The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group has engaged the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) to provide engineering support and oversight for the restoration to flight of Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB RB396. This marks the most significant development to date in the Group’s drive to revive an airworthy Typhoon. Co-trustees Sam Worthington-Leese and Dave Robinson announced the collaboration at the Group’s open day on Sunday, 28 October 2018 in front of more than 150 registered supporters.
ARCo’s Managing Director John Romain will assist the Group with the sub-contracting of restoration work to leading workshops across the UK, with the assistance and coordination of the Group. It is anticipated that numerous highly regarded workshops will be utilised for the build, including Airframe Assemblies, Air Leasing, B&B Aero, Retrotec and Hawker Restorations. Once the respective parts have been rebuilt to airworthy condition, ARCo will be responsible for the final assembly and testing of the completed Typhoon. ARCo has been involved in numerous high-profile award-winning restorations over the years, with Spitfire PR.XI PL983 and Westland Lysander V9312 being their most recent long-term projects to fly.
Subject to the securement of funding, the Group anticipates that the announcement of their preferred workshop and commencement of the restoration of the Typhoon’s rear fuselage monocoque may be able to commence within a matter of months, utilising an extant Hawker Tempest jig. As the funding drive continues, it is expected that B&B Aero will restore the Typhoon’s tail section, whilst Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight will likely be responsible for the monumental task of reproducing the aircraft’s wings, rudder and elevators. It is hoped that as the build progresses, completed components will be displayed at the Group’s storage facility in Uckfield, East Sussex, and at airshows across the UK.
For the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group, a UK registered charity, this milestone is the culmination of almost two decades of intensive work, much of it behind the scenes, with a view to facilitating the restoration of a Hawker Typhoon to flying condition. Just one complete Typhoon remains of the 3,317 manufactured, and is owned by the Royal Air Force Museum. With the Second Tactical Air Force the Typhoon was instrumental in supporting the Allied forces before, during and after the Normandy landings, and worked closely with ground forces during the breakout from northern France and the push into Germany.
Sam Worthington-Leese’s involvement has been instrumental to getting to Group to this point. His grandfather, P/O Roy G. Worthington, flew Typhoons from RAF Westhampnett (now Goodwood Aerodrome) with No 184 Squadron in support of the Allied invasion of occupied Europe. Downed during a fighter sweep over the Netherlands and captured by the Germans on Sunday, 21 May 1944, P/O Worthington spent the rest of the war incarcerated at Stalag Luft III. Now, his grandson is leading the movement to restore a Hawker Typhoon to flying condition as an enduring, living memorial to the aircraft’s oft forgotten crews.
“I loved aircraft and didn’t know why”, Sam says as he reflects on a childhood spent visiting airshows with his parents, a growing interest in the Second World War era leading to the discovery and exploration of his grandfather’s colourful Royal Air Force career. He followed suit, taking to gliding in 2006 prior to joining the air force in 2009. Budget cuts arising from the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010 eventually put paid to his aspirations, the resulting reduncancy steering him towards the vintage aviation scene three years hence. A stint as an instructor on de Havilland Tiger Moths and Stampes at Shoreham followed, before a move to Goodwood aerodrome delivered the opportunity to fly and latterly instruct on the North American T-6 with the Goodwood Aero Club for several years. Sam also became the first non ‘Qualified Service Pilot’ to be asked to fly with Ultimate High, one of the country’s leading aerobatic, formation and flight safety training schools. “It very quickly dawned on me that I had flown two of the aircraft my grandfather trained on. Flying the T-6 from the same airfield he flew from 70 years ago gave me chills.”
Taking to the internet to further research his grandfather’s service history, Sam came across a post from a Dutch enthusiast on an obscure historic aviation forum citing that he had visited P/O Worthington’s crash site and recovered parts of his Typhoon, which had been stored in his barn for decades. After much back and forth, the enthusiast sent Sam a number of parts from his grandfather’s Typhoon, including a light fitting, Bakelite fuse box and the throttle or mixture bell crank. “I look at the light fitting and think, he would have physically turned that on and off”, he says. “It’s nice to have that tangible, almost physical connection.”
Roy Worthington died when Sam was just 4 years old. Sat beside his grandson’s desk at the project’s Uckfield base unit is a small home-made wooden case displaying his medals, Caterpillar Club badge and a service photograph. As the project gathers pace and the workload broadens exponentially, that family memorabilia keeps the personal link ever-present. “Helping to revive a Typhoon will never make up for not really knowing him, but to have that link is special. Parts of his Typhoon will go into this aircraft, and it will be ‘his’ to an extent. That’s really my reason for doing it. It does make me feel a little closer to him.”
Dave Robinson had been trawling the continent for Typhoon wrecks for years with a view to restoring a replica cockpit. In 1999 Dave moved close to the old base at RAF Lichfield, former home to a busy Typhoon Maintenance Unit where many of the type were broken down at the end of their service life, and his interested in the aircraft piqued. Accordingly, he has been collecting parts and other materials for years, most significantly some 11,500 technical drawings found in a skip sat at the site of the Hawker factory in Kingston-upon-Thames. This, combined with the discovery of the wreck of Typhoon Mk.IB RB396 on the continent, set his aspirations in another direction and he planned to collate enough data to restore a complete Typhoon. His search for more information on the Typhoon brought him into contact with Sam via the aforementioned aviation forum in 2014, their association eventually leading to the formation of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group as we know it in early 2016 and the pledge to raise funds to rebuild RB396 to flying condition.
To date, the focus has very much been on collating both physical components and technical knowledge of the aeroplane. Dave has been actively seeking Typhoon wrecks and remnants for nearly 20 years and has provided the backbone of the charity’s assets to date. The original Typhoon technical drawings he holds will doubtless be instrumental in the aircraft’s restoration. Substantial amounts of Typhoon parts have been acquired, donated and loaned to the project, including a largely complete cockpit section from Typhoon EJ922, wing sections, three firewalls, engine mounts, several sets of NOS undercarriage legs and numerous boxes of tubing, brackets and myriad other components.
A significant development in autumn 2017 was the outright purchase of the four-bladed spinner (believed to be the only original in existence) and rear fuselage of a Hawker Tempest (comprising a complete monocoque, tail empennage and rudder) following a successful fundraising appeal that generated donations to the sound of an impressive £80,000 in just one week – a testament, it’s fair to say, to the wide-reaching support Sam and Dave have enjoyed to date.
The most substantial components belong to Typhoon RB396, the sole confirmed surviving combat veteran of its type and the aircraft whose identity will live on in the restored aeroplane. With his Typhoon critically damaged by enemy fire, No 174 Squadron pilot Flt Lt Chris W. House carried out a forced landing in RB396 north-east of Denekamp, the Netherlands on 1 April 1945. Flt Lt House evaded capture in occupied territory, returning to his squadron on 5 April. The airframe found its way to a chemical company before recovery to Twenthe; that museum’s closure saw RB396 moved to the Luchtoorlogmuseum (Aerial War Museum) at Fort Veldhuis where a keen-eyed staff member brought Dave’s efforts to the museum’s attention. A year of negotiations and discussions with the aircraft’s custodian and the museum culminated in the acquisition and recovery of the aircraft to the UK in May 2013, and it now forms the centrepiece of the project’s monthly open days.
It is hoped that significant sections of RB396 can be incorporated into the restored Typhoon. This will allow it to carry the stories of Flt Lt House and its other pilots into the future. Canadian Frank Johnson flew RB396 on 33 occasions from 13 January 1945 to 28 March 1945 and inscribed his wife Sheila’s name on its port cowling. He was shot down on 30 March 1945 and became a prisoner of war; Johnson survived the war, and died peacefully in September 2017. One of RB396’s pilots is still with us – Sidney Russell-Smith flew this Typhoon just once, but endures as a living link between the past and present.
The heart of the Typhoon, and the real key to the restoration project, is the Napier Sabre engine. The 24-cylinder, 2200hp Sabre Mk.IIa is synonymous with the Typhoon and securing the engine in early 2017 was perhaps the charity’s most significant milestone at that point. This Sabre is a zero-timed engine inhibited shortly after the Second World War, used as a training aid by Cranfield University and loaned on a long-term basis to the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust in Derby. Securing the engine took more than ten years of negotiation between Dave Robinson and the engine’s respective custodians, culminating in positive high-level meetings with the Head of Aerospace at Cranfield University. The engine now sits under the Group’s care. Sam adds, “We haven’t looked inside the engine yet, but it weighs what it should weigh and we’re confident it’s a complete engine. It will need a full overhaul, possibly not even a full rebuild, in order for it to be mated to the restored airframe and we’ll be engaging with a leading vintage engine restorer to progress with that once we are in a position to do so financially. We are also following up on further Sabres with a view to acquiring them in future.
“The workshops we spoke to anticipated £4-6 million for the full Typhoon rebuild, and around five years from start to finish if money was no issue”, Sam explains. “We are aiming to have the aircraft flying for the D-Day 80th anniversary in 2024, but that isn’t a hard deadline – we won’t just give up if that isn’t achievable, but it’s nice to have a date to work towards. Once we start building we’re hopeful that people will see that this restoration is really happening, which should translate to more donations”.
The proposal is to display the restored serviceable components at the Typhoon project’s storage unit, allowing visitors to see the tangible benefits of their membership during regular open days. Dedicated fundraising drives for other sections and components are set to follow sequentially. Sam continues, “We appreciate the value of having parts on show, we don’t just want to farm the whole aircraft off in one go. We can work out a way for people to see the restoration as it progresses. We also realised with the Supporters’ Club that nowadays people tend to not just donate money; they want something back, and they may want to be more involved. We’re very lucky to have a strong base of volunteers who have offered their support since day one and we hope to find ways to utilise them, to some extent, in the restoration, be it through sorting boxes of parts, cataloguing components or physically supporting us at shows and events, raising vital funds and awareness.”
The project has grown exponentially with more than 1100 Supporters’ Club members and approaching half a million pounds raised through fundraising appeals since the charity formed in May 2016. “As an entity in the public eye, the launch on 29 October 2016 put us on the map in terms of support and visibility”, says Sam. “It’s really nice seeing our caps and t-shirts at airshows and events as it spreads the word even further”, he continues. Since 2016, the group’s reach has spread across the world with increasing support from North American, New Zealand, French, Dutch and Belgian enthusiasts in particular, many of whom have already pledged to visit the UK to see the Typhoon fly. “I went to Wanaka, New Zealand in 2016 and wore a project cap, and had people coming up who recognised the logo and knew about what we’re doing. During my visit to Normandy in June 2017, a guy walked past me at Arromanches wearing one of our caps and I saw a guy in our polo shirt at Merville. He was from Belgium, and later made a day trip to the UK for our open house in October 2017, just to see how the project has developed first-hand. That’s a level of commitment we certainly didn’t expect to see at this stage.”
Unprecedented support has translated into significant income through memberships and merchandise sales. Airshow appearances proved incredibly popular, particularly so the charity’s major presence at the renowed Flying Legends airshow. Rapid growth, whilst vital to the project’s progression at this stage, does bring a whole raft of challenges that the team will be tackling over the next few months. “It’s not sustainable to keep the project expanding at the rate it is without bringing on board full-time staff”, says Sam. As of early 2018, Sam and David have shouldered responsibility for all aspects of project management, whilst supporters have been offered invaluable voluntary labour. That has amounted to effectively a full-time job for both co-trustees, Dave alone typically processing north of 400 e-mails a week and dedicating several hours per night to the project. In time, a number of posts and jobs will be filled by volunteers who will call upon their day-to-day expertise to support the project.
Looking to the long-term, a business plan is in the works to lay out the operation’s growth and provide solid financial projections to sustain both the restoration and, all being well, the operation of the Typhoon as an airworthy aircraft on the European airshow circuit. Fundraising proposals for businesses and individuals are also in development. In the event that RB396 flies, insurance and maintenance will unquestionably run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds and the charity is working on cash flow forecasts to determine the extent to which it will be able to wash its face year-by-year through a combination of membership applications, merchandise sales and sponsorship.
“Back when I first met Dave and we talked about maybe one day getting a Typhoon flying, it felt like a pipe dream”, reflects Sam. “Looking at what we’ve achieved with the support of so many people, it’s feeling like less and less of a pipe dream. The personal angle is what keeps me going, and the knowledge that if we don’t do it, it’s unlikely anyone else will. The Typhoon’s been forgotten. You say the name now and everyone thinks you’re talking about the Eurofighter. That isn’t fair on the people who built it, flew it, maintained it and operated it.” Since joining Project RB396, Sam has had the fortune of meeting six surviving Typhoon pilots. The experience, he says, is humbling. “You read these stories about 19-year olds going off and doing incredible things. I looked through Bernard Gardiner’s log book and the entries are so brief but so rich. ‘Close air support. Attacked a train. Beat up a barge. Flak was heavy. 20 minutes’. And it’s the guy sitting opposite you at 95-years old. It’s hard to comprehend that it’s the same person. Those meetings have made the whole project worthwhile, in all honesty.
“We see it as hugely important to recreate this aircraft – we’re getting towards the time where there won’t be a living generational link, and all those stories will be lost. Even if we just got to the stage of having a memorial to those people, that would be significant – to get a Typhoon flying would be the ultimate memorial, bringing the aircraft to the forefront like never before. We hope our association with ARCo is a further step towards achieving that.”