Hurricane 501
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First flight in sight for Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane V7497

First flight in sight for Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane V7497

Over the coming winter, Battle of Britain veteran Hawker Hurricane Mk.I V7497 is set to emerge from Hawker Restorations Ltd’s Elmsett workshop and take to the skies once more, marking the completion of the UK’s third Hurricane restoration in 12 months. The project is spearheaded by part-owner Peter Kirkpatrick, an NHS neurosurgeon whose deep respect for the Hurricane and the people intrinsic to its story drive his desire for V7497 to act as a living memorial for future generations to enjoy.

With the surviving Battle of Britain veterans becoming fewer each year and the generational divide growing ever wider, the efforts of dedicated groups of highly driven men and women to preserve Second World War history become even more vital. Peter Kirkpatrick is one such individual, and his involvement in the rapidly progressing Hurricane V7497 restoration is a testament to his passion. If circumstances allow, Peter would like to take early retirement from a long career as a neurosurgeon, this major change marking a shift in his priorities as the project reaches its culmination. “I’m coming to the end of that phase of my life,” he reflects, “and I want to give myself enough opportunity in my late 50s and early 60s to fulfil this project. Clearly there is a risk of leaving it too late, and I don’t want to take that risk.”

Peter credits the 1969 Battle of Britain film for sparking what has been a lifelong interest in aviation, and cites it as the most influential film he has ever seen. He has flown recreationally since taking up hang gliding as a medical student, progressing to flex-wing microlights before transitioning to fixed-wing flight for the last 16 years, seven of which have been spent flying Pitts Specials. The Battle of Britain was never far away, and Peter became engrossed in the subject as the years went on, forming an admiration and affection for the Hurricane in particular. “We were all impressed by the Spitfires, being the more famous of the two aircraft”, he says. “Yet the deeper you read and the more you learn about these aeroplanes, you begin to realise that it may well have been the Hurricane that won the battle.”

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“Given what it did, or more importantly, what it stopped, I think the Mk.I Hurricane is one of the most important machines ever built”, he continues. Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires in the Fighter Command ranks between 3:1 to double during the course of the battle, with the venerable Hawker accounting for 1,593 out of the total 2,739 Luftwaffe aircraft claimed shot down. “If we had lost the Battle of Britain we would have succumbed to Operation Sea Lion without air supremacy and there would have been no western landmass for any sort of counter-offensive in northern Europe”, Peter adds, citing the aircraft’s well-documented pivotal role in shaping the course of the war. Given his burgeoning childhood interest in the Battle of Britain, it is fitting that nearly 50 years on, Peter is facilitating the return to flight of a genuine Battle of Britain veteran Hawker Hurricane.

Peter talks of his deep respect for some of history’s forgotten figures, and hopes that Hurricane V7497 can pay homage to some of the Second World War’s unsung heroes. “You could arguably say that there are some people who, during the mid-1930s, determined the outcome of the war by supporting the Hurricane design”, he explains. “Hawker Siddeley put their personal finances into it, because the government wasn’t funding the aeroplane at that stage. They saw a need for this aeroplane when the government didn’t. This Hurricane is most certainly a tribute to the people who made that incredibly important observation.”

V7497 is one of the Hurricanes that fought in the Battle of Britain, having been delivered first to 20 Maintenance Unit before transferring to 11 Group’s 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron at the strategically important aerodrome of RAF Kenley in the London Borough of Croydon, sat on the front line between approaching Luftwaffe forces and the capital city. Its time in service was short lived, indicative of the nature of the battle, spanning just four days and seven operational sorties before the aircraft was shot down. “Of course, that represented the likely majority of aeroplanes that went up,” Peter muses, “acting as cannon fodder, making general nuisances of themselves in breaking up bombing squadrons and dispersing them so they couldn’t get through to their targets, perhaps leaving the more accomplished pilots to do the damage”.

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The Hurricane was flown by a handful of pilots but most frequently by Pilot Officer Everett Bryan Rogers, who flew the aircraft on its last sortie on 28 September 1940. At 9.45am, 12 pilots from 501 Sqn and six from 605 Sqn took off on a patrol. At the same time, a large German force of 120+ aircraft crossed the Channel, making landfall at Deal, Kent. Roughly 70 of these pressed inland towards London, with fighter support far outweighing the numbers of bombers. With 605 leading the patrol and 501 following below and behind, 12 Bf109s attacked the formation from above, with the opposing forces tangling over Canterbury. The German fighters engaging 605 and 501 Sqns were from 8./JG26 and it was one of these pilots, possibly Staffelkapitan Gustav “Micky” Sprick, who managed to shoot down P.O. Rogers in V7497. Rogers took to his parachute and escaped the ordeal unharmed, whilst V7497 came down near Carthway Street, East Sutton. Three days later on 1 October, Sprick was awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) for scoring his 20th kill – one of the three 501 Sqn Hurricanes that were shot down. In the same action the pilot who had flown V7497 on the previous day, P.O. Frederick Cecil Harrold, perished when he was shot down – he was just 23 years old. Harrold, a Cambridge lad, is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire, a stone’s throw from where V7497 will be based once airworthy.

Due to the steep angle at which V7497 crashed, much of the aircraft was found embedded deep in the ground and few recoverable parts remained on the surface. Consequently, when an archaeological dig investigated the site in the 1990s, there was a substantial amount recovered from beneath the surface compared to many crash sites. The aircraft’s remains were identified as V7497 and were eventually acquired by Tony Ditheridge of Hawker Restorations Ltd as a viable candidate to return to flight. Whilst all of the structural tubing is new, many of the stainless steel parts, bolts and heavier items were able to be re-used, having been assessed via ultra-sound and sandblasted – as such, Hawker Restorations indicate that around 30% of V7497 is original, which is more than the vast majority of Hurricanes flying today. The decision has been made to return the aircraft to flight as close as is practically possible to the Mk.I specification it was in when it last flew in September 1940. This necessitated the installation of an early Merlin III engine, which has been overhauled by specialists Eyetech Engineering, as well as other period components such as the IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) box.

The latest stages of the restoration have seen the engine, wings and tail surfaces fitted, and the 501 Sqn codes applied to the fuselage – with these elements coming together within the same time frame, V7497 looks absolutely stunning and Peter stressed his enthusiasm for the fine restoration work carried out to date. “I’ve been watching the Hawker Restorations team for two years now and I’m in awe of their commitment to detail”, he commented whilst visiting the team at Elmsett. “I’m tremendously excited to see it fly. Like all restoration projects, things have taken a lot longer than originally envisaged for a variety of reasons, but most of the ‘big ticket’ items are sorted now and we’re looking towards the aircraft being complete by the beginning of next year, hopefully ready for the 2018 airshow season”. Once test flying is complete, V7497 will be available for displays at airshows and private events in the hands of some of the world’s finest warbird pilots. With the right preparation, Peter also hopes to fly the Hurricane in future.

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For the time being, there is still an opportunity to become involved with this restoration and a half-share is available for purchase, as Peter explains. “Hawker Restorations Ltd want to sell their half-share eventually so they can get on with their next project. Ownership can take different forms – it can be a single person or it can be more than one in form of a syndicate. There are numerous options to be explored.” Serious enquiries should be sent to kirk@hurricane501.co.uk. Indeed, enthusiasts can also actively contribute to the ongoing restoration and eventual maintenance by joining the Hurricane 501 members’ club. Yearly membership at just £25 provides discounts on merchandise, a quarterly newsletter and exclusive events, and there is also a lifetime membership option priced at £501.

As the Hurricane is being restored as a tribute to the aircraft’s designers and RAF Fighter Command pilots, Peter feels it is pertinent that the aircraft remains very visible and accordingly the decision has been taken to base V7497 at the Imperial War Museum Duxford once flight testing is complete. There the aircraft will sit in one of the original Belfast Truss hangars alongside the IWM’s Spitfire Mk.I N3200. “The Hurricane was undoubtedly the unsung hero of the conflict and having a living Mk.I Hurricane in a world-renowned museum, hopefully with lots of school children visiting and the story being properly told to them, we can convey the aircraft’s importance to a large audience”, says Peter.

Further than this, Peter hopes to quite literally make this a public Hurricane by eventually donating the aircraft to the IWM. “Duxford was home to a Hurricane squadron but it hasn’t got its own Hurricane; it’s got other people’s privately owned Hurricanes, and it’s got its own Spitfire Mk.I. My ambition would be to display the Hurricane to the public and catch their attention under a charitable organisation, and then eventually raise sufficient funds to fully operate it under the auspices of the IWM in order for it to become a public aeroplane.”

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The historic aviation preservation scene is comprised of people whose values and beliefs drive them to contribute tremendous time and expense for little or no remuneration. To see a combat veteran Hurricane brought back to life and eventually donated to the nation under the IWM banner would be very apt. To keep up to date with progress of the restoration of V7497 you can follow the Hurricane 501 Twitter and Facebook pages as well as the newly launched website for V7497, full of interesting information and photos.

With thanks to Peter Kirkpatrick (pictured above), Andy Goodall and Hawker Restorations Ltd.