Newsletter 23
Spring 2009
Updated on 17Feb2009
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Aces, Erks, Backroom Boys
Book Reviews
Christmas Lunch
Demonstration Flying
Harrier News
Harrier Sales To China
Hunter News
Hurricane News
Kingston's Aircraft Industry
Members' e-mail Addresses
Restoring Hawker Biplanes
Royal Air Force Club Visit
Sea fury News
Sea Harrier News
Sir Keith Park Memorial
Windsor Camm Appeal
View From The Hover
    Guy Black of Retrotec and the Historic Aircraft Collection, his firms that specialise in restoring Hawker biplanes and operating them, came to Kingston on 11 November to tell us about his life and work. He was apprenticed to Weslake engineering, racing car engine designers and builders, became involved in racing car restorations and formed Lynx Cars Ltd which restored and built replicas of Jaguar sports-racing cars. He sold the Company in 1995 to concentrate on aircraft, founding Aero Vintage Ltd, now named Retrotec.
    For his first project he wanted a simple type to build and chose the Sopwith Pup, for which he got drawings from John Crampton at Kingston in 1977. He also found a LeRhone engine. Unfortunately the aircraft was lost when the Shuttleworth CTP, who was rather short and had refused a cushion, stalled it 100 ft. Having found a Frog flying model Hart in an attic Guy was inspired to find a Hawker biplane to restore so bought for 100 the rather ropy remains of a Nimrod I from the RAF Museum reserve collection. The tubular framework stainless steel joining plates were all in good condition, but that was about all.

Restoring And Operating Hawker Biplanes

toptoptoptop top
    As for drawings, he found some of the larger C and B size ones in Denmark but not the D size GAs or the small As. So, he set up a DO. BAe at Farnborough would let him look at drawings they still had but would not let them be copied for fear of product liability implications. However, by subterfuge it was sometimes possible. By "getting into the minds" of the original designers the DO was able to make an intelligent guess at the detail designs.
    A manufacturing problem was presented by the Hawker fuselage construction method: high tensile steel tubes with squared ends joined by steel plates attached using tubular rivets, ferules and distance pieces. No welding was employed because the Ministry specified that repair overseas under primitive conditions was to be possible. To square the tubes a machine was built from a photograph of the original HAL machine. In a South African scrap yard a quantity of various Hawker airframe parts and material was found including some wheels in mint condition. He found an ex-HAL hexagonal spar rolling machine and got the steel strip for the spars made in Switzerland. Originally Guy had intended to sub-contract some of the restoration work but Aerovintage ended up doing everything because of the poor standards existing in these firms.
    Engines, Rolls-Royce Kestrels, are rare and there are no spares available, although the Dutch Air Force has some but they can't be got out of the stores. However, Guy found ten engines in dreadful condition so he went to museums to swap these, plus a 'sweetener', for examples of restorable ones. Again, unable to find a high enough quality contractor all engine rebuilds are done in-house. R-R had made things difficult; the Kestrel was complex and parts were not interchangeable. For example the Daimler Benz engine in the Me109 has one third the number of parts in the Merlin, of which the Kestrel is essentially a two thirds scale version. Also, R-R destroyed all the drawings. Using specially made tools it takes about three years to rebuild a flight-worthy Kestrel. Even magnesium alloy supercharger impellers had to be made, special sparking plugs had to be ordered from Lodge ( 30,000 minimum charge so they have plenty at about 70 each!) and plug leads and braid specially made.
    A master at discovering original parts, when on family holidays Guy searches out local scrap yards. In Australia he found a crate full of sparking plugs and in South Africa discovered another Nimrod I, a Nimrod II and a Fury together with a Fiat CR42, a Miles Master and some Harvards; but the Fiat and Master ended up down a mine shaft before he could save them.
    There were no 'pilot's notes' or other flight data available for the Nimrod I, so Guy took Viv Bellamy's advice, "Just go!". The first flight on the aircraft, which had been restored by only fifteen men aged 55 to 60, went well. From its Paddock Wood, Historic Aircraft Collection, base it attends air shows throughout the year. Guy's Nimrod II was completed in 2006 as reported in NL 16, Spring 2007.
    Four Hinds had been found in Kabul, and the Afghan Government had given them to the RAF Museum, the Shuttleworth Trust and the Canadian National Aviation Museum who got two. They gave one as pay for restoration of the Museum example. Guy offered the Canadian a set of Fury components for the Hind and he agreed. Back in England the Hind was found to be free of corrosion and was essentially complete except for the engine and cowlings. Restoration of L7181, the serial number found on a strut dated 29.7.37, is currently under way. Guy's Fury should fly this year, 2009, after a six year restoration.
    Retrotec use original parts if possible but otherwise strive to make new parts using original material specifications by original methods, tools and machines. Sometimes this is not possible as material specifications have changed so modern equivalents are used. If not available in original form tools and machines to the original designs are recreated from photographs if there are no drawings. Modern health and safety rules sometimes preclude using original materials, seat belt webbing, for example, and fire walls which used to be asbestos-aluminium sandwiches.
    The vote of thanks was given by Duncan Simpson who quoted Sir Sydney Camm as saying, "I love the 'art." How pleased he would have been to see his beautiful biplanes being restored so meticulously.