It is not very often that I write about aircraft. I know that is odd for someone whose job title is Aviation Historian, but, as those of you who know me personally will testify, my interests lie in the organisations that manage military aviation rather than the equipment. Indeed, my PhD only mentioned one aircraft by name! However, that does not mean that I am not fascinated by aircraft and flight. Actually, long before I became a historian, I wanted to be a pilot – how original I hear you say – but that, for various reasons, never happened. Nevertheless, fascination with flight has never left me and I still enjoy going to airshows and aviation museums when the chance arises. That chance came yesterday when, as a Father’s Day treat, I was taken to the Imperial War Museum’s site at Duxford, which is, actually, only the second time I have been. Duxford has a fascinating collection of aircraft and is a very different beast to the RAF Museum where I work. First off it is a flying museum. Second, some of the aircraft that fly are not actually IWM exhibits, but operated by companies that are housed within the facility. Notably, there are The Fighter Collection, The Aircraft Restoration Company and Historic Flying Limited.
In recent years, one of the more impressive projects has been the Bristol Blenheim MkI restored by The Aircraft Restoration Company. The Blenheim, and the attempt to restore one to flying conditions, has an interesting past. Originally conceived as a high-speed airliner, in 1935, the Blenheim was faster than any aircraft in-service with the RAF. This led to much interest and specification B.28/35 was essentially written around a bomber variant of the aircraft. It was also eventually adapted as a fighter. On the outbreak of the Second World War, the Blenheim was the most numerous front-line RAF aircraft. However, by this time, more capable aircraft were in service. The Blenheim gained a degree of notoriety when it attacked the Meuse River bridges during the Battle of France and, alongside the Fairey Battle, suffered heavy losses. It then went on to serve in a number of roles, such as a night fighter during the Battle of Britain. It also formed the basis of the Beaufort torpedo bomber, which in turn formed the basis of the Beaufighter, which was a very effective aircraft.
For such an important aircraft, there are only a few in existence, including a MkIV at the RAF Museum’s site in London. However, there is only one flying example and I was lucky enough to see this taxi and take-off yesterday. This aircraft is actually the second airworthy example. In the 1970s, an aircraft recovered from Canada was restored to flying condition, but four weeks after its first flight in 1987, it crashed. Eventually, the decision was taken to restore another Blenheim and eventually in 1993 the ‘new’ aircraft took to the air again. However, after 10 years flying, this aircraft was damaged in a landing accident at Duxford. At this time, it was decided by Blenheim Duxford Limited to engage The Aircraft Restoration Company to provide two full-time engineers to ensure the manufacturing skills are kept alive. The restored Blenheim (G-BPIV) first flew in 2014 and should now be a regular on the classic air show calender. It was a great site to see.