The 17th May 2017 sees the first anniversary of the formation of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group, the Charitable Incorporated Organisation formed to carry out the business of overseeing the rebuild, to flight, of Hawker Typhoon MkIb, RB396. Do not however, be fooled into thinking that the project is only one year old, far from it. Dave Robinson has been researching the Typhoon for almost 18 years, first as a hobby, and more recently this has ballooned into a full scale rebuild project. Support has grown exponentially since the project made its way onto social media in early 2015, first with Facebook, then Twitter and more recently, Instagram. The first year, post charity formation, has been incredibly busy, with all members of the team working round the clock and the team expanding and taking on new members too. So, what has happened in that year?
Well, in the summer of 2016 the project acquired a second complete cockpit section, adding to the rear monocoque fuselage section of RB396, and with an engine on the horizon, a second engine to make up spares, not to mention the huge amount of other parts including undercarriage, control surfaces, brackets, etc the team decided that it was time to launch the project officially into the public eye. Plans were set to hold this launch event on the 29th October 2016 at the Boultbee Flight Academy hangar at Goodwood in West Sussex due to links with one of the trustees being a pilot at Goodwood. The launch was a huge success, around 150 people attended, including three guest of honour WWII Typhoon pilots. There was magazine coverage as well as plenty of social media coverage, the Supporters’ Club was launched with around 40 people signing up on the day, a silent auction was held as well as plenty of merchandise sales and donations. All in all a good start!
As a result of the launch event, and coverage in the local Chichester paper, we were contacted by the Nephew of a previously unknown (to the project) Typhoon veteran, Warrant Officer “Alex” Gilbey. Alex, as he likes to be known, flew the Typhoon in the latter stages of the War and when he was invited along to the engine unveiling he recalled how he flew his aircraft home to Lasham, in order for them all to be scrapped. The project is aiming to keep in touch with Alex as things develop.
One piece of hardware the project hoped to have secured in time for the launch was the Napier Sabre engine that had been in the pipeline for some ten years, but a last minute paperwork issue meant that it wasn’t to be. However, the project successfully acquired that engine, Napier Sabre serial no. 2484, from Cranfield University on the 29th January 2017 and that was a very nice start to the year and rightfully attracted a lot of attention for the project, who were incredibly happy that ten years of hard work, research and negotiations had paid off. The engine will be subject to a strict overhaul by a certified company within the UK and it is budgeted to cost £500,000 – £750,000, all money that will be raised through public support and donations. The engine was officially unveiled to around 40 members of the Supporters’ Club who were lucky enough to gain a space at this event, such was demand to come and see the engine first hand. Alex Gilbey joined the project at the event, as guest of honour, and was given a tour of the Boultbee Hangar, which is where the engine is currently residing.
As the year developed the project also, quite unbelievably, has made contact with RB396’s main pilot, Frank Johnson, who now lives in Canada. After reading about his story in a Canadian newspaper, and seeing that article of him holding a model of a Typhoon with the codes XP*W, Dave Robinson became intrigued. RB396 was not a well known aircraft, it was certainly not famous, and for a Typhoon pilot, claiming that the aircraft wearing the codes XP*W was “his” aircraft, was unbelievable. XP*W were of course the squadron codes that RB396 wore whilst in service with 174sqn, and, is the only surviving genuine combat veteran Typhoon of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in existence. For the fuselage section of RB to have survived, is quite something, but for the pilot of this unknown aircraft to have also survived, along with his aircraft, and for the project to now be in touch with him, is nothing short of a miracle. Frank is quite a private man, but it is hoped we can bring him over to the UK, to be reunited with “his” aircraft, that he had even personalised with the word “Sheila” above the port exhaust stack.
Phase one contact has already been made with the industry professionals who are going to be conducting elements of the rebuild. A two month period in Feb-Mar saw the trustees visiting establishments all over the country, and even on to the Isle of Wight, to go and meet the teams who will ultimately carry out the work. The meetings were incredibly beneficial and it reinforced the budget that has been set for the project, phase two meetings will be carried out when the time is suitable.
The Supporters’ Club was officially launched at our public launch event on the 29th October 16, and since then it has grown in size and strength considerably. It now numbers over 300 with approximately 15% Lifetime members and 85% Annual members. This level of support is great to see for the project, and it is the primary source of fundraising for the project at this time. The project is recruiting volunteers who wish to help out formally on the project, from within the Supporters’ Club and as such we have formulated a small team to augment the Trustees in their work, but specifically at this stage to organise events, visits and our air show attendance, and to help man the air show stand. The trustees are very grateful to all those who volunteer for the charity, and more people will always be required. The project will primarily recruit volunteers from within the Supporters’ Club, so if you wish to take the next step, then please consider joining the club for this, and many other benefits.
The fundraising effort is, and will continue to be key to the project moving forward and it has been hard work in the last year raising sufficient funds in order to progress. It is worth remembering at this point that every penny required for this project has to be raised, the trustees have all used some of their personal funds to purchase things beneficial to the project, such as the drawings, rear fuselage section and other parts that were purchased by Dave Robinson many years ago, at a combined cost of over £30,000. When the charity was formed, the bank account read zero, and that is not conducive to rebuilding an aircraft, particularly a Typhoon!
To reach the stage where the project is now able to acquire all the relevant items to allow attendance at UK Air Shows this coming season and to be moving in to an industrial unit which will act as a temporary (3-5years) home for the project, is testament to the team’s hard work. The key fundraising effort has been membership to the Supporters’ Club and also merchandise sales. New items have been added to the range this year, including some new clothing, some artworks, and also custom built scale models, but it is a delicate process of buying stock and then selling it before more is purchased, slowly building up that bank account from zero, to where it is now. To put it in perspective, the show stand that has been purchased, and all hardware to go inside it, has cost in the region of £4,000. That was helped greatly by the donation of all the design work for free by one supporter and by the supply of the gazebo stand itself at cost, however it is still £4,000. To be moving in to a rental unit is great news for the project but it comes at a cost, luckily, another member of the Supporters’ Club has stepped in to cover the legal work, for free, saving the project in the region of £2,500, but the rental deposit (approx £4,000) and monthly rent (approx £1800) still need to be funded, so there is no let up in the fundraising activities. All of this spending is entirely necessary, as without a permanent base of ops at which to host industry professionals and supporters, and a presence at Air Shows to promote the project, it cannot move forward. The fundraising work will always be core to a project of this nature, there is no large financial backer(s) and every penny required to progress the project has to be raised. This year, just a few months ago, the project did receive its first four figure donation, from a company that runs a charitable scheme allowing employees to put forward a charity they deem worthy, and the project was chosen. The team is incredibly grateful to Ebeni for this donation and it is hoped that it is the first of many, as for the reason mentioned previously, fundraising is key to the project moving forward.
The team was contacted by aviation artist Neil Hipkiss some months ago and he offered to complete a commission for the project, that could then be used to make a limited edition run of prints as well as be used on various other merchandise items for the purpose of future fundraising. This is a highly detailed commission, and a lot of work is being put in to make sure it is an accurate representation of RB396 on one of her later missions. Snippets of the work have been shared on our social media and it looks stunning so far!
In the year since the charity was formed the social media presence has grown steadily, allowing us to reach out further and further, there are now 16,000 followers on our Facebook, over 2,000 on Twitter, an Instagram account has recently been set up to document the finer points of the rebuild in photo for, and a YouTube channel has been starter in readiness for the build. Facebook was the platform that initially gave the project the springboard to hold the public launch, what seems like a lifetime ago in October 2016 and so it is something that shall continue to be grown steadily over the years. The highest page reach for the project was after the announcement of the engine acquisition, where that one post on Facebook was seen by 110,000 people. Now, if every one of those people had decided to join the Supporters’ Club to really get behind the project, then it would be accelerating at a vastly different rate…
Going forward into the next year, the project’s aims are to get fully established in the new base, and establish phase one of the planned visitor centre. That unit will allow the entire collection to be brought together for the first time and for visitors and supporters to come and view it. The attendance at UK Air Shows will continue, in order to spread the word, raise awareness and generate sufficient funding to continue to develop, allowing attendance at more shows in subsequent years going forward. The target for the Supporters’ Club membership base is 1000 members by the end of this calendar year, and the project will be holding a raffle for Annual membership number 396, more details will follow shortly.
As soon as the unit is established, the team intends to hold phase two meetings with the industry professionals who are going to be conducting the rebuild work. Phase one has already been held, and with the project all located in one place, it will be ideal to ask the shortlist of companies and individuals to come down to the unit to be able to see first hand just how much Typhoon there is. From this next phase of meetings the team will develop an accurate project plan, something that has not been possible up until now, due to the locations of the various parts of the collection. This plan will focus on the key questions of:
- How much – will the respective elements and overall project cost?
- How long – will the respective elements and overall project take?
- Where – will the work be completed? And,
- Who – will carry out the work?
These questions are the most important ones, and will form the basis of the plan. On completion of the plan, fundraising will step up a gear in order to raise enough money to formally begin the rebuild. It is hoped, that within this next year a major part of the aircraft will be in production, should funding be secured.
The project hopes to reunite Frank Johnson with “his” aircraft. He is a very private man, but the project has had much communication with him, and his family, and it is hoped that the team can fundraise specifically to bring him over from Canada, to come and see his aircraft again, possibly one last time. This naturally relies on Frank’s permission, and supporters will be updated with more information when it becomes available. It is hoped to collaborate with airlines, hotels, and transport providers and even news channels in order to make this a reality.
Continuing the fundraising theme, the main aim for the project is to raise sufficient funds in order to commence the build, this is reliant on the factors previously mentioned. It is hoped that, following on from establishing our base and our presence at Air Shows, one or more large financial backers may be found for the project. This aircraft is a unique opportunity to rebuild a key piece of British heritage, a sight not seen, or heard, in the British skies since 1947 and as a project, charity and team we do appeal to any interested parties who may wish to consider some form of donation or sponsorship of the project, fully, or in part.
The next year post formation promises to be a very exciting one, the team are all working incredibly hard behind the scenes to constantly drive the project forward. With your support, this next year can be the best one yet, and take us ever closer to our aim of a Typhoon being airborne for the D-Day 80th anniversary in 2024.
You can find out more about the Supporters’ Club HERE.
View the photos of our event launch, and the Napier Sabre engine, in the gallery HERE.
To make a one off donation to the project, or set up a standing order, please go to the DONATE page.
To find out more about the history of the project, and view us on the Charity Commission site, please click HERE.