A trio of magnificent Mosquitos at historic Salisbury Hall
We are extremely pleased to be bringing you this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular fortnightly look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. With the first major Airshows of the season now just a few weeks away, 2018 is already shaping up to be one of the most memorable for many a year, as we not only commemorate the centenary of the Royal Air Force, but also 100 years since the end of the Great War. As both commemorations illustrate the importance of air power over the past 100 years, many enthusiasts will be hoping for good weather throughout the coming summer and some attractive commemorative schemes to bask in the sunshine, allowing us all to document this unique occasion in fine style. Before we all head for the years flying events, this 92nd edition of Aerodrome reports from an equally historic occasion, even though our subject aircraft all stayed firmly on the ground for the duration of the event. The exciting prospect of seeing three de Havilland Mosquitos together in the same place is appealing enough in its own right, but add to this a rare appearance for the aircraft outside the safely of their hangar and you have a photo opportunity which had this particular aviation enthusiast hitting the road at some ungodly hour and travelling to North London, to be in position for opening time. Our subject for this latest edition is the recent Easter weekend event at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, as they kick off their season of events with a Royal Air Force Centenary Bank Holiday spectacular, which was most definitely too good to miss.
Birthplace of the Mosquito
Prototype Mosquito W4050 in its usual position at the front of the hangar at Salisbury Hall
There is no doubting that UK based aviation enthusiasts have to count themselves extremely fortunate, with not only a full calendar of Airshow events to consider during the summer months, but also a large number of museums and other places of historic aviation importance available for them to visit. As the summer months can be rather hectic with the many events hoping to take advantage of the (supposedly) better weather associated with this time of year, it can often be the winter months when enthusiasts seek out some of these other aviation related venues. One such museum is the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, a truly historic place not only in relation to its links with arguably one of Britain’s most effective aircraft of all time, but also in the preservation, conservation and display of famous British aeroplanes.
Having only made one previous visit to the Salisbury Hall museum site, which ended up being something of a rushed affair, I have always planned to make a long overdue second trip, spending much more time discovering the delights of this historic venue and the aircraft preserved within its unusual setting. Unfortunately, as in most cases for enthusiasts based in the north of the country, time and travelling distance are always limiting factors and there always seemed to be something getting in the way of this plan. When assessing my latest winter activity schedule, I was determined that this would be the year that the de Havilland Aircraft Museum could finally be ticked off my aviation to do list, but an advert I spotted in the enthusiast press during a recent trip to our Head Office definitely confirmed my attendance. During the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, the museum was planning a spectacular 4 day event to celebrate the Centenary of the Royal Air Force and amongst the many events scheduled to take place over the four days, the undoubted highlight was their intention to push both Mosquito prototype W4050 and Mosquito B.35 TA634 outside their hangar for a rare and unique photo opportunity. This proved just too big a draw to ignore and I began to immediately make arrangements for my long overdue second visit – the only thing that could spoil things now would be the good old British weather.
With poor weather forecast for the majority of the weekend, would this be the closest the Mosquitos would get to the great outdoors?
In this first of two reviews from my visit to the Salisbury Hall de Havilland Aircraft Museum, we will be concentrating on the three restored Mosquitos on display at this fantastic location and the pictures taken during this memorable event. We will also spend some time looking at the individual histories behind each aircraft featured and discuss why the Mosquito is regarded as one of the most effective aircraft of the Second World War and why so few complete examples remain preserved in museums around the world. In the next instalment, we will look a little more closely at the history of the Salisbury Hall site, the de Havilland Museum itself and some of the other exhibits available for visitors to admire, before ending with a look at the exciting future plans this important aviation museum has – we can all play a part in this, but we will include full details in our next blog.
I have to admit that even though I was really excited by the opportunity of seeing multiple Mosquitos in the open air, the extremely poor weather forecast for the event almost made me re-consider my decision to make this long single day journey. Surely, the poor weather leading up to the event and the expected grey skies and heavy rain showers would place the proposed Mosquito photoshoot in severe jeopardy, especially when considering the priceless historical value of these aircraft and the fact that they are mainly constructed from wood. Despite this and even though I travelled through some of the worst driving conditions I had ever endured on my way down to Hertfordshire, the chance of seeing the Mosquitos outdoors proved just to enticing and if we believed everything the weather forecasters said, we would probably never venture out of the house. Unfortunately, on this occasion, they were proved to be more or less spot on and as I finally peeled myself out of the car at Salisbury Hall for a quick stretch, I immediately slipped on the sodden turf and would spend the entire day with embarrassingly muddy trousers – not a great start to proceedings. As I and a few other hardy souls queued outside the museum waiting for it to open, the rain started to fall again and I really did begin to question how successful my visit was going to be – surely they would not risk the Mosquitos in these conditions. In any case, I still had some reserves of optimism left and told myself that I was here now and despite the rain, I was determined to enjoy only my second ever visit to the de Havilland Aircraft Museum.
The hard working museum volunteers took the opportunity to recreate a famous Mosquito picture from 1945 – the last Mosquito raid of WWII
As the rain continued to fall, I was lucky enough to bump into an old acquaintance who is one of the hard-working volunteers at the museum, who reassured me that despite the conditions, the plans were still to take the Mosquitos outside the hangar, which whilst obviously being good news, really did surprise me. Knowing how much time and effort a great many people had contributed to the magnificent restoration of these aircraft for the benefit of the nation certainly made me feel a little uncomfortable and slightly guilty – with almost constant rain showers and even worse forecast for the coming few days, surely they would not risk damage to their precious charges. I was however informed that the initial plans had been to leave the aircraft outside for the entire long bank holiday weekend, but the weather forecast was so poor for Sunday night and Monday that the decision had already been taken to bring the aircraft back inside the hangar before the museum closed on Sunday. Sure enough, not long after the museum had opened, the hangar doors were pulled back and the volunteers began the delicate task of carefully coaxing these iconic British aeroplanes outside into the fresh and still somewhat damp Hertfordshire air. Let’s take a closer look at this magnificent trio of de Havilland’s finest.
De Havilland DH98 Mosquito Prototype W4050
Restored to an extremely high standard and undoubtedly one of the most precious historic aircraft in Britain today, prototype Mosquito W4050 is now the only surviving WWII prototype aircraft preserved anywhere in the world and a jewel in the crown of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Tracing its origins back to September 1938 and the intention to build an unarmed, high speed bomber which was capable of outrunning anything currently in the skies, the design for the DH98 was submitted to the Air Ministry for their consideration. This heralded the beginning of a frustrating period for de Havilland designers, as their initial proposal was met with some official scepticism and the belief that all future bombers would have to employ some form of defensive armament. Continuing disagreements on both the configuration and intended role for the proposed new aircraft finally resulted in the granting of an order to develop the DH98, but only as a secondary project, with all production priority to be given to the manufacture of Tiger Moth and Rapide aircraft, as Europe prepared for war – this new cutting-edge thoroughbred would have to play second fiddle to these already established de Havilland biplanes.
The priceless Mosquito prototype is taken from its hangar so rarely these days, that the operation had to be documented. These two photographs show how brute strength and a gentle touch were needed in equal measure during the move operation
With Britain now at war and de Havilland’s Hatfield factory in full production, the design team relocated to nearby Salisbury Hall, where they could work on the production of their new high-speed bomber with little chance of the disruptive attentions of the Luftwaffe. Design and construction of the prototype began at the end of 1939 in a newly constructed hangar on land behind the hall, but despite making significant progress, the Ministry of Aircraft Production inexplicably cancelled the DH98 project the following June. Already convinced his new aircraft was a winner and could make a significant contribution to the war effort, Geoffrey de Havilland announced that development would continue as planned, with the new aircraft proceeding as a private venture – thank goodness he did. This very aircraft, W4050 was the prototype DH98 built in the Salisbury Hall hangar, which was dismantled in late October 1940 and transported the short distance by road to the Hatfield site for flight testing. The aircraft showed great promise from the first moment it took to the air and following the inevitable teething problems and aeronautical tweaks often associated with the flight testing of a new aircraft, the Mosquito proved to be an exceptional aeroplane, possessing greater speed than the Spitfire, despite being twice its size – it was also extremely stable, held great promise of future development and crucially, employed a laminated wood method of construction, which whilst possessing incredible inherent strength, would not require the diversion of valuable aluminium from Spitfire and bomber production.
De Havilland DH98 Mosquito prototype W4050 would not only prove the concept of this high speed bomber, but would also go on to serve as a flying test bed for many Mosquito improvement and equipment trials, ensuring that the ‘Wooden Wonder’ became one of the most effective multi-role aircraft the world had ever seen. During the first half of 1943, as this aircraft continued to explore how the Mosquito could be made even more effective, it set an impressive level speed mark of 439mph, making this famous Mosquito the fastest aircraft in the world. Despite all these significant achievements, W4050 was deemed to have reached the end of its useful life by the end of the same year and was scheduled to be scrapped. Ending up back at Salisbury Hall as an instructional airframe for apprentice technicians and engineers, the announced closure of the site in 1947 resulted in an official instruction to take the aircraft out to land adjacent to the hangar and burn it! Thankfully, a forward thinking official understood the historic significance of the aircraft and ignored this order, arranging for sections of the prototype to be stored at several locations around the country, hopefully protecting it from possible destruction.
With little spare room available to manoeuvre the Mosquito, it required careful handling to ensure both aircraft could be displayed outside the hangar, with enough room to allow photographers to get the pictures they needed
The purchase and restoration of Salisbury Hall in the mid 1950s saw a long overdue change in fortunes for this historic site and once the new owners learned of the Hall’s links with the de Havilland company, related items and artefacts soon began returning to the site. It what seems like an aviation story which appears too good to be true, this also included the return of prototype Mosquito W4050 and the construction of a new hangar in which to house it – in September 1958, the prototype made an unlikely, yet triumphant return to the Salisbury Hall site, where it became the founding aircraft of the Mosquito Museum, which has since developed to become the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Reassembled and repainted, the aircraft has undergone significant periods of conservation and restoration over the years, none more so than the five years between January 2010 and November 2015, when the aircraft benefited from work to return W4050 back to the configuration in which it last flew. On 25th November 2015, the Mosquito prototype was rolled out to mark the 75th Anniversary of the aircraft’s maiden flight and the start of a Mosquito legacy that endures to this day – this is an extremely historic aeroplane and one which resulted in the creation of an aviation icon.
When considering the history behind this famous prototype aircraft, it is no wonder that I and many others decided to brave the elements for the chance to see W4050 in the open air, during the Centenary year of the Royal Air Force. Indeed, as you can see from the pictures above, the conditions actually improved during the afternoon, allowing for some really memorable photographs to be taken and proving that the sun always shines on the aviation righteous.
De Havilland DH98 Mosquito B.Mk.35 TA634
If seeing the prototype Mosquito displayed on a rare excursion outside the hanger were not reason enough to head down to Salisbury Hall over the Easter holidays, the fact that she would be enjoying the company of one of her hangar-mates during the weekend made this a doubly significant occasion. TA634 is an example of the last bomber version of the Mosquito, with this aircraft entering RAF service just too late to see operations during the Second World War. Optimised for higher altitude performance, these magnificent aircraft had the ability to carry a 4,000 lb ‘Cookie’ High Capacity blast bomb in its modified bomb bay and when combined with a pair of 60 gallon drop tanks, could carry this devastating weapon all the way to Berlin.
This particular machine was one of the last Mosquitos built at the de Havilland Hatfield site, constructed as a B.Mk.35 variant and making its first flight in 1945. It was later to become one of the 146 Mosquito B.35s converted for target towing duties, going on to see service with CAACU (Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit) from November 1953. Its final service posting was to No.3 CAACU at Exeter in September 1959, where in conjunction with several other Mosquitos, would provide target towing support for air and ground units around the country – interestingly, in May 1963, TA634 was one of the aircraft which took part in the ‘Official last flypast’ by Mosquitos at Exeter, before the aircraft were retired from this role and replaced by jet powered aircraft.
The museum’s Mosquito B.Mk.35 was pulled out from the hangar into some particularly unfriendly Hertfordshire skies
Following her service retirement, this Mosquito was flown to Liverpool’s Speke Airport, where she was destined to become the centrepiece display in a new terminal complex building and became the property of Liverpool Corporation. In the end, this development did not take place as originally intended, but rather than rot away in some forgotten corner of the airfield, TA634 was returned to airworthy condition and starred in the feature film ‘Mosquito Squadron’, which was shot on location at Bovingdon Airfield, not far from Hatfield, where the aircraft was built. She was flown for the final time on 16th July 1968, when she returned to her owners at Speke Airport and something of an uncertain future.
Although the two Mosquitos were initially dragged out under grey, rain heavy skies, the clouds parted for a golden half hour during the afternoon
With the Mosquito Museum now established at Salisbury Hall and their quest to secure as many de Havilland and specifically Mosquito related artefacts as possible, there really did only seem to be one logical home for TA634 – she was acquired by the museum in 1970 and officially handed over on 15th May 1971. For a ten year period between 1980 and 1990, the aircraft underwent a concerted period of conservation and restoration and now forms part of arguably the world’s finest collection of Mosquitos. She is currently presented in the markings of an RAF No.571 Squadron aircraft 8K-K ‘King’, (ML963) which is thought to have completed 84 missions with the squadron, 31 of which were flown all the way to Berlin. On one particularly challenging mission, the aircraft was required to fly at low level and skip-bomb a 4,000lb delayed action ‘Cookie’ into the Bitburg railway tunnel on New Year’s Day 1945, in an effort to prevent the Germans sending reinforcements to the front line during the Battle of the Bulge.
De Havilland DH98 Mosquito FB Mk.VI TA122
Everyone has to have their particular favourite and this one is certainly mine. The most numerous and widely used variant of the Mosquito was the strike or fighter-bomber FB.VI, which clearly underlines the multi-role capabilities of this magnificent aeroplane. Despite its undeniable good looks, the Mosquito FB.VI was a devastatingly effective warplane and you only have to spend some time under the nose of this aircraft to understand why you would not want to be on the receiving end of a Mosquito strike attack. With four Browning 0.303 machine-guns in the nose and a further four 20mm Hispano cannons in its belly, this highly capable machine could also carry two 500lb bombs in its internal bomb bay and two more, one under each wing. Later variants were also equipped with under-wing rockets, mainly for anti-shipping strike operations and helped to earn this heavily armed Mosquito variant a fearsome wartime reputation.
Mosquito TA122 was one of a relatively small number of this variant built at de Havilland’s main Hatfield facility and following its construction, was taken on charge by No.44 MU on 10th March 1945 for storage and preparation. It was passed to the care of RAF No.605 Squadron early the following month, where it operated from one of the many forward operating bases in Europe captured from the retreating Germans, on this occasion Coxyde airfield on the Belgian coast. Flying a number of operational missions during the final months of the war, the aircraft moved to Volkel in Holland on 25th April 1945, where No.605 Squadron was later re-numbered No.4 Squadron and spent some months flying missions from several bases in Germany. Finally struck off charge in June 1950, TA122 was reduced to spares and the wings removed – the fuselage was later bought by the Delft University of Technology in Holland, but the wings were either destroyed, or scattered in sections to various museums and technical establishments around Europe. The fuselage was later acquired by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Museum at Gilze Rijen, from where it was gifted to the de-Havilland Aircraft Museum in November 1975, eventually arriving at Salisbury Hall in February 1978.
These two pictures are interesting as they show TA122 in its usual renovation position at the back of the hanger whilst still undergoing restoration, firstly with all the equipment still in place and secondly with everything removed in preparation for its first move for many a year
Clearly, the museum was keen to restore the aircraft to her former glory, but their first challenge was to locate a set of wings suitable for the project – these were located in Israel and came from former Mosquito TR Mk.33 (Sea Mosquito) TW233. Once these arrived at Salisbury Hall, the lengthy restoration project could begin in earnest and is continuing to this day – although the aircraft is now on its undercarriage and looks in great shape, work is still continuing on this beautiful aircraft and it is possible to still gain a fascinating insight into some of the lost construction skills needed to produce a Mosquito and why the ‘Wooden Wonder’ proved to be such a significant aircraft for the Royal Air Force during WWII. Handsome and purposeful in equal measure, TA112 has been finished in the colours of a No.605/4 Squadron Mosquito and wears the codes UP-G on its fuselage sides. In a most welcome and unexpected bonus during my visit, this beautiful Mk.VI fighter bomber was pulled from its restoration location in the rear corner of the hangar, to the front of the building, allowing photographers to obtain some unique pictures of three different variants of the Mosquito in close proximity, two completely outside the protection of the hangar. Although she did not venture outside, this was the first time in many years that TA112 had been moved from the corner of the hangar and was yet another highlight of what turned out to be an extremely enjoyable and quite historic event – I am so glad that I made the effort to attend.
Museum volunteers prepare to move Mosquito FB Mk.VI for the first time in many a year
A spectacular sight. Almost out in the fresh air, the beautiful strike Mosquito has been the subject of a concerted period of restoration
For anyone interested in British aviation history, a visit to the de Havilland Aircraft Museum simply has to be high on your to do list, but if you are something of a Mosquito fanatic, a visit to this enigmatic and totally unique venue has to be considered something of an aviation pilgrimage. The museum staff and volunteers are to be commended not only for arranging this memorable event, but also for their continued efforts to preserve aircraft and artefacts from one of Britain’s most prolific and successful aircraft manufacturers, for current and future generations to enjoy. Although the museum is about much more than the Mosquito, their magnificent trio of ‘Wooden Wonders’ will always be a major draw to this historic site and the chance to see the only surviving WWII prototype aircraft is something that every aviation enthusiast must take the opportunity to do at least once, if they possibly can. Already standing as one of the aviation highlights of this RAF centenary year, the weather did its level best to prevent this event from taking place, but thanks to museum staff and their determination to do something very special to mark this significant occasion, those who braved the elements and ignored the almost apocalyptic weather forecast were rewarded with an extremely memorable and quite historic occasion. Talking to the volunteers, it appears that they were so worried about their beloved Mosquitos being left outside the hangar, that a small number of them were planning to stay at the museum overnight, to ensure their wellbeing and act should the weather become too severe. I love a Mosquito as much as the next man, but this devotion to duty was certainly above and beyond the norm – it was absolutely freezing in that hangar and that was during the day!
Perhaps the most significant images obtained during this fantastic event were the ones showing all three Mosquitos together, as they all enjoy some time outside or very close to the open hangar doors
I hope you have enjoyed this look at what proved to be an extremely enjoyable event, even though most of the day was spent avoiding the many rain showers we were forced to endure. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the museum staff and volunteers for their warm welcome, hard work and eagerness to inform and educate on all matters de Havilland. In the next edition of Aerodrome, we will be returning to Salisbury Hall to discover some of the other exhibits at the site and share some exciting news about future plans for the museum. In the meantime, if readers would like to share some of their own Mosquito memories or send in suggestions for a future edition of our blog, please use either of our usual contact e-mail addresses at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com where we will endeavour to reply to all messages we receive.
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