The 17th May is always a special date in the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) calendar; it is the anniversary of the formation of the charity. On that date in 2016 the charity officially came into existence. “The project” to raise the funds required to rebuild RB396 had been going for about 18 months prior to that, but officially, the 17th May is the charity’s birthday.
A lot has happened in the last year, against a very difficult backdrop as well. Politically, and economically, keeping the charity going over approximately the last three years has been an immense challenge. World affairs have a huge impact on the ability of a small charity such as ours to raise. Following two years of covid restrictions, entering 2022 the team felt that we were on the front foot, covid behind us, the world recovering, and a really positive feeling about things.
Then the situation in Ukraine literally blew up.
For the majority of 2022 that dominated everything, the recovery we were expecting did not materialise, due almost entirely to the situation there. People’s minds were simply elsewhere.
Despite that, the project must go on.
Just prior to the beginning of the last “year”, we planned and held a surprise 100th birthday for Bernard Gardiner, WWII Hawker Typhoon pilot, at the RAF Club, London. It was a fantastic event and a great opportunity for supporters of the project to meet Bernard in person, and also an opportunity for us to spend a day with him, documenting his life history. You can read about that event, and see the image gallery, here and watch a snippet of the interview with him below:
At this point in time, Easter Weekend, our project director Sam was exactly half way through a gruelling running challenge he had taken on for the benefit of the project. The situation in the Ukraine dashed hopes of raising a similar figure or more to the Crowdfunder campaign the project executed in spring 2019 to commence the rebuild of the rear fuselage. Indeed, early predictions based on pledges made in the first week, showed that it might be on track to raise almost double that amount, but that was in the few weeks prior to the invasion… The challenge was to run 666 miles – one mile for every Typhoon pilot killed during WWII – in 100 days. It was a fixed 100 day period, meaning any missed miles had to be made up, by the end date which was set as the 6th June. This date was chosen as it has a significant link to the Typhoon and what it did; it is argued by many that without the Typhoon the battle of Normandy may not have been won, and, that D-Day may not even have been able to take place. Sam completed the challenge, running his final run on the 6th June, completing all 666 miles in 100 days. He doesn’t even like running. He raised just over £12,000 for the project in the process.
The end of June saw the final departure from the project’s base in Uckfield, East Sussex. The five year lease was up for renewal and with the landlords hiking the rent by 25%, coupled with relatively poor attendance at open days etc over the five years, it not being overly convenient for the team members who now run the shop, and the rebuild moving on, the decision was taken to move out. This required a big team effort to ensure everything was ready in time, as well as the logistics required to move all the aircraft parts (and there are a lot!) to either the Aircraft Restoration Company, Duxford, or to Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight. At both locations, all the parts are now in storage, awaiting their respective turns for rebuild. They all would have needed to move to these locations over the coming years in any case, and so the decision was taken to coordinate it with the end of lease.
The charity now rents a considerably smaller unit, more local to the team members who maintain the shop, purely for the process of administering the online shop. This, coupled with the two storage locations, costs less than half of the rent (even before the increase) at the Uckfield unit. There are also large savings from insurance and maintenance. In an environment where funds are tight, these big picture things must be considered. It was great to have “a base” where people could visit, but at the end of the day everything we do must be cost effective, or make money. And the unit in Uckfield was no longer either. This move will ultimately see more of the funds made able to be spent on the rebuild of RB396, and that is what we are here to do.
The charity’s AGM is held at the end of October, on the anniversary of the official launch weekend, which in 2016 was held at the then Boultbee Flight Academy, Goodwood. Amongst other things, a review of the accounts showed that actions taken by the team, including the unit move, and pausing the physical rebuild in late 2021, had preserved cash and “weathered the storm” of the last few years. Ultimately, these actions had ensured the charity’s survival.
Sadly, the day following the AGM weekend was the funeral of Sidney Russell-Smith. Sidney was unique, in having physically flown RB396 – just once – in March 1945. He was hit by flak on that trip, causing the aircraft to be grounded for a few days. This meant that RB396’s usual pilot, Frank Johnson, was flying a different aircraft a few days later, when he too was hit by flak, force landed and became a PoW. Sidney was then posted to 184sqn, meaning on the 1st April Chris House took the now fixed RB396 when he too was hit by flak and force landed, ending RB396’s short but illustrious combat career. If Sidney hadn’t flown RB396 on that day, would the events that followed have happened? Would RB396 have ended up where she ended up? Would the three pilots have survived the war? Would RB396 have formed the basis of this project all those years later? Who knows. Nobody knows. But it was an honour and privilege for the project director to attend Sidney’s funeral, as a guest of the family, and help organise a surprise Hurricane flypast to help give him the send off he deserved.
More recently, into late 2022 and early 2023, there is a growing momentum behind things. Despite, due to world events, expecting the opposite, a record number of “annual” bronze supporters renewed and there is a continuing trend of new sign ups across all of the supporter tiers. The renewal process was far from perfect, due to a new system, which was disappointing, but ultimately fixable. However, the key takeaway is there are still lots of people out there wanting to support this effort to get RB396 back in the air. To everyone who has renewed, or signed up, we thank you. Ultimately, you are the ones making a difference on this project, and ensuring that things can progress.
The 1st April 2023 was the culmination of many months of hard work – the showcase event. Held at the Aircraft Restoration Company, it was a high end, champagne reception style event, to showcase the project to interested parties and media. You may well have seen some of the media coverage in the lead up to, and after the event, and there is still more to come. It was an excellent opportunity to compile a large amount of footage, to create a short film highlighting the project and our efforts, while giving historical context for it all. That is below, and highlights what we are doing, far more effectively than any words. The event included a number of announcements, additions to the team, and it was the first public outing for a number of new acquisitions, including a third Napier Sabre engine and a four blade propeller.
There were a number of highlights to this event, the leading two however were enabling the meeting between modern day Eurofighter Typhoon pilots of 3 & 29 squadrons, including this year’s and next year’s display pilots, and Bernard Gardiner. Bringing these fighter pilots of different generations together to share stories was fantastic and is every bit what this project is about. The culmination of the event was organising for Bernard to take flight once more in the Hawker Hurricane, the aircraft he remembers so fondly from his training prior to flying the Typhoon. The reason for this flight was two-fold. Firstly, to say thank you to him for his support of this project and secondly, as a surprise 101st birthday present! It is a huge privilege to be able to facilitate such things, and while these few heroes from that generation are still with us, it is important to remember, and thank them.
At the event Mark Greenfield, CEO of Ultimate High, Goodwood, was announced as the latest addition to the team of ambassadors, lending their name to the project, and promoting it.He joins James Holland, Paul Bonhomme and Mike Ling, as well as our Patron Air Marshal Cliff Spink. Just a week or so after the event, Mark was presenting on the Flyer livestream, hitting the ground running with regard to putting the word out.
A brand partnership was announced with Airfix, along with intentions to work with Rolls Royce and Bremont, and a plan for “as many apprenticeships as the project can facilitate” working in partnership with Lincoln College Group. You can read about that event and all the announcements/details, and view the gallery here.
Just because there may not be “physical” progress on the rebuild of RB396, does not mean that there is not progress. Running this project takes a huge amount of effort, almost all of it behind the scenes. It must be remembered that everyone on the team is a volunteer, from the project director, to the accounts, to the volunteer who turns up once a year to make the tea. They all give up their spare time, and 99% of the work is based around running the charity and raising the funds required. It has not been easy over the last year!
The rebuild of the rear fuselage is now in the queue at Airframe Assemblies to be restarted, which should happen this summer. When it does, it should be complete within a few months and when that happens it will be the first section of an airworthy Typhoon (re)built anywhere in the world since the end of the war. Quite an achievement, and quite something to look forward to for this year. To play your part in making that happen, please support us in our endeavour by visiting the support us section of this website and joining us on the journey. Then one day soon, the below will be a shot of RB396 above the clouds…