Sunday 16 March 2014

WW2 plane to be restored to glory in Concorde hangar

 WW2 plane to be restored to glory in Concorde hangar

Yet another worthy - if slightly convoluted - aircraft restoration project is the subject of this interesting article from the B.B.C, featuring a transatlantic variant of a now-rare World War Two British bomber.

The Bristol Blenheim can trace its origins back to 1935 and a Daily Mail-sponsored specification for a high-speed business aircraft.  The Bristol Aeroplane Company responded with the Type 142, which first flew on the 12th April 1935.  Not only did it meet the requirements of Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere as the fastest civilian aeroplane in Europe, it was also found to be considerably faster than any fighter 'plane then in service with the Royal Air Force!  As a result the RAF quickly moved to have Bristol create a fighter-bomber version, which became the Blenheim MkI.

Blenheims consequently formed part of the backbone of both Fighter and Bomber Command in the early years of the war, although even by 1939 they were outclassed by newer fighters like the Spitfire and Messerschmitt 109.  Nevertheless they performed many vital, if now largely forgotten, roles in the first three years of the conflict.  Blenheims were the first British aircraft to cross the German coast following the declaration of war.  They formed part of the Free French Air Force after the fall of France.  During the Battle of Britain they undertook bombing and reconnaissance raids on German airfields, often sustaining high casualties.  When the Blitz began, Blenheims fitted with radar became night-fighters to battle the German bombers.  The aircraft eventually served in several theatres of war including North Africa and the Middle & Far East, over time evolving into new designs including the Beaufort torpedo-bomber and the Beaufighter.  It was also the basis for the aircraft featured here - the Bolingbroke.

RCAF Bristol Bolingbroke

The Bolingbroke was merely a variant of the Blenheim rather than an evolution - in fact the original Bolingbroke MkI was almost identical to the Blenheim MkIV.  The alterations to the Blenheim design by this stage had attracted the attention of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who were looking for a new aircraft to undertake the maritime patrol role.  Fairchild Canada was awarded the license to build under contract in Quebec and so the Bolingbroke was born.  From 1940-44 Bolingbrokes provided patrol bomber service on the Atlantic & Pacific coasts and were later mainstays of the the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Bolingbroke wreck in a Manitoba scrapyard, 2006
After the cessation of hostilities the RAF scrapped its entire fleet of Blenheims.  The RCAF took a slightly different tack, as mentioned, and sold their surplus airframes for scrap - with local farmers taking advantage of the valuable aluminium, fuel and other parts (or, as in this case, for target practice!).  As it turns out this was something of a blessing in disguise for, while there are only 2 or 3 extant examples of original Blenheims left in the world, there are currently thirteen Bolingbrokes - in Belgium, the USA, UK, and Canada - four of which (including this one) are undergoing restoration either to original or Blenheim specification.

The difficulty in restoring such a rare aeroplane is made apparent in the article, but I have no doubt the team at the Bristol Aero Collection will do a good thorough job in bringing Bolingbroke 9048 back to fighting trim.  In the same hanger where Concorde was constructed, no less!  It's splendid to see yet more dedication from aviation enthusiasts and museum volunteers, as well as the sporting assistance of Rolls-Royce; I'm sure 9048 will sit proudly alongside Concorde and the other exhibits at the Collection as a testament to the men who flew Blenheims and Bolingbrokes.


  1. Is this Bristol part of the same firm that makes cars, or is it a different Bristol?

    1. It is indeed, Mim. Bristol Cars was born out of the over-capacity Bristol Aircraft Company after the Second World War. Although it's on a bit of an hiatus at the moment, Bristol Cars is the last remaining direct descendant of BAC, which was long ago swallowed up into BAe.


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