How we’re going to return RL249 to flight
The remains of RL249 were recovered in 2010 from a site near RAF Coltishall, where the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off in February 1949. Since then those remains have been stored in a shed in East Anglia. There is very little, if anything, that is in an airworthy state amongst those remains, but what we do have, importantly, is the identity of that aircraft. This will allow us to restore RL249 as a “dataplate restoration”.
The first thing we needed to do at the outset of this project, back in early 2012, was to formulate an engineering plan, and in July of that year we presented this to the Civil Aviation Authority in a “case conference’ with the Heads of Department of the Safety Regulation Group. Our plan was accepted by the CAA, which effectively gave us the go-ahead to proceed with the project, and the exchange of technical data between both parties is ongoing.
Prior to September 2012, there were no flying examples of the Mosquito anywhere in the world. Clues as to why that was the case lie in the trio of facts that the aircraft’s fuselage is constructed from a sandwich structure composite of three-ply birch and balsa bonded together with a milk protein-based glue called casein, and formed on mahogany or concrete moulds. These moulds were destroyed – along with the main wing assembly jigs: many after the war, as production numbers fell, and the rest when production ceased in the early 1950’s. They were simply seen as surplus to requirement, and the result was no new Mosquitos could be built. The casein glue added its own issues to the longevity of the aircraft. After a time and under certain conditions the adhesive would fail, allowing the wood that formed the fuselage and wings to begin a delamination process – i.e. the ply would start to come apart. This is not ideal for an aircraft. This is compounded, as far as returning a Mosquito to the air, by the fact that it is very unlikely that 70 year old wooden structures could pass the CAA’s rigorous airworthiness tests, making it unfeasible to simply take a museum piece and return it to flight. The CAA would not allow us to go ahead if that was our planned route. There is also the emotional side to the argument for returning a museum piece to flight: so much reconstructive work would need be carried out, that the result would be an essentially new build. This would be unacceptable as museum Mosquitos have their own histories and in many cases have actually seen action and for this reason alone are important airframes which anyone interested in conservation would be loathe to dismantle.
A New Zealander called Glyn Powell spent many years re-inventing and rebuilding the moulds and jigs and the process of working with them and the first completed restored Mosquito, KA114, saw its maiden flight in September 2012 at Ardmore Airport near Auckland, New Zealand. This is now the only existing set of usable fuselage moulds in the world and RL249, The People’s Mosquito, will be built using them under licence.
The build will be carried out by our main contractor, Aerowood Ltd, of Auckland, New Zealand, and there are a number of other specialist companies close by who can also be called upon. Aerowood will be using high-tech CNC machinery to cut the wood to a very high tolerance, and have over 30,000 drawings of Mosquito components, which will be used in the build process. Many British companies will also be involved in the work, and parts, sub-assemblies, engines and propellers will be shipped to New Zealand from the UK.
There are many options regarding the type of Merlins which might be used in a Mosquito, and despite the fact that all Merlins look similar, they vary widely in power and rated altitude. We have decided to go with Packard-built 60 Series Merlins, as these have a little extra power, despite the fact that the second stage supercharging will not be used (the maximum permitted altitude allowed by the CAA will be 8,500 ft above mean sea level and a maximum speed no greater than 250 knots). The tragic loss of the BAe Mosquito, RR299, at Barton, has been thoroughly studied by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and a full report was issued. The People’s Mosquito has taken into account the conclusions of the AAIB, and will be fitting Bendix injection carburettors to the Merlins on RL249, which will preclude fuel starvation under certain flight conditions. Thus, our Mosquito will be inherently safer.
After a lot of research we have decided to go with a ‘late war’ build standard for the hubs and propellers, which means that RL249 will have ‘paddle bladed’ propellers similar to those used on the Avro Lancaster and Douglas Dakota, as spares are more readily available.
The build plan is for Aerowood to work on sub-assemblies in wood, followed by the wing and fuselage. Engines, propellers and other UK manufactured components will arrive and these, as well as ‘local’ (NZ) parts, will be fitted to the fuselage halves and the wing. Following this, the major assemblies will be inspected on site in New Zealand by a CAA inspector from the UK, and then the aircraft will be assembled. RL249 will then be test flown in New Zealand, carrying an ‘NZ’ registration, then packed into a container for shipment to the UK under an ‘export category’ Certificate of Airworthiness from the New Zealand authorities. On arrival in the UK, RL249, bearing the registration marks G-FBVI, will be reassembled and test flown by a UK organisation holding the necessary approvals from the CAA. The next stage is to obtain a Permit to Fly, and register the aircraft in Great Britain.
The speed with which we can get the aircraft built and flying is largely dictated by the speed with which we can raise the required funds, and also how successful we are at negotiating phased payments with our key suppliers.
Although every effort will be made to use authentic materials and construction techniques, inevitably, material sciences and metallurgy have moved on. There are modern equivalents for some of the original aluminium alloy sheet specifications used in the 1940s for example, but consultations with the CAA and the New Zealand CAA will allow for the most appropriate modern materials to be selected for each component, taking into consideration application, fatigue life, etc., the intention being to give RL249 a stronger, more durable structure, than its wartime predecessors. In essence, RL249 will have a much longer life than the original Mosquitos.
Aerowood have specially selected a two-part gap-filling, water-repellent epoxy adhesive, for which the manufacturer has guaranteed a service life of at least 50 years.
Aerowood has sourced their supply of Canadian Spruce from the same forest area that was used by de Havilland Canada to build their Mosquitoes during WW2. It is of the highest quality available. Other woods used will include birch, Ecuadorian balsa and ash. All natural materials, including the woods which will be used in RL249, are variable as to strength and other physical properties and Aerowood have access to testing laboratories in New Zealand to ensure that they will be selected to be as uniform as possible.
RL249’s UK base
The People’s Mosquito will house, maintain and display the aircraft in Britain. The reason for building this Mosquito is to ensure that we have our own flying example right here, in the UK. We have had a number of offers from interested parties, but RL249’s permanent home once she is in the UK has yet to be determined, as many factors have to be considered. Not least of these is access for the general public to enjoy the Mosquito. One of our stated aims is the education of current and future generations, and we plan to allow as much access to RL249 as possible, where necessary maintenance activities allow of course. So this will be key in our choice of base. It is most likely at the moment that we will be basing the aircraft in either Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire.
Budget and build time
We expect the budget to be in the region of £7m. The exact amount will depend upon the time taken to raise the required funds, as, the longer it takes, the greater the costs will become. At the present time, we estimate the cost of the airframe to be in the region of £1.1m, the engines and propellers to be in the region of £550k. Fitting out and completing construction of the aircraft will cost in the region of £3.3m. The remainder of the budget will cover the costs of purchasing and selling merchandise to raise funds for the project, plus the running costs of the charity. Note that all those working for the charity are unpaid volunteers, so there are no salaries included in the budget.
How soon we have RL249 flying depends on how fast we can raise the funds. Currently we are planning on five to eight years. If we had the money today it would take about three years to complete.
Once RL249 is in the air and based in the UK, we estimate annual costs in the region of £250k – £275k pa. That money will come from ongoing public donations, corporate sponsorship, donations in kind from companies, grants, sales of branded goods Club subscriptions and income from airshow participation. We will also be looking at Heritage Lottery Funding at some time in the near future.
If you would like to help us achieve our goal of returning RL249 to flight, please consider making a donation via our Donate page. Alternatively, have you considered joining our Club? As a Member you’ll have access to exclusive material, Members’ forums, a quarterly newsletter and other benefits. See our Club site at www.peoplesmosquitoclub.org.uk.
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