100 year old WWII veteran takes to the air

One hundred year old Bernard Gardiner, who flew the Hawker Hurricane and Typhoon during WWII has taken to the skies once more, in the world’s only two-seat Hawker Hurricane. Bernard, who was just five days short of his 101st birthday, took to the air from the iconic Duxford aerodrome as an early surprise birthday present, organised by the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) – a UK based charity raising the funds to rebuild and fly a unique Hawker Typhoon.

Bernard was the guest of honour at a showcase event, highlighting the work the charity is doing in its efforts to return the forgotten fighter-bomber to the sky. During the event, on Saturday 1st April 2023, 78 years to the day that RB396 was shot down and force landed in occupied Holland, Bernard met invited guests, engineers who will work on the project, the project team, and also serving RAF pilots who fly the Typhoon’s namesake, the Eurofighter Typhoon. Amongst them was this year’s Eurofighter display pilot, “Brighty” and next year’s, “Turbo”, who are both instructors on 29 Sqn, as well as Dan Whatmough and Will Reid who are both serving on 3(F) Sqn, a squadron which has history on the Hawker Typhoon having flown them in WWII. 

When complete this Hawker Typhoon will likely be the only airworthy example of the type anywhere in the world. It is an aircraft type that has been confined to the history books and has often taken a back seat to the more popular Spitfire and Hurricane, despite many historians crediting it with shortening the war, and 56% of its pilots being killed in the line of duty. 

There is no memorial to these brave warriors, and that is something the charity is trying to put right. It is a sentiment keenly felt by Bernard, who flew 71 combat sorties in the type during WWII, one of only four known surviving Typhoon pilots:

“In the Normandy Op everyone knew about the Typhoon, but then at the end of the war it disappeared into obscurity and was forgotten about, which was a great shame. I think it would be very nice to see some sort of recognition for the Typhoon and their crews. I’m absolutely delighted to know that the HTPG are rebuilding one. I would love to see it fly and hear the sound of the Sabre one more time. I hope they succeed.”

The HTPG was founded in 2016 following a number of years of research. Fundraising has been hit hard in recent years, with the restrictions surrounding the covid pandemic, the war in the Ukraine, and most recently the cost of living crisis, all adversely affecting people’s ability to contribute. The Group has everything required to return its Hawker Typhoon to flight, including drawings, parts, and expertise. All that is needed for the rebuild to be completed is funding. The Duxford based Aircraft Restoration Company is the Group’s engineering support partner, carrying out the rebuild when funds allow. The first section, the aircraft’s rear fuselage, is nearing completion at Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight, a trusted sub contractor. Completion of this section is scheduled for late 2023 and when it is finished, it will be the first section of an airworthy Hawker Typhoon built anywhere in the world since WWII, a major milestone on the journey to airworthiness.

The aircraft under rebuild, RB396, rolled off the production line in November 1944, it was delivered by Polish ATA pilot Anna Leska and then joined 174 squadron in January 1945 where it flew operationally for just three months, before being shot down on the 1st April 1945. During this time it flew at least 36 combat operations, was hit by flak on 18 of those, and was flown by pilots Frank Johnson, Sidney Russell-Smith and finally Chris House – all three survived the war and Sidney passed away only in 2022 having been in regular contact with the project team.

The overall aim of the HTPG is to return Hawker Typhoon RB396 to flight so that she can serve as a living, breathing, working and flying memorial to all those who played a role in the type’s service during WWII, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Sam Worthington-Leese, the project director, whose own grandfather flew the Typhoon during WWII says: “It is vitally important that we remember the Typhoon and its crews. They shortened the war and flew on incredibly dangerous low level ground attack missions, pioneering tactics that are still in use today. We have to see this project through, to create the memorial that they so rightly deserve, and we will not rest until we have done that.”

After landing from his flight, Bernard said “that was wonderful, like being back at home. You’ve made an old man very happy. But I really don’t feel like I deserve all this, I was just doing my job, the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home… I urge everyone to support this project and donate.”

We at the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group would like to thank everyone who made this flight possible for Bernard. It was a huge team effort, with support coming from many angles, without which it simply would not have been possible. Hurricane Heritage and the Aerial Collective Duxford, Mike who was Bernard’s pilot, James for providing the camera ship and Harry for capturing the wonderful images and film in particular, as well as all the behind the scenes organisers, volunteers, sponsors and supporters. 

There will be a full write up of the showcase event itself, as well as several partner and support announcements, coming very soon. 

Happy birthday Bernard!


Support us

Would you like to have a direct input on the rebuild? The best way to get started is to become a supporter. You’ll receive some great benefits and most importantly of all, every penny will go into the labour cost of getting RB396 back into the sky.