Cosford’s new Battle of Britain display
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
These are strange and worrying times indeed. Since the previous edition of Aerodrome was posted, Britain has found herself in uncharted territory and many readers will now probably be following the Governments advice to either work from, or to stay safe at home. With support for the NHS and public health/safety the only current concerns, it came as no surprise when museums closed and Airshow events started to be cancelled and with the scale of the situation before us, it is unlikely that this will change any time soon. Clearly, at times like this, aviation related blogs are of little importance, however, if they do allow just a few moments respite from what we are all currently facing, then perhaps therefore still have their place. We are going to have to get a little creative for the foreseeable future, however, for as long as we are in a position to do so, our intention is to continue producing Aerodrome for the Airfix and Corgi websites.
In this latest edition, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the last photography events to take place before Government guidelines ceased all such activities. Desperate to blow the aviation cobwebs off what seemed like many months of winter inactivity, I headed down to the RAF Museum’s Cosford site for a night shoot event which saw the museum’s magnificent BAC TSR2 brought outside of its hangar for the first time in many a year. Although the night shoot is not the subject of this particular blog, we will be covering it in the next edition, but for this time, we will be looking at some hangar rearrangements and how Cosford had prepared to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Planning makes perfect
The main reason for my latest visit to the RAF Museum Cosford was to catch the rare outdoor appearance of their magnificent BAC TSR2, an aircraft which will be the subject of the next edition of Aerodrome
It is a well known fact that every aviation enthusiast looks forward to braking his or her event duck at the beginning of each new year, but from my own personal perspective, my 2020 hiatus seemed to have lasted much longer than usual. For that reason, when I saw a special night photography event advertised on social media at the end of January, I immediately filled in my application and paid my fee – little did I know that this would turn out to be the best £40.00 I had ever spent. The event was scheduled to take place at the RAF Museum Cosford and the massive aviation attraction on offer was the chance to photograph BAC TSR2 outside of its hangar, with the impressive Cold War Exhibition hangar as its backdrop. It was definitely a case of ‘Who Dares Wins’, because this was going to be popular with enthusiasts and I definitely needed to get in early.
As this was going to be my first major outing of the year and with the current national emergency already looking to be heading in a very serious direction, I intended to make a day of it and set off for the Midlands in time for the museum opening at 10am, a journey which would usually take me a little over two hours. Always keen to make sure I gather as much material as possible during such visits, I knew I was in for a busy day and as this was going to be my first visit of the year to Cosford, I was very much looking forward to seeing what had changed and reacquainting myself with some of the nation’s most precious historic aviation assets. I don’t know if anybody else gets the same feeling, but despite the fact that I have been to Cosford many times over the years, I still get that feeling of excitement every time I go back, just like I did when I went for the first time. I suppose if we have an interest that can still have that effect on us, we are quite lucky really.
For people living in this part of the country, we can hardly believe our good fortune that we have a truly world class aviation museum within easy access, one which has only relatively recently benefitted from several significant new display additions. The RAF Museum site at Hendon has long been considered the most important aviation museum in the country, however, their plans to commemorate the Centenary of the Royal Air Force in 2018 necessitated the relocation of several aircraft to allow renovation works to take place. Dismantled for road transportation to their sister site at Cosford, most of these aircraft made the relocation journey in 2016 and once they were reassembled and placed on public display, they transformed an already impressive museum into a venue which simply had to be visited by any self-respecting aviation enthusiast.
Part of their Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display, Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I N1671 is the only complete example of this unique fighter aircraft in the world
With its unrivalled collection of WWII Axis aircraft, the magnificent ‘War in the air’ hangar is definitely my first port of call during any visit to Cosford and with such an embarrassment of aviation riches to admire, it can often be difficult to tear yourself away before museum staff announce it is time to close. Being reassuringly predictable, I once again headed straight for this hangar, stopping only to take a couple of pictures of the magnificent TSR2 which was already outside the hangar in preparation for the evening’s photoshoot event. Once in the hangar, I was rather surprised to see that many of the aircraft had been rearranged since my last visit, as the museum staff prepared a display to commemorate this year’s significant aviation anniversary – 80 years since the Battle of Britain. Four of their Battle of Britain related aircraft exhibits had been arranged to commemorate the heroics of Churchill’s ‘Few’ and for this latest edition of Aerodrome, we will be looking at each of these aircraft in turn.
Before we begin, I would just like to mention the Visitor Experience Assistants at Cosford and how you really do need to stop and chat with these fantastic people. They are all passionate about aviation and are an absolute mine of information when it comes to the aircraft on display and indeed the RAF Cosford site in general. During my latest visit, I found out that a certain corner of the ‘War in the air’ hangar has been known to be frequented by snakes on occasion and was also shown evidence of a cat which ran across the freshly laid concrete of the hangar floor during construction back in 1938. I also learned something fascinating about both the Spitfire and Defiant and how one particular British aviation company left their own unique mark on their wartime exploits – more on this a little later.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I K9942
Rightly serving as the centrepiece for this Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display, the Supermarine Spitfire is arguably the most famous aircraft type ever to have taken to the skies and one which is still familiar to many millions of people. With its reputation as the aircraft which won the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire is much more than just a famous fighter aircraft to the British people, as it came to symbolise defiance in the face of extreme adversity and our nation’s determination to continue fighting even in our darkest hour. With such aviation credentials as this, it is somehow fitting that Cosford’s Spitfire is truly historic in its own right, the oldest Spitfire still in existence.
Built at Supermarine’s Woolston factory during 1938, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I K9942 was the 155th aircraft built from an initial production batch of 174 aircraft and powered by an early Rolls Royce Merlin II engine. Making its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome on 21st April 1939, it was allocated to RAF No.72 Squadron at Church Fenton just three days later, making the 55 minute ferry flight a further three days after that. Assigned to ‘A Flight’, the aircraft wore the codes SD-D and would be used extensively for pilot training and familiarisation flights over the next few months, as Britain prepared for war.
Further marking the historic significance of this magnificent Spitfire, from July 1939 until May 1940, K9942 was regularly flown by a young Flying Officer named James Brindley Nicolson, a man who would later go on to be awarded the Victoria Cross for actions during the Battle of Britain, the only WWII Fighter Command pilot to receive such an award.
As war was declared, K9942 was extremely active performing defensive patrols whilst operating from bases at Drem, Leconfield and Acklington, but by the beginning of June 1940, the Spitfire had moved with the rest of 72 Squadron to Gravesend and flight operations in support of the Dunkirk evacuations. On June 5th 1940, this early Spitfire’s operational career was effectively over. Whilst returning to Gravesend after undertaking a defensive patrol over the Dungeness area, the pilot of K9942 landed the aircraft having forgotten to lower the undercarriage and in the resultant wheels up landing, it suffered Cat B damage. Although almost immediately sent for repair, once airworthy again, the Spitfire would only be used in training roles, but interestingly, would go on to suffer a further two relatively serious accidents. Spitfire Mk.I K9942 would complete 36 sorties for a total flying time of 40 hours and 5 minutes during its short operational career.
In 1944, the aircraft emerged from its latest period of maintenance fitted with a new Merlin III engine, but thankfully by this time, the historical importance of the aircraft had been recognised. With its early production status and operational Dunkirk provenance, it was earmarked for ‘museum preservation’, as an aircraft which was representative of the Battle of Britain era. Despite this classification, it would spend the next half century stored at several different locations around the country, even though she would appear regularly as an Airshow exhibit or as a film prop during this time. She was finally gifted to the RAF Museum in 1998.
The centrepiece for this impressive Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display, Spitfire Mk.I has been restored to as near to its original RAF delivery configuration as possible
Whilst the aircraft has been on display at Cosford, certain unscrupulous visitors appear to have helped themselves to several of the Spitfire’s panel fasteners
Evidence that this aircraft spent some time being repaired by technicians from the de Havilland works
The Spitfire’s recent Engineering Heritage Award is proudly displayed underneath the aircraft at Cosford
The oldest surviving Spitfire in the world, K9942 is just one of the many historic aircraft to be found on display at Cosford
In May 1998, K9942 was transported to the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society facility at Rochester Airport, where it was to undergo restoration back to as near to its original RAF delivery configuration as possible. The formal handover of the completed aircraft took place in October 2000 and by the end of the year, the Spitfire had been transported back to the RAF Museum Hendon and was on display in the main aircraft hall. It moved to its current home at Cosford in 2002, where it has become one of their most popular exhibits and now forms the centrepiece of their Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display.
Bringing the story of K9942 right up to date, the museum were recently awarded a prestigious ‘Engineering Heritage Award’ by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, an accolade which marked both the importance of the Spitfire to the British aviation industry and the historical significance of this famous example.
I mentioned earlier that I learned something rather interesting in relation to this Spitfire during my latest Cosford visit and it concerns a little metal badge attached to the spinner of the aircraft. During the early war years, the RAF were keen to get their hands on as many Spitfires as they could, meaning that the Supermarine works were operating at maximum capacity. This created problems when operational aircraft had sustained damage and were in need of repair, as they did not have the capacity to take on this work. As a result, de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited were asked to step in, something they were probably not all that pleased about – to make themselves feel a little better, every aircraft they worked on was fitted with a little De Havilland badge and as both Spitfire K9942 and Cosford’s Defiant must have spent time at de Havillands, it is interesting to note that both aircraft have their logo in the centre of their spinners.
Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC LF738
It would be fair to say that in the minds of the public at large, the squadron service of the Hawker Hurricane during the Battle of Britain is that the aircraft performed very much in the support role and had little impact on the outcome. Often portrayed as the slightly portly and less agile counterpart of the slender, war winning Spitfire, history has not been particularly kind to the Hurricane, especially when considering the contribution it actually made to eventual victory during the summer of 1940. Responsible for destroying more enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain than the combined total of the rest of Britain’s defences (including the much vaunted Spitfire), the Hawker Hurricane was the workhorse aircraft of Fighter Command’s deﬁant resistance against the Luftwaffe. A stable gun platform, the Hurricane was relatively easy to ﬂy and even easier to maintain and could be produced and repaired much quicker than the all-metal, cutting-edge Spitﬁre – it was very much the right aircraft at the right time.
The Hurricane which forms part of Battle of Britain display at Cosford may not be an example of the early mark machine which took part in the fighting, however, it does make for a fascinating dichotomy to the Spitfire it is positioned next to. Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC LF738 was built at Hawker’s Langley factory in 1944 as part of the final batch of 1,357 aircraft constructed. A late mark IIC variant, she was powered by a Merlin XX engine and her first posting was to No.1682 Bomber Defence Training Flight in April 1944. This unit flew interception flights against training bomber crews, allowing their gunners to obtain valuable experience against live targets.
Following the disbandment of No.1682 BDTF, the aircraft went to No.22 OTU at Wellesbourne Mount, where it provided similar interception support to this night bomber training unit. By December 1944, this unit was operating 54 Wellington bombers, 2 Miles Magisters and 6 Hurricanes, including LF738.
From opposing ends of their respective production runs, even though the Spitfire and Hurricane are displayed next to each other at Cosford, one came from its type’s first production batch, whilst the other came from its last
At the end of her flying career, this Hurricane would go on to perform quite a high profile duty as one of the gate guardian aircraft outside the famous chapel at RAF Biggin Hill, a position it would occupy for approximately the next 30 years.
In 1990, an extensive restoration project began, with a view to the completed aircraft going on display at the Royal Air Force Museum. Once the aircraft arrived at the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society facility at Rochester Airport, it was found to be in pretty poor shape and its restoration would take significantly longer than initially anticipated. Eventually, the formal hand over ceremony took place at Rochester in June 1995 and early the following month, the aircraft was transported by road to the RAF Museum site at Cosford.
Another aircraft donated to the RAFM by the MoD, Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC LF738 has spent most of its post restoration life on display at Cosford, with the notable exception of a short stint at Hendon as the impressive centrepiece of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s 50th Anniversary Dinner and again in 2017, when it was allowed outside of its hangar on temporary static display during the annual Cosford Airshow.
Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I N1671
As far as effective aircraft of the Second World War are concerned, the Boulton Paul Defiant will rarely even merit consideration, despite the fact that it was undoubtedly one of the most interesting aircraft of WWII. A day fighter which actually entered RAF service after both the Spitfire and Hurricane, the idea behind the Defiant’s design was to combat large formations of enemy bombers which military planners thought would pose the largest threat to Britain’s security in a future conflict. Although powered by the same early Merlin engine found in contemporary Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, the Defiant was equipped with a heavy, hydraulically powered dorsal turret which housed four 0.303 machine guns, making this a heavy and unwieldy aeroplane. It could place withering firepower to either side of the aircraft’s fuselage, but incredibly, the Defiant had no guns capable of firing forward.
Operationally, despite some initial successes against the Luftwaffe whilst covering the Dunkirk evacuation beaches in 1940 and in early actions where German fighters mistakenly identified the fighter as a Hurricane, it didn’t take long for the enemy to work out the many weaknesses of the Defiant. With Defiant squadrons suffering heavy losses during the Battle of Britain, they would quickly be withdrawn from the fighting and after a period of rest and replenishment, would be asked to help establish a cohesive nightfighter defence force for the country.
One of the incredibly historic aircraft relocated from the RAF Museum Hendon during their RAF Centenary renovations, Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I N1671 is for many people in the Midlands area, the most important aircraft at currently residing Cosford. The only surviving complete example of its type in the world, this aircraft was originally manufactured in late 1939 at Boulton Paul’s Wolverhampton factory, which was situated just a few miles from the Cosford site. As such, its relocation was welcomed by many as something of a homecoming and whilst the factory site is now long gone, it is hoped that the Defiant will remain at Cosford indefinitely, as this superb museum is surely this aircraft’s rightful home.
Allocated to No.307 Lwowski (Polish) Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey in September 1940, N1671 has the distinction of serving with the first and only RAF Polish nightfighter unit of the Second World War. As the unit trained up for night operations, they would be relocated to RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man, where they would engage in shipping patrol flights and continue their training for the night defence of the North West. The fighter’s first operational sortie took place on 12th December 1940, which turned out to be a relatively uneventful flight of 1 hour 35 minute duration. This would set a pattern of operational things to come, as this aircraft would go on to have a relatively uneventful service career.
Another of Cosford’s unique aviation gems, it is worth a trip to Shropshire just to feast your eyes on this magnificent aircraft
Built just a few miles down the road, it is to be hoped that Defiant Mk.I N1671 will be allowed to remain at Cosford for many years to come, as a tribute to the aviation industries of the West Midlands
In January 1941, the aircraft was sent to No.6 MU at Brize Norton to be fitted with VHF and IFF equipment, where she would also be repainted in an all-black nightfighter scheme. When she flew back to her Squadron, they had moved to Squires Gate airfield at Blackpool, ideally placed for the night defence of Manchester and Liverpool.
After negotiating its service career relatively unscathed, N1671 was selected for ‘Museum Purposes’ in late 1944, a decision which thankfully saved this magnificent aircraft from possible scrapping. Another significant restoration project undertaken many years later by the Medway Aviation Preservation Society, the Defiant is perhaps their greatest achievement and took an impressive 30,000 man hours by a team of 30 volunteers to complete, something they can all be rightly proud of.
The aircraft was returned to Hendon in December 2012 and by March the following year, it was reassembled an back on public display, for many, the most interesting aircraft in their Battle of Britain display. Perhaps the most important journey in this aircraft’s post war history occurred at the end of 2016, when it made the road trip from Hendon to Cosford in a blaze of publicity across the West Midlands – the Defiant had finally come home!
Gloster Gladiator Mk.I K8042
A truly innovative aeroplane, the Gloster Gladiator is often described as the pinnacle of biplane fighter design and was the pride of the Royal Air Force when the first examples were delivered to No.72 Squadron at Tangmere in February 1937. Unfortunately, aviation history dictated that the undoubted qualities possessed by the Gladiator were largely forgotten, particularly as both the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire had both made their first flights by the time it entered squadron service. Perhaps of even greater significance, the first RAF Hurricanes were actually delivered to No.111 Squadron at Northolt later that same year.
During the Battle of France, two squadrons of Gladiators were sent to support the British Expeditionary Force, but suffered badly at the hands of the Luftwaffe, as the age of the fast, monoplane fighter had already arrived. Mainly withdrawn to secondary roles, one RAF squadron did famously use the Gladiator during the Battle of Britain, as they were sent to operate from Roborough airfield, to protect the naval dockyards at Devonport. Wearing the standard Royal Air Force day camouflage scheme of the period, RAF No.247 (China-British) Squadron flew many standing patrols over their assigned area, but did not see actual combat with the Luftwaffe during the battle. On Christmas Eve 1940, the squadron finally traded their Gladiators for new Hawker Hurricane fighters.
Perhaps more than any other British fighter aircraft, the Gladiator suffered at the hands of history, being largely forgotten despite the fact that it was probably the best biplane fighter ever produced. Although it did see extensive service during the Second World War, this was mainly in France, Norway, Greece, Malta, North Africa and the Middle East, with only a relatively small number of Gladiators operating from home based airfields. This magnificent aircraft rightfully takes its place in Cosford’s Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display by virtue of No.247 Squadron’s service from Roborough and as it is positioned in close proximity to the Spitfire, it helps to illustrate the astonishing pace of aircraft development during the 1930s.
One of the most attractive British aircraft ever built, the Gloster Gladiator many have been the last biplane fighter to enter RAF service, but it remembered as arguably the finest fighting machine of its kind and one which actually saw service during the Battle of Britain
Gloster Gladiator Mk.I K8042 was delivered to the RAF in August 1937 as one of 180 fighters ordered under contract No.442476/35. Although it did not see active service during WWII, it was used extensively as a trials and training aircraft until 1944, when it was involved in an accident and suffered Cat B damage. Once repaired, it was selected as an airframe for museum display purposes and immediately sent for storage. It is highly likely that this aircraft was the last of the RAF’s Gladiators and if not, was definitely one of the last three airframes they still had on charge at that time.
Like many other preserved aircraft from around this time, K8042 would see periods of storage at several sites across Britain over the next 30 years, but would eventually find a more permanent home at the Royal Air Force Museum Hendon, where it would remain on display until October 2016. Yet another one of the aircraft relocated to Cosford due to their RAF Centenary renovations, the Gladiator can now be found in their impressive ‘War in the air’ hangar, where it takes its place amongst a unique collection of Second World War aircraft.
Any trip to the RAF Museum at Cosford is an interesting day out for absolutely anybody, but is totally captivating for anyone with even the slightest interested in aviation history. With many unique aircraft on display, thousands of enthusiasts will make the trip to this famous corner of Shropshire at least once a year and when the museum decide to refresh their displays, it is definitely an excuse to make yet another pilgrimage. Arranging the four aircraft featured above in an evocative Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary display should have ensured another busy year for the museum, but in light of the current nationwide restrictions and the museum’s indeterminate closure, it could be much later in the year before visitors have the opportunity to enjoy this latest development.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have just missed the current closure of RAF Museum Cosford and to have had the opportunity to spend a full day enjoying the aviation delights displayed within their impressive hangars. In the next edition of Aerodrome, we will be making a return visit to Cosford to bring you a report from the recent BAC TSR2 night shoot event, joining 200 fellow photographers in documenting what proved to be a rather historic event.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our email@example.com address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 10th April, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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New blog link suite
Over the past few months, we have received many requests for our Aerodrome blog to include links to Airfix and Corgi products which may have associations to the subject of that particular edition. Aerodrome has always set out to be an enthusiast publication first and foremost, a place where aviation enthusiasts can share their love of aeroplanes and whilst we certainly don’t want that to change, we think there may be a workable solution.
For those who are interested, each future edition will include a link suite at the very bottom of the blog, where a small selection of appropriate product links for Airfix and Corgi products will be available, if they are of interest – we hope this will fit the bill.