The 1st April 1945 was the day that Hawker Typhoon RB396 took to the sky for the last time. Or was it? Now, 75 years on, the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HPTG) is working hard and taking great strides forward in the effort to bring her back to life.
In the summer of 2019, after a successful Crowdfunder campaign that spring, and many years of fundraising prior to that, physical work commenced on the rear fuselage of RB396. After continued fundraising efforts, the jig has been created and the rear fuselage is on the verge of being reassembled. The work completed to date is unique in itself; it is the first time an airworthy Hawker Typhoon has been worked on in the UK since World War Two. It is also the first time the field repair for a stringer has been used – ever.
The HTPG made great progress over the winter of 2019/20, in strengthening their team even further. For some time the project had been seeking a suitable patron and over the winter, recently retired warbird master, Air Marshal Cliff Spink joined the project in that capacity. Alongside three times Red Bull Air Race champion Paul Bonhomme, James Holland the well-known TV historian and author had agreed to come on board as an ambassador. Discussions with others are ongoing. It is hoped that these individuals, and the others that join in future, will help to further cement the credibility and reputation of the project to rebuild Hawker Typhoon RB396 and in doing so, help to secure future funding and success.
Extensive research by the group has discovered that the story surrounding the execution of the Dutch family who helped the escape of RB396’s pilot on that day, was not true. Flight Lieutenant Chris House was that man. He could not bring himself to return to the site where it happened, and passed away in 2007 believing they had been executed. The HTPG are now in communication with the Dutch family and descendants, as well as the family of Chris House. A reunion is being planned to offer some closure for both families. In conducting that research, the only photograph of RB396 known to exist was discovered. It is something the team have been searching for since the project was conceived.
The 75th anniversary of RB396’s final flight was always going to be a big event for the project team, some of whom have been involved in researching the Typhoon for over 20 years. Since its inception in 2014 and the following formation of a charity and public launch in 2016, the project has gone from strength to strength. The year of the 75th anniversary was due to be no different.
Many events have been scheduled, and one of the highlights will be seeing WWII Typhoon veteran and strong supporter of the project, Bernard Gardiner, take flight in the fighter he never flew. The Spitfire. It had been hoped to schedule that flight in time to coincide with the project’s 75th anniversary, but the COVID-19 pandemic undid those plans. It was due to be the first official duty for the new Ambassador, Paul Bonhomme, but the flight will be rescheduled later in the year when it is safe to do so.
Many months of hard work have gone into upgrading the project’s website. The new version is smart, clean and professional. In combination with the website, launched on the 1st, a range of new merchandise and supporting options have also been created. There is artwork and clothing that depict the 75th anniversary and a range of other merchandise new for 2020, taking a nod to the fact that RB396 was registered with the UK CAA in the summer of 2019 as “G-TIFY”, after the affectionate slang term for the aircraft during WWII.
The new highlight to the supporting options is The Platinum Club. Collectively, the aim of the Platinum Club is to find 1000 members who are in a position to commit £1000 per year, for four years, and in doing so, raise £4million – the entire remaining budget for the rebuild and propel it towards the target completion date of 6th June 2024. The club will offer unique experiences and benefits unlike any before, including the donor’s name on the completed aircraft, and exclusive hospitality and VIP treatment. It is limited to 1000 members.
The idea behind the club came from within the existing Supporters’ Club, from one of the volunteer team members. In itself, it is no different to the message the team has been promoting since the project inception, that if you break down the large budget figure, and spread it between a group of likeminded people, it is an achievable figure, even without any large commercial backing. On the launch day The Platinum Club had already gained many new members, who between them had pledged £40,000, some paying their four-year membership donation in full. That is just shy of 1% of the funds required from the Club. In one day. That is what the project team have been doing year on year, day by day; breaking the total down and moving forward one step at a time. Always forward, never back.
Although commercial backing for the project is being sought and has been since day one, due to the strength of the following that the project is achieving on an almost daily basis, it is becoming a real people’s project. Strength in numbers. It is looking increasingly likely that even if a large commercial backer, or private donor, cannot be found, then RB396 will take to the skies. She will be powered by the people who have worked so hard since the project was conceived. When that day comes they will feel justifiably proud.
That day is coming, and every day it gets closer. If you can get behind the team then the opportunities to help accelerate this project are there and there is something for everybody. Whether it is two million contributions of £2 or two contributions of £2million, the team will succeed and the world will once again have an airworthy Hawker Typhoon. The story is being written; there is a space for you in it.
Be part of the story.