Hawker Restorations Ltd (HRL) has ambitious plans to convert Hurricane Mk.IIB BE505 Pegs into a unique two-seat configuration in order to join the warbird passenger flights market. Company director Andrew Wenman recently outlined the background to the project, and the challenges that lie ahead.
The plan to compliment the Second World War fighter experience flight market with a two-seat Hurricane should come as no surprise, given the popularity of Spitfire Mk.TIX passengers rides. Many of the two-seat Spitfires in the UK are fully booked throughout their flying year, and the potential of adding the world’s only two-seat Hurricane to those ranks would offer a unique experience for customers, whilst presenting an opportunity to offset the costs of operating a vintage fighter. “We hope the project will gather a lot of interest”, Andrew says. “We only need 20-30% of the amount of bookings that the Spitfire flights are getting in order for the aircraft to be fully booked. We’ve calculated the numbers using conservative figures, and we’re quietly hopeful it will enjoy the uptake that it deserves.”
HRL had previously announced its intention to restore a future project, Hurricane L2005, from the ground-up in two-seat configuration. The acquisition of Hurricane BE505 over the winter allows the company to accelerate these plans, as Andrew explains. “It would take two and a half years to build a Hurricane from the ground up, and we had factored another six months on to that in order to modify the aircraft to two-seat configuration. It would certainly be easier from a practical perspective to start from scratch and build a two-seat, rather than convert an existing airworthy airframe, but this way the aircraft will be completed sooner.” BE505’s arrival at HRL’s Elmsett facility in early 2018 signifies the beginning of this major project, which will see the aircraft undergo both internal and external modifications to accommodate a rear cockpit. Andrew adds, “We’re looking at a 12-month programme to convert BE505, and we’re hoping to have the aircraft out there for the 2019 season”.
At current, the intention is for this Hurricane to retain its No. 174 (Mauritius) Sqn markings, representing RAF Manston-based Mk.IIB BE505 in its unique 1942 ‘Hurribomber’ guise with faired bomb racks fitted under the wings. “We don’t have any plans to change it”, says Andrew. “We like BE505 as it is – a unique aeroplane which has been lovingly looked after and is in very good condition.”
The airframe itself is a Canadian Car and Foundry-built example, originally destined for the RAF before reassignment to the Royal Canadian Air Force. Constructed as a Mk.II with the serial RCAF 1374, it entered service with No. 125 Sqn, Nova Scotia in April 1942. Following an accident, 1374 was returned to the Canadian Car and Foundry to be converted to Mk.IIa standard, before being pressed into service with No. 1(F) Operational Training Unit. There it suffered another accident, and later a more serious crash which saw it written off in September 1944. The remains found their way into the hands of David Tallichet in the 1980s, and the aircraft was then sold on to HRL for restoration to flight (amalgamating three different Canadian airframes) which began in earnest in 2005.
The project was purchased by Peter Teichman in 2007, and HRL finished the Hurricane as a Mk.IIb fighter-bomber for his North Weald-based Hangar 11 Collection, with the first post restoration flight taking place on 27 January 2009. Peter has displayed the Hurricane extensively across the UK and Europe since then, as far afield as southern Germany, as well as taking part in large-scale Battle of Britain commemorations at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Duxford. In 2014 Peter took the decision to downsize his collection and focus on the restoration of his second Spitfire, and put the Hurricane and P-40 up for sale. The Hurricane remained unsold until HRL acquired the aircraft in late 2017. On 19 January 2018 BE505 was ferried to Elmsett airfield in Suffolk in the capable hands of Stu Goldspink, and wheeled into Hawker Restorations’ new hangar and workshop facility from where it will emerge as the world’s only two-seat Hurricane.
The project to create a two-seat Hurricane is certainly not a straightforward undertaking, and many challenges lie ahead for the HRL team. During the 1940s, only a handful of Hurricanes were ever built or converted into two-seaters; those that underwent conversion flew with a variety of canopy configurations, ranging from two separate open cockpits, an extended enclosed canopy and even a mounted gunner’s position in the rearmost cockpit. Most were in-field modifications or carried out by customer air forces, and Hawkers only manufactured two trainers themselves, which were sent to Persia. No plans and very few photographs remain of these two-seat Hurricanes which, as Andrew says, isn’t particularly helpful to HRL’s cause: “We are really looking at it from scratch as a design challenge, and subsequently will be working very closely with our chosen design organisation to ensure that it is all safe and legal.”
As world leaders in the restoration of Hawker Hurricanes, there is no workshop better suited to taking on this challenge. Since its formation in 1993 by Sir Tim Wallis and Tony Ditheridge, HRL’s engineers have restored nine Hurricanes to flight and have had a hand in supporting most of the remaining airworthy examples, as well as other incomplete projects and static airframes. With this wealth of practical experience comes unprecedented expertise in the complex construction of the Hurricane, and the invaluable knowledge HRL has amassed over 25 years will be key to converting BE505 to include a second seat.
Andrew explains that the plan is to extend the standard Hurricane glasshouse-style canopy rearwards, as opposed to the modifying the aircraft to a more antiquated open cockpit style. “We want to convert it as sympathetically as possible”, he says. “We’re not looking to just chop it apart and put it out there, we’re going to try and keep it looking as much like a standard Hurricane as we can, to a painstaking degree of attention!”
From a design standpoint, there are many factors to take into consideration. The end goal is to have a two-seat Hurricane, preferably with dual control, that is not limited in any way in its flight envelope. “The first thing the design organisation will do is electronically model the fuselage and see the stresses and strains that are going through the structure”, Andrew outlines. “They will then start to move parts around in this electronic model to see what happens to those stresses”.
A key concern is finding the means to physically fit a passenger into the rear fuselage area, and considerable internal redesign will be required. “The passenger is going to sit where the battery, radio and a few other internal parts are currently located, so we’ve got to move those somewhere else”, Wenman says. “There are some bracing wires there, so where can we put those? The bracing needs to be as good if not better than it is at the moment”. The second seat will be positioned in the area currently occupied by the wiring of the pilot’s harness, necessitating a complete re-engineering of the pilot’s seat and the area immediately aft of the cockpit.
It then needs to be determined whether these modifications, and the addition of a passenger, will alter the Hurricane’s centre of gravity within the permissible limits. This, Andrew adds, is exactly why BE505 was chosen for conversion: “The fact that it’s a Hurricane Mk.II with the longer engine mount and a bigger engine makes it much more suited to conversion. The weight, and accordingly the centre of gravity, is further forward at the moment anyway, so it is the perfect Hurricane for it.” Being a later-mark Hurricane, the additional power provided by the 1300 hp Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin 29 will provide a means of counteracting the increased operating weight of the two-seat configuration.
Safety is of course paramount with this conversion and one of the most important factors that will determine its viability is the amount of rollover protection provided for both pilot and passenger. In a regular single-seat Hurricane the peak of the fuselage aft of the pilot is nicknamed the ‘doghouse’ due to its thick and protective plywood structure, which offers a lot of strength and protection. If this is to be removed to accommodate a second seat, HRL will need to determine whether there will be adequate rollover protection provided by the new two-seat structure.
“Those are the main issues we’ve been looking at so far, and after all of those have been solved we will look into the feasibility of adding dual controls – we’re hopeful we should be able to do it”, Andrew adds. The sole flying two-seat Hurricane will surely prove popular regardless, but the ability to offer Hurricane stick time is an attractive prospect. The aim at current is to have all of the design work completed and signed-off so that a scheme of work can be drawn up for HRL staff to begin the physical work in the next six to eight weeks.
BE505 is currently up for sale, with a contract for HRL to complete the two-seat conversion. Enquiries should be sent to Andrew Wenman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone on 01473 828 707. HRL will proceed with the conversion regardless of whether a buyer comes forward; in that eventuality, HRL will plan to lease the two-seater out and have it operated under the banner of one of the main two-seat Spitfire flight operators.
We will be covering this unique conversion as it progresses, and suggest checking back for more updates in future. With thanks to Andrew Wenman and the Hawker Restorations Ltd team.