By Pierre Kosmidis
Few WW2 aircraft have been so legendary as the Hawker Typhoon.
The “Tiffy”, as it was affectionately called by RAF pilots and ground crews, became one of the most successful ground-attack aircraft during WW2.
Out of the 3,317 Typhoons built during WW2, only one complete aircraft -but not in flying condition- still survives, with serial number MN235.
This Typhoon was on display at the National Air and Space Museum in the United States before being presented to the RAF Museum in Hendon, exchanged with a Hawker Hurricane. This Typhoon is currently on loan to the Canadian aviation and space museum in Ottawa.
A group of aviation enthusiasts is currently working on bringing a Hawker Typhoon, serial number RB 396 where it really belongs:
Above the clouds, roaming in the skies and bringing back the memories of the once feared aircraft that wreaked havoc on the ground.
RB, as she is affectionately know by the team, is owned by a registered charity, the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group, who will be overseeing the restoration with the intention of returning the aircraft to flight powered by a Napier Sabre engine – something that hasn’t been seen, or heard, for nearly 70 years.
Once complete, this legendary aircraft will be the only airworthy Hawker Typhoon in the world, and the only genuine combat veteran in existence. She will serve as a centre piece for a Heritage Centre, established with the intention of preserving the history and educating the public with regard to this iconic and forgotten aircraft.
What was your incentive to participate in this project?
Mainly out of respect for those who flew the aircraft during the War, including my Grandfather. It was through researching his history, that my path crossed with Dave Robinson, who had been researching the Typhoon and the whereabouts of surviving parts for many years.
Dave has a strong research background, whereas I come at the project from the flying point of view, being ex RAF and a professional pilot by trade. Long term, my goal is to fly the aircraft, and being involved in the process from day 1 is critical for that.
Even more important, is that small parts from the aircraft my Grandfather was flying on the day he was shot down, will be incorporated into the build, and, the airfield he took off from, RAF Westhampnett, is still operational and know as Goodwood Aerodrome. So, it will be possible to do an anniversary flight, from the same airfield, with parts of the same plane, by the grandson. Which is an incredibly unique story.
Restoring a unique WW2 aircraft to flying condition is indeed a painstaking process; what has been the most difficult part of the process to date and how did you overcome it?
The most difficult part of the process so far, initially, was convincing people that it could be done. Part of that was securing a Napier Sabre as the engine is so rare, yet so integral to the aircraft, that without it, it would not be possible to succeed.
We secured a Napier Sabre in early 2017, the engine is in pristine condition, and was inhibited correctly so internally it will be in good condition. Of course it has not been rebuilt yet, and will be subject to a full overhaul, but the fact we have it in our possession was a great boost for the project, but it took ten years of research and negotiations with various parties before we acquired it.
Now, the most difficult thing is dealing with the level of interest the project is generating, while we all still do everything in our spare time. There are just two trustees, myself and Dave Robinson, and now, thankfully we have a number of volunteers beginning to assist with things like the merchandise and attending air shows.
We have begun to overcome this problem by establishing a Supporters’ Club, this is where our volunteers come from. But it was not an overnight task, in October of 2016 there were no members of the Club, we launched it on October 29th 2016 and now there are over 800 members.
Getting a Typhoon back to life – the only one surviving to this day – will be quite an achievement. Can you describe your thoughts on bringing this project together?
When the aircraft takes to the air for the first time it will be a very emotional day for all concerned. Provided she takes to the air in 2024, which is our target date, that will be 8 years since the charity was formed, but it will be 25 years of research for Dave Robinson.
Now, at the beginning of his journey it was not as much work as it is now, nor was it with the intention of becoming an airworthy aircraft. The project turned into that around 2014 when Dave and I started working together. He said: “we can’t rebuild it to fly, because it will cost £6million” to which I responded with “well, let’s raise £6million then!”
So, in 2024 it will be 10 years from the point at which we decided to attempt it. But, more important than our investment of time and effort, will be the significance of likely the only Typhoon ever to fly. It will fly as a living memorial to the 666 pilots killed flying the Typhoon, and everyone who served on it.
We only hope, and the chance is getting less and less with every day that goes by, that a Typhoon veteran or veterans may still be around to witness their aircraft taking to the sky. If the fundraising progresses faster than hoped, then it may be possible to shave a year off the timescale and have her flying sooner.
Do you have any personal story to share, be it from a veteran, a volunteer or a fan of your project?
The project is made up of many individual stories. Mine, is that my grandfather flew the Typhoon in WWII, and he flew on his last trip from Goodwood, which is where I now instruct on various aircraft such as the Harvard, on which he would have trained.
Last year Dave Robinson was able to speak to the main pilot of RB396, his name was Frank Johnson and he lived in Canada. He managed to fill in a lot of the gaps, and provide us with some extra details of the aircraft, including the fact that he had his wife’s name painted on the port cowling, above the exhausts, something we would not have known, had we not been able to speak to him. Unfortunately, Frank passed away in the latter part of last year.
Many members of our Supporters’ Club have family members who were aircrew or ground crew on the Typhoon and it is because of them, that they are choosing to support the project. Because in the end, it will be a memorial to all of them.
One member of our Supporters’ Club is a young boy called Callum, when we first met Callum in 2016 he was 8 years old. He has a really strong love for the Typhoon, and for the project, and he is always inspiring us with they ways that he shows support.
For his homework he was asked to do a mosaic, so he made one of a Typhoon. His parent showed us this in advance of our official launch event in 2016, and we were so impressed that we invited him along as a VIP, this was before the Supporters’ Club had even been launched.
Callum came along to the launch event, with his proud parents, and he brought the mosaic with him. He was thrilled when we introduced him to the three WWII Typhoon pilots who we had attending on the day, and they signed his mosaic. We were so impressed with Callum’s attitude, that after we had raffled off membership number 001 to the Supporters’ Club we made Callum an “honorary” member and awarded him membership number 002, which he still has.
At our last Open Day, in December 2017, Callum had taken his mosaic design and had it made into Christmas cards for which he had paid for out of his pocket money. He donated the cards to the project, and they raised over £100 in an auction.
We are really impressed with Callum and his attitude.