In 1999 Dave Robinson, project founder, moved to a house in Lichfield. It was here that he discovered that it was a former Maintenance Unit (MU) and almost every RAF Hawker Typhoon passed through this location on its way to a squadron. Having not heard much about the Typhoon, Dave set about researching the aircraft type in an effort to discover why it had been forgotten in the UK, yet on the near continent in France there were memorials and a huge amount of respect for the aircraft and their crews.
Many hidden parts were uncovered throughout the UK, some had been bought/saved by collectors and were in store, others were on display in museums and there were many ‘rumoured’ parts that were still waiting to be uncovered. Many enthusiasts knew of small numbers of parts but there wasn’t one person with full knowledge of what survived. This started the task of cataloguing all the information which began to stretch outside Europe to all corners of the globe, even though the Typhoon had not seen any significant operational service outside the European theatre. It was a complete shock to discover just how many parts survived and indeed it soon became apparent that there were enough parts that survived to make a complete Typhoon, if only individuals and organisations could be persuaded to allow the parts to be gathered.
In 2000 Dave was able to purchase a complete firewall, although the corner had been damaged, it had the remains of an RAF serial number and the complete front section of the cockpit still attached. Now armed with the knowledge that many other parts had survived scattered around the world there was a possibility that a new project could be put together that could serve to educate a new generation and honour the Typhoon and their crews.
During the next decade cockpit fittings, brackets, elevators, instruments, undercarriage and various other individual items were sourced however; without acquiring technical knowledge about the Typhoon there would be very little chance of being able to complete anything for display. In parallel to collecting parts, any surviving documentation, manuals, drawings and technical information was gathered learning everything about the design and manufacturing processes of the Typhoon. This information included many obscure manuals, RAF parts catalogues, details of manufacturing techniques and even a copy of the Hawker Draughtsman’s Manual (which were signed out to individuals and handed back in upon leaving the company).
All this knowledge would come to nothing if an example of an original part or the engineering drawings to replicate them could not be found. It was known that some original Hawker drawings existed in the UK but permission to view or use them would never be given. Then out of the blue, in 2010, contact was made by someone who claimed to have many thousands of drawings on aperture cards that had been rescued from a skip at the Hawker factory in Kingston upon Thames. This proved to be a crossroads for the project; up to this point it was a hobby and no significant financial investment had been made. In 2012, after confirming their existence, the project took a huge step forward and the decision was taken to make the heaviest investment to date and purchase them all. In total there were 11,500 drawings in 7 drawers, of which 2,500 were Typhoon, many detailing the main spars, cockpit and other areas of the airframe. These were invaluable and a major step forward in the dream of building a lasting memory for the pilots. Many months were spent scanning, cataloguing (which quite often resulted in an individual drawing having to be placed into a portable viewer to confirm the drawing number) and learning the nuances of the Hawker Technical drawings which, when combined with the other documentation, filled in many of the gaps.
Just as this process of scanning and creating a searchable database had finished information filtered through that the largest surviving part of a genuine 2nd TAF Typhoon combat veteran was to be made available for purchase. The fuselage from RB396 had survived a forced landing on 1st April 1945 when Flt Lt Chris House was hit by flak. The museum at Fort Veldhuis were the current custodians and contact was made providing the details of the project, the research completed to date and what was hoped could be achieved. An offer for the fuselage was made, via a member of staff at Fort Veldhuis, and although it was not the highest the owners preferred the direction of the project and hoped to see the fuselage of RB396 incorporated into a larger project. They accepted the offer and agreed to let the fuselage return to the UK, almost 70 years to the day after it originally set out. Patrick Chriswick, who was experienced in recovering the Hawker Hinds from Afghanistan and by complete coincidence, happened to be the person who provided the information about the firewalls in 2000, helped make up the team for the trip to Holland in early 2013. The fuselage was carefully packed into a (large) van and finally completed its journey back to the UK.
In late 2013, Sam Worthington-Leese was researching his Grandfather’s wartime service, in particular his time on 184 squadron flying the Hawker Typhoon. He had successfully established the aircraft his Grandfather, Plt Off R. G. Worthington, was flying on the day he was shot down and force landed in Holland, and had discovered via a forum, a collector who had some parts of his Grandfather’s aircraft. It was this forum which led Dave to contact Sam, to enquire as to whether contact had been made with the dutch collector. The two have been in almost daily contact since, with Sam joining the project in late 2014.
In May 2015 the project launched onto social media, with the setting up of Facebook and then a Twitter page in order to promote the project to a wider audience. This proved incredibly successful, with offers of help and support coming in from all over the world. Numerous parts were discovered to exist via the the Facebook page, and it was through this avenue that Jonathan Edwards contacted the project and became the third member. In May 2016, one year after setting up the page, the project was successfully registered as a Charity in the UK, following several months of hard work from all three members. It is testament to their hard and thorough work, that their application was accepted in three working days, on first submission.
On 29th October 2016 the project was officially launched to the public at a ceremony held at the Boultbee Flight Academy, Goodwood. In the presence of over 150 guests and media representatives, relatives of Typhoon pilots and three WWII Typhoon veterans the three founding trustees demonstrated the project in its current state, the most complete Typhoon in the world, outside of the RAF Museum example which is currently on loan to Canada. They outlined the plan for the rebuild, including the timescale which is 8 years, to coincide with the D-Day 80th commemorations being planned for 2024. The Supporters’ Club was launched, along with a range of merchandise and a number of fundraising activities. The event was a huge success and now the team is working hard on establishing a permanent base for RB to be displayed to the public, whilst continuing the research that got it to this position initially. The rebuild is expected to commence in 2017, once sufficient funds have been generated to allow this to happen.
You can find out more about how to support the project, here.