Hiding in the rolling landscape of Lincolnshire is the RAF’s high-security Southern Typhoon Main Operating Base (MOB), home to the latest high-tech aircraft including the Eurofighter Typhoon.
RAF Coningsby: Battle of Britain memorial flight hanger
It also has a hanger housing national treasures: a Lancaster Bomber Spitfires, Hurricanes, Chipmunks and a Dakota. They will take to the skies to commemorate a British wartime victory as important as Agincourt or Trafalgar: the Battle of Britain. Here a Spitfire’s engine cowling is removed as an engineer works on the engine.
Supermarine Spitfire HF. Mk. VIIc (1938) by Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd.Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
The legendary Spitfire
The Spitfire, designed by Reginald J Mitchell, first flew on March 5th 1936. Driven by concerns about Germany’s re-armament under Adolf Hitler, Mitchell, a visionary responsible for designing racing seaplanes, created a breakthrough fighter.
In keeping with Rolls-Royce tradition, the Spitfire’s engine was named after a bird of prey: the Merlin. Paired with the Spitfire’s revolutionary all-metal airframe, the engine took the aircraft to speeds of 349 mph in its trial runs.
The propeller (airscrew) has been temporarily removed by senior engineer Martin. This propeller has four blades. As newer engines such as the Griffin were developed, the propellers increased to five blades, allowing planes to reach speeds of 606 mph.
Inside the Spitfire Cockpit
Climb aboard the Spitfire! You are now sitting in the pilot’s seat of one of the greatest military aircraft ever built.
Look around: This small, simple space has no luxuries at all. It’s cramped and hot, but the confined space makes you feel as though you are part of the aircraft: half-man, half-bird. You don’t get in the plane, you strap it on.
RAF spade grip and gun control
The spade grip allowed easy single-handed control. At the 11 o’clock position on the spade grip is the gun button. Pressing upwards fired the 20mm cannons, pressing down fired the .303 machine guns, and pressing the centre fired both.
This sheet of glass reflected a gun sight, a crosshair known as a reticle. When the cross fell over an enemy aircraft, the Spitfire pilot had a target and fired.
New pilots, accustomed to older trainer aircraft, found the speed of the spitfire daunting. This throttle control allowed pilots to choose the aircraft’s speed. According to RAF guide notes for pilots, the spitfire could loop at 300 mph.
Engineer inside the Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane first flew slightly earlier than the Spitfire – November 1935. Its thicker construction made it slower and less agile than the Spitfire, although it could turn well.
Its main advantage was its ease of assembly: it could be shipped to remote regions and assembled on location in three hours. However, the Spitfire was built in specialist factories. Hurricanes secured 55% of the victories against enemies in the Battle of Britain, compared with 42% by Spitfires.
Engineers liked the Hawker Hurricane
The Hurricane’s design incorporated pre-existing technology, making it simple to build and maintain. The Spitfire’s all-metal construction required specialists to repair. The Hurricane was made of wood and metal, with a stretched fabric skin that could be easily patched.
The Hurricane’s gun control would unleash four Browning .303 guns in each wing, grouped closely together. This gave the Hurricane powerful firepower, arguably making it more effective than the Spitfire against heavily armoured bombers.
Being in the Hurricane
Leighton, an engineer, works in the Hurricane cockpit and checks its instrumentation. It is a dream come true to be an engineer on such a legendary aircraft.
Nuts and bolts
The engineers at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight love the Hawker Hurricane because it is “proper nuts and bolts engineering”.
They can get their hands dirty, removing panels, opening the stretched fabric skin, and repairing instruments and equipment. Worldwide, there are only 13 Hurricanes left in flying condition, so it is a privilege to work on this one.
The .303 Browning guns, seen protruding from the wing, were very powerful. Some famous pilots, like Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, preferred the Hurricane to the Spitfire, as its concentrated firepower made it more effective at knocking out enemy aircraft.
As engineers retire, there is a danger that knowledge will be lost. The Battle of Britain Memorial flight has introduced an element of learning into the training on the job, covering the basics of how these old aircraft work.
Supermarine Spitfire HF. Mk. VIIc Panorama (1938)Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
Engineer Mark works on the Hurricane. With modern aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, components are shipped as “black boxes”, or engine units, and swapped out. The Hurricane’s simple technology allows engineers to rebuild it piece-by-piece, which they love doing.
Engineer on the wing of the Dakota
Engine repairs are a crucial part of the job at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The aircraft are unique working museum pieces, so the engineering crew constantly strip cowlings off engines, test components and look for wear and tear
These aircraft fly to air shows and displays on national holidays, often above London, so the aircraft must be maintained to the highest level of safety. There is a small crew and it is a lot of work.
Engine time capsule
The engine on this Dakota is an American Pratt and Witney rotary engine. Today, some of its components are remanufactured, but original components do survive still packaged in warehouses and unused from the 1940s – accidental time capsules.
Dakota: workhorse of WWII
Under the lend-lease scheme negotiated by Winston Churchill and his government, nearly 2000 Dakotas were delivered to the RAF from the USA. The Dakota was used for many tasks: cargo, dropping paratroopers, towing gliders and evacuating wounded troops.
The Dakota has a faulty component and the team discuss how best to replace it. This engine is unique: it is a rotary engine, very unlike the Merlin-style engine. Engineers like Martin must master this type of engine design too.
Working on a beloved aircraft
The C-47 Dakota was manufactured by Douglas in the USA, with engines supplied by Pratt and Witney. It is regarded as one of the most successful aircraft ever built. Originally a redesign of a civil airliner called the DC-3, the Dakota was a tough, hardy aircraft used throughout WWII.
The Dakota saved many lives, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Engineering Team loves working to keep it flying.
This engineer is looking for a status report on what the engineer on the wing has discovered. Problems on older aircraft can be detected only by visual inspection. Modern aircraft have computerized sensors and warning systems.
Martin and his colleagues are personally invested in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. They offer not only practical knowledge but also real enthusiasm for the work to keep the memory of the Battle of Britain heroes alive.
Foreign object debris [FOD]
It’s crucial to keep the hanger floor clean of foreign objects, waste or pieces of metal such as screws that could be sucked into an engine. If FOD objects damaged an engine, it could cost a pilot and crew their lives.
Emergency evacuation paint scheme
This Dakota has a historically accurate emergency evacuation paint scheme. From this, we can tell that it was used to evacuate wounded troops following the invasion of Normandy in 1944.
Inside the DC-47 Dakota
Inside the Dakota, you can see that it has a robust but simple construction. The struts and body panels are very clearly visible – there’s none of the padding or inner fasciae that you see on the commercial aircraft you might use to go on holiday.
This simple but strong design made the Dakota easy to maintain and hard to knock out of the air. It had a reputation for being reliable and robust.
Odds against you
On D-Day, if you were aboard a Dakota, you’d be jumping onto a French beach. The aircraft was cold and noisy, and the odds were stacked against you. After jumping, you were likely to be picked off by anti-aircraft fire.
Flying the Dakota through enemy anti-aircraft fire was risky. But Dakota crews felt that they lived their lives fully, pushing themselves to the edge of endurance and capability in the name of duty every day.
A name to be remembered by
When jumping, paratroopers knew they might not survive. Many wrote their names on the walls of their aircraft. Here, Jock Hutton has written his name in remembrance before parachuting into Ranville, Normandy, on D-Day. He survived.
Inside the DC3 Dakota cockpit
Take a seat – the Dakota cockpit is hallowed ground, legendary in the aerospace industry and beloved of aircraft fans around the world. The cockpit was an incredibly well-designed space that was practical and functional under fire. The aircraft was relatively responsive and easy to pilot.
Propeller control lever
The propeller control lever increases and decreases the propellers’ rotations per minute (RPM). The control lever subtly changes the angle of the propeller blades to affect RPM, ensuring that they cut through the air at an efficient angle.
Throttle control levers operate like an accelerator pedal in a car. The higher the throttle, the more power is delivered to the propellers to push the aircraft forwards, effectively accelerating or decelerating the aircraft.
Mixture control lever
The mixture control lever affects the balance of fuel and air entering the engine. You would use more fuel while climbing to give the aircraft power, dialing back the mixture of fuel to air to conserve fuel at full altitude.
The control yoke governs the up-down and side-to-side movements of the Dakota. Rotating the control wheel on the yoke controls the ailerons, which are like huge flaps on the edge of the wings.