Colin Balchin recounts the untold story of his involvement in the restoration of Sea Fury FB11,TF956. A tale of enthusiasm, determination and subterfuge….

    I started at Hawker Aircraft Ltd, Dunsfold, in 1962 as an aircraft electrician when Hunters were being rebuilt for foreign customers and we were assembling and flight testing Gnats from Hamble. At the same time the seven best Sea Fury airframes had been selected from about thirty aircraft that had been flown in from Lossiemouth as surplus to  RN requirements. When I arrived at Dunsfold they were standing in Bay 2 of the Production Hangar to be reconditioned for service in Germany by the Deutche Luftfahrt Beratungsdienst for target towing. I did a lot of work on them and became quite familiar with the type.

A Sea Fury Tale

Toptop toptoptoptop
    Part of my contribution was bay servicing of electrical components such as generators, voltage regulators, cowl engine cooling gill actuators and fuel pumps. As no one seemed particularly interested in what I was doing, and were probably glad that someone - anyone - had taken the work on, I had a very free reign on what I did. Can you imagine being allowed these days to strip down cowl gill actuators with their epicyclic gear trains and return them to service! All the other components received the same detailed treatment. For spare parts, particularly in rebuilding instrument panels, I would take a company van over to where the remaining airframes were parked near the old clubhouse and strip off anything I needed. During this activity I accumulated quite a lot of spares not required for the German seven.
    TF956 had been recognised among the fly-backs as the first production Sea Fury and was therefore of historical interest. It was separated from the bunch and stood for a long time in the far corner of Bay 3 in the Production Hangar which was, then, the Flight Shed. No plans seemed to be in hand for it so I started showing an interest myself, utilising spare time in short bursts as and when I could. Not a word was said! At the same time a fitter called Don Russell started working on the mechanical side of things. At that time we had a mountain of new and serviceable spares that came from Lossie stores, including a number of new engines. As a result Don replaced pretty well everything he could lay his hands on; and again, nobody stopped us.
    For the electrics I decided that simplicity would be worth pursuing and stripped out all the armament system and RATOG (rocket assisted take-off gear) cabling and components, none of which would be needed. I dumped the armament cable assemblies and stripped the wiring out of the cockpit weapons control boxes but gave them to the paint shop where a sympathetic soul painted them to an excellent standard. I later fitted them back into the cockpit for appearances sake. Over a period of time I got everything possible smartened up by this most helpful painter, Ken Prosser. After rebuilding the generators for the German aircraft I used to run them up on the Hunter generator test rig and included a couple of spares for myself.
    Instrument panels were no problem because I had stripped so much out of the spare airframes that I could give Dennis Clarke, in the Instrument Test House, a great selection for him to choose the best from. He reconditioned the lot including stripping and rebuilding the P11 standby compass. Ken painted the bare instrument panels, I installed the instruments and that was that. Ken was also a sign writer and he made a brilliant job of highlighting all the script on the components entrusted to him.
    By this time, having gone through and replaced dodgy wiring and items where necessary, in all airframe wiring looms and junction boxes, and Don having done as much as he could mechanically, we set about searching for an engine. When this came to the notice of the ‘powers that be’ the red light got switched on!! They could see that we were very close to having a complete aircraft in excellent condition and stopped us from doing further work. In fact there was very little left to do except to fit an engine and the available spare engines were all reconditioned - easy.
    Anyway, TF956 was given to the Navy who very soon collected it on a Queen Mary and took it to Yeovilton. Very shortly after that they had the aircraft completed and flew it back to Dunsfold as a sort of ‘thank you’. I recorded the visit on colour slides which are now in the Hawker archive at the Brooklands Museum.
    You’d never get away any of it now.
Editor’s post script. It is claimed on the Internet that TF956 made its first post-restoration flight at Yeovilton on  21st January 1972 and then flew with the RN Historic Flight. It suffered an undercarriage collapse at Yeovilton on 19th June 1974 and crashed in the sea off Prestwick on 10th June 1989 following an hydraulic failure shortly after take-off  which prevented one undercarriage leg from locking down. The pilot, Lt Cdr John Beattie, after many attempts to achieve a lock was ordered to bale out which he achieved successfully. The wreck was recovered and a broken hydraulic pipe was discovered. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair. Apparently, attempting to land a Sea Fury on one leg is extremely dangerous as the aircraft is likely to flip over.