On 22 April 2015, Retrotec Ltd’s latest masterpiece took to the air once more after a lengthy hiatus – Hawker Fury Mk.I K5674. The photographs accompanying this article are from the aircraft’s first period of post-restoration flight in July 2012.
The Hawker Fury was widely regarded as the epitome of biplane design and many consider it to be one of the most beautiful biplanes ever created. Mk.I K5674 is completely unique in that it is the last remaining Hawker Fury in existence, and Retrotec Ltd has finished it to impeccable standards for the Historic Aircraft Collection Ltd (HAC), based at Duxford, Cambridgeshire.
Retrotec Ltd, founded by Guy Black, has long established itself as one of the world’s premier aircraft restoration facilities, specialising in the engineering and resurrection of aircraft types that have almost been lost. Whilst being the forerunners in the resurgence of the Hawker biplane family, they are also equally adept at restoring military aircraft from the beginning of the First World War up to the end of the World War Two, and to date they have restored two Hawker Nimrods and a Bristol F.2b Fighter to flight, as well as completing static restorations of the Imperial War Museum’s Airco DH-9 and the RAF Museum’s Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2B, the latter having been started by another sub-contractor. Currently being worked on is another Airco DH-9, E-8894, which should be flying in the next few years.
The company currently employs a force of a dozen or so men and women and their main workshops are located in East Sussex, along with some smaller scale on-site facilities at Duxford – a company small in size, but one with a far-reaching impact in the vintage aeroplane world. Indeed, as well as taking on their own restoration projects, on many occasions contracts have been commissioned to solve technical hurdles for other companies and restorations. These include working on the spars for the Walrus, Gladiator, Demon and Hurricanes. Few of the latter types would be flying today without Retrotec Ltd’s vital technical input.
In the same vein, a new E-commerce business has been set up – Aero Vintage Spares Ltd – where stock of both original spare aircraft parts and reproduction items made to original specification can be purchased. These include items such as streamline tubing, tubular rivets, bracing wires, pitot heads, fairey fasteners, Air Ministry electrical items and so much more. For more information, see the website – www.aerovintagespares.com.
The restoration of the Fury has been the most challenging undertaken by the Retrotec Ltd workshops to date. This is due to there being little information available relating to the aeroplane itself, a paucity of surviving parts, the complexity of construction and the re-engineering of the increasingly rare Rolls Royce Kestrel IIS engine. The complexity of the Fury’s construction explains why the aircraft was, by the standards of the time, extremely expensive to build – it was, perhaps, the Eurofighter Typhoon of its day! Further to information received from the RAF Museum, HAC recovered the airframe’s remains from a farm in South Africa in 1992, and an 18 year restoration ensued.
The aircraft has been finished in the colours it wore during its operational service with No. 43 ‘Fighting Cocks’ Squadron at RAF Tangmere in the late 1930s. It was then the personal aircraft of Flying Officer Frederick Rosier, Officer Commanding B Flight, later to become Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Rosier GCB, CBE, DSO. Rosier had named K5674 ‘Queen of North and South’, however HAC has found no evidence of this name being physically applied to the Fury – if anyone has a photograph showing this, HAC would be very pleased to see it!
Flying Officer Fredrick Rosier first flew her in December 1936 and had to relinquish the aircraft in February 1939. Further, with the onset of war, drab camouflage replaced the flamboyant paint scheme of striking bare metal, red trim and black and white checkerboard on the upper wing and fuselage surfaces that was synonimous with the ‘Fighting Cocks’. In 1940 the Fury was sent to South Africa where it was taken on charge by No. 13 Squadron, based at Swartkop, but it was damaged in a forced landing after running out of fuel. Subsequently, it was struck off charge in March 1941.
After the restoration was completed, K5674 was first shown to the public at Duxford in June 2011 and was later taken to Goodwood to be displayed at the Revival in the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded 1st place – a true testament to Retrotec Ltd’s work.
Those who eagerly anticipated its first flight should know that despite being ready to fly for over a year, the increasingly stringent demands of the CAA delayed things somewhat. At the CAA’s request, some extremely expensive technical investigations of considerable depth were undertaken by an independent design engineer, even though the aircraft is as faithful a restoration as modern materials will allow. In all, around 190 individual investigations were required before the aircraft was permitted to fly in 2012, averaging a staggering cost of £2,000 each. Of course, all of Retrotec Ltd’s design interpretations were found to be sound and the Fury was given a Permit to Test.
The first flight took place on Thursday, 30 July 2012 in the capable hands of Flt Lt Charlie Brown. As is HAC’s policy there were no spectators present in order to avoid adding further pressure on the pilot, who was getting airborne in an aircraft type for which there are few guidelines available and, indeed, few surviving pilots to glean information from beforehand.
The second flight took place at Goodwood on Monday, 6 August with Guy and Janice Black present as well as David Rosier, son of Flying Officer Fredrick Rosier, who saw his father’s aircraft take to the skies. With him was his father’s log book, which went aloft in the Fury one last time in a pocket of Charlie Brown’s flight suit! It was fitting that the Fury was airborne in the skies around Tangmere once again, with the old RAF station being just a stone’s throw from Goodwood. Since then, the Fury has been at HAC’s base in the south of England undergoing further work. After a lengthy hiatus, the Fury took to the skies once more on 22 April 2015, again in the hands of Charlie Brown.
It will be interesting to see how the Fury compares to the Nimrod as the former is slightly lighter but, more importantly, cleaner – it does not have the tail hook and suchlike causing drag. The Fury was very tricky to fly and astonishingly fast for its day, easily exceeding 200mph in level flight.
K5674 will take pride of place in Hangar 3 at IWM Duxford alongside HAC’s Nimrod, Hurricane and other aircraft. It is hoped the Fury will make its début display at the upcoming VE Day Anniversary show at Duxford on the weekend of 22-23 May 2015. The Vintage Aviation Echo would like to thank Janice Black, Charlie Brown and the Retrotec Ltd Team for their kind assistance in producing this article.