The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group turns four

The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group celebrates its fourth birthday on 17th May 2020. It is times like this that offer a fine chance to look back on what has happened and bring a real sense of perspective. Today, the possibility of an airworthy Typhoon in the UK is closer than it has ever been since WWII, but it hasn’t always been that way.

On 16th May 2016, the paperwork, extensively compiled by Dave and Sam, was submitted to the Charity Commission (CC). On 17th May, just 24 hours later, the seal of approval was received from the CC and the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) was a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, that is to say, a charity. The process had taken many months, but the diligence and attention to detail shone through after the application was accepted in such a short timescale. These values are core to the operation of the Charity today, and are responsible for a great deal of the success to date.

The next steps were to continue to build the audience that had been growing after Sam took the project onto Social Media some eighteen months prior. Since then, there had been an explosion of interest and support from all over the world. Alongside that, more research was carried out and in the summer of 2016 the centre section, or cockpit, believed to be from EJ922, was collected. This was purchased with private money from one of the founding trustees, as the HTPG still had no income. When placed next to the rear fuselage, safe in the knowledge that an engine was on its way and with all the other sections that were in possession, the realisation that what the two men had brought together was really beginning to look like an aircraft was taking shape. It was at this point that a public launch event was needed.

The cutaway engine, cockpit section and rear fuselage were really beginning to look like a recognisable aircraft.

Through Sam’s links at Goodwood and utilising the Social Media platform the project had established, the two founding trustees planned and executed the official Public Launch Event, held at the Boultbee Flight Academy, Goodwood, in October 2016. The event was attended by 150 guests, including three WWII Typhoon veterans – Flight Lieutenants George Wood, Derek Lovell and David Ince DFC. Unfortunately, they have all now passed away. The event was attended by various aviation magazines and local press, to a great reception. Perhaps, more importantly, the Supporters’ Club was launched on that day. Up until this point all help had been from conscripted friends and family. The active Supporters’ Club now stands at over 1,000 members and has been pivotal to the growth of the project since 2016. Without them, it would not have been possible to achieve what has been achieved.

The successful public launch event, held at the Boultbee Flight Academy, Goodwood.

Hot on the heels of the Launch Event, came the acquisition of the Group’s engine. In late 2016, following the formation of the Charity and the Launch Event, a successful meeting with Prof. Iain Gray, Cranfield University’s Head of Aerospace, a complete, inhibited and zero timed Napier Sabre was agreed to be gifted to the Group. Naturally, this was a huge boost, not least because it answered the constant question of “what are you going to do for an engine?”.  Once again, the two trustees’ diligence and attention to detail had paid off, with the transfer of a priceless engine to the project. Following all the necessary paperwork, a ceremony was held – exclusive to members of the four-month-old Supporters’ Club – to unveil the engine. This was also held at the Boultbee Flight Academy because, as yet, the project did not even have its own base.

The Napier Sabre IIa, serial number 2484, gifted to the HTPG by Cranfield University. A priceless addition to the project.

In July 2017 the project successfully secured a five-year lease on an industrial unit in East Sussex – it had a base. This was only possible due to the Supporters’ Club providing income, but also to them providing an ability to project sufficient income to cover the costs, going forward. Over the course of many months, a team of volunteers exclusively recruited from within the Supporters’ Club set to work transforming the bare unit into the home base it now is. That work is always ongoing; indeed some more work was carried out just a few months ago. Importantly however, in 2017 the team completed re-decorating, installing a shop, carpeting, installing services, heaters, racking, workbenches, security measures and more.

All the while this was happening, 2017 was the first season in which the project exhibited at airshows across the country. Commencing in April, the first six months were managed without the home base. Without a doubt the highlight of that 2017 airshow season was when the Napier Sabre was exhibited at Flying Legends in July – it was absolutely mobbed by people stunned at its sheer size, rarity and the fact that this project, which in the eyes of the public was just eight months old, had it.

In October 2017, exactly one year on from the public Launch Event, the team were able to open the doors to their very own base, for what was to be the first anniversary Members’ Day. This was also the unveiling of Neil Hipkiss’ stunning artwork depicting RB396 on one of her final missions; he has donated this artwork to the project. This event has gone on to be a yearly one, exclusively for members of the Supporters’ Club, for it is only right they should be rewarded, as they are the ones significantly contributing towards the success.

1) Supporters’ Club members listening to the Trustees 2) George Wood, WWII Typhoon pilot seeing the newly finished Neil Hipkiss artwork depicting RB396 on its final mission 3) Raising a glass of Champagne in celebration of the year’s progress

After the Members’ Day, the opportunity to purchase a large cache of Tempest/Typhoon parts and sections was offered to the project. At that time, the funds required, even to secure these parts with a deposit, were not available. In an appeal to Supporters’ Club members, in the month before Christmas, an initial £12,000 was sought. This would have been sufficient to place a deposit on the parts, to then set about raising further funds afterwards. The appeal raised in excess of five times that amount and so the parts were able to be purchased outright. Impressed by the quick action of the team, the same individual approached the project in Spring 2018 with the sale of the remainder of the parts he had, and this included access to and use of the jigs he had fabricated for a Tempest project, when we required them in the future. Again, the Supporters’ Club answered the call, raising more than was required in just a few weeks, and so the sections were purchased. Those sections will realise, in time, a saving of approximately four times their cost, so it was a very worthwhile investment by the team.

Since before the Charity was formed, a longer-term focus had been held on the physical rebuild itself. Who would do the work? Where would it go? How would it work? For approximately two years, the trustees had been travelling the country visiting every restoration facility, to get to the bottom of these questions, but also to select a company to partner with for the rebuild. In Sam’s professional career as a pilot, and display pilot, he had been beginning to spend more time at the Duxford based Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo), and it was becoming clear through the formal meetings and his own time spent there, that they were the ones for the job.

The Duxford based Aircraft Restoration Company, world leaders in the rebuild and operation of vintage aircraft.

Following more rounds of meetings, it was with pleasure that at the October 2018 Members’ Day the Group announced that the Aircraft Restoration Company would be the engineering partner for the rebuild. The first section, RB396’s rear fuselage, would go to Airframe Assemblies, just as soon as the funds could be raised for work to commence. Steve Vizard, MD of Airframe Assemblies, joined the team at the event to say how pleased he was that the section was going to him. Being able to state the partnership with ARCo, one of the world’s foremost aircraft rebuilders with a reputation second to none, was another huge boost to the project’s credibility. That step was brought about by the diligence and attention to detail of the key players; once again, it had paid off.

The next step was to raise the funds. The members of the Supporters’ Club had already contributed over £150,000 towards the purchase of parts and so this time, a change of approach was required. This appeal would be a public one. An ambitious but realistic target of £50,000 was set and a three-week intensive Crowdfunder campaign settled upon – more to fit in around a couple of the key players’ respective weddings than anything else. A huge amount of work went into the planning and execution of the campaign, and with a week to go, the initial target was achieved, finishing up one week later with £67,000. This was sufficient to commence the rebuild, and so in May 2019, whilst the lead fundraiser was on a well-earned break on his honeymoon, RB396’s rear fuselage made the journey over to Airframe Assemblies.

The CAA registration certificate, showing RB396 entered on the “G” reg, as G-TIFY.

Before the work could commence, the rebuild needed to be registered. Showing that diligence and attention to detail that makes the project what it is, RB396 was registered with the UK CAA in honour of the nickname Typhoons were given by their crews; she was registered G-TIFY. Now formally registered, work could commence – this was the first time that work had been carried out on an airworthy Typhoon in the UK since the end of the Second World War, quite a milestone.

A selection of images showing progress on the rear fuselage rebuild of RB396.

With the project expanding at such a rate, 2019 saw a more formal team structure instituted. The charity’s structure now has three formal Departments, sixteen designated “Posts” and well over 40 volunteer team members. All volunteers come from within the Supporters’ Club and have been a huge asset to the project – without them, it simply couldn’t happen.

2020 was shaping up to be a very exciting year for the project, but no one knew what was coming. The team were looking forward to commemorating the 75th anniversary of RB396’s final flight on 1st April and were busy putting plans in place to make the most of this significant event. A new tier to the Supporters’ Club was being planned, a new website built, special merchandise, the announcement of AM Cliff Spink CB, CBE as the Patron, Paul Bonhomme and James Holland as Ambassadors, and a Typhoon veteran flying in a Spitfire – all coordinated to be announced on the 1st April, and so bring maximum exposure to the project and raise the funds required to potentially finish the rebuild. Coronavirus had other ideas and much of the media attention was lost, but the team brushed themselves off and pulled off an incredibly successful 75th anniversary event, albeit remotely, and in doing so raised in excess of £60,000 in April alone. Whilst April was a very successful month in terms of fundraising, the project took the decision in March to halt the rebuild of RB396, until the pandemic has passed. But it will pass, and when it does, RB396 will be back on the road to rebuild. With the Platinum Club, and continued support from the wider Supporters’ Club, RB396 will fly again.

The Platinum Club is the newest tier to the Supporters’ Club. At its heart is a plan to find 1000 who are in a position to really get behind the rebuild and accelerate it towards completion. The project still requires another £4m in order to complete the rebuild, and the Platinum Club could be the solution to that. With 1000 people in a position to contribute £1000 per year, for four years, the entire remaining budget of £4m would be raised. The funds raised in April alone, at the height of the pandemic, are almost exclusively down to the Platinum Club and its new members.

Looking back on the last four years of this Charity’s existence, there have been many highs, but also many lows. But the important thing is that the diligence and attention to detail of the key team members has always shone through. The amount of progress demonstrated in those four short years has been incredible. That is entirely down to the dedication of all those involved in the project team, all working on this in their spare time, alongside the generosity of all those who have contributed towards the rebuild effort. It takes one thing to say “good luck”, but it takes something a lot more to contribute, either by joining the Supporters’ Club, making a donation or purchasing merchandise. To those people, the project is eternally grateful.

We have no doubt that the next four years will be very exciting indeed. If the last four years growth is anything to go by, in May 2024 we could well be writing about the imminent first flight of RB396. That can happen, and it will, if you support us.

The Limited Edition artwork commissioned to commemorate RB396’s final flight, just 75 prints have been created, with a limited number still available to purchase.