it - the Typhoon was a good warhorse; it always brought you back. I got shot down in the Whirlwind and the Spitfire was too difficult to land!" Along with that of his grandfather, Sam is keen to tell the story and history of the many men who flew the Typhoon in the war, and has been committed to raising awareness of the project on social media. He believes that many are unaware of the vitally crucial role that the aircraft played on and around D-Day, hitting enemy ground targets and saving lives. In fact, the team believe that without the Typhoon the invasion might have been even costlier than it was and the war might have been extended further - a role they are desperate to see recognised in public.

This, then, is the aim of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group. But these ventures always, inevitably, come down to the money, and perhaps unsurprisingly such a project requires no small amount - the Trustees believe that the amount needed to achieve a return to flight is in the order of £4-6 million, though this is pending Lottery Heritage Funding. Of course, this won't come all at once (though if someone wanted to donate it right now they wouldn't be ungrateful!), and the target they have set for themselves is the 80th anniversary of D-Day - that is to say, in eight years time in 2024. Nor will all of that amount go straight into the airframe itself; the Group plan to create a Typhoon Heritage Centre to educate future generations about the role the aircraft played in history, as well as a permanent memorial to those who flew and gave their lives in the machine. For the immediate future the primary aim is to raise awareness of the project - build a presence at airshows across the country, start selling their range of project merchandise and hopefully make an announcement about the new engines before too long. With luck, you should be able to find them in stands at shows next season, but for now you can follow their news and progress on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, which detail both the project itself and the history of the Hawker Typhoon, as well as at www.hawkertyphoon.com.

The Group's statement, as detailed in the Charity Constitution, is: "We will never forget the Typhoon crews, their unique aircraft, the sacrifices they made and the contribution they made so we can all enjoy our freedom."