GLOSTER GLADIATOR N5520 "FAITH" :
|Despite being its Brockworth base
being unavailable to the public except for occasional
open days, the restoration and replication work of the Jet Age Museum continues . Recent successes include full
scale replicas of the pioneering Gloster/Whittle E28/39 jet research
and Gloster Gamecock biplane fighter while the Jet
Age Reserve Model Collection regularly represents the Museum at local
model engineering shows.
In the summer of 2007 however, Don Toombs from the team working on the Gamecock, asked if I would be willing to repair the Museum's 1/10 scale wooden skeletal model of Gloster Gladiator N5520. This model had unfortunately become damaged in the move from the Jet Age Museum's former Staverton premises in 2000 and the lower port wingtip, lower ailerons, vertical tail, cockpit and other components needed to be repaired or replaced before it could be publicly displayed again.
Despite never having worked with such a delicate wooden artefact or such a large scale model aircraft I agreed.
|How to model a Gloster Gladiator the easy way! The Jet Age Reserve Collection's 1/72 scale die cast Corgi representation of N5531 "Hope" on display at Gloucester Folk Museum in the summer of 2007 in front of later Gloster Aircraft products Hawker Hurricane (Z) and Hawker Typhoon (HHA in Normandy invasion stripes ). Just visible are the silver Gloster E1/44 jet and a camouflaged Gloster Javelin 9R.|
|The Gloster Gladiator was both the
last biplane fighter used by the RAF and also the first
with a fully enclosed cockpit.
Developed by Henry Folland from the earlier Gauntlet twin bay biplane fighter, the prototype single bay biplane Gladiator - numbered G-37 ( later K5200 ) and known originally as the Gloster SS37- first flew on 12 September 1934 with P.E.G. Sayer at the controls. Its simplified rigging and cantilever legged Dowty undercarriage also contributed to a notably higher top speed than the Gauntlet.
Powered by one 840 bhp Bristol Mercury VIII radial engine, the Gloster Gladiator had a maximum speed of 244 mph and a ceiling of 9 700 metres with a range of 423 miles. With an empty weight of 3 730 lb and maximum take of weight of 5 400 lb, wingspan was 32' 3", wing area 323 square feet, length 27' 6" and height 10' 6". Armament comprised four forward firing .303 calibre machine guns.
The Air Ministry initially ordered 23 Mark I Gloster Gladiators to Specification F14/35 and the first aircraft - K6129 - was delivered to the RAF on 16 February 1937. 72 Squadron was the first to equip with the type at Church Fenton near York and subsequent RAF Gladiator units included 125 Squadron ( based at Acklington and Leconfield ) 263 Squadron (Filton) and 802 Squadron of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Royal Naval Sea Gladiators were distinguished by the fitment of a deck arrester hook and catapult strong points, an inflatable dinghy stowed in a fairing beneath the fuselage and extended ammunition empty case and link chutes.
N5520 was part of the first batch of factory built ( as opposed to modified, Interim ) Sea Gladiators numbered N5500 to N5549 built in 1938/9 to Air Ministry Specification F36/37 and ordered under contract number 952950/38. Bristol Mercury VIIIA/S engines with automatic boost control carburettors and four Browning machine guns were fitted.
By September 1939, Gloster Gladiators were widely spread across the Mediterranean and Middle East and NN5520 was to play a special role in the conflict that followed.
|FAITH IN THE PAST|
|At the start of World War II total
air power on the strategic British-held island of Malta consisted of four Gloster Gladiators. These
were packed in crates and left at Kalafrana flying boat
base on the island by the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious
that left to join the Norwegian campaign. In fact there
were enough parts to make up eight biplanes but the Royal
Navy wanted four back to join the aircraft carrier HMS
Eagle. The remaining four were assembled. Three were to
be used operationally with one kept in reserve.
N5531 had been assigned to 802 Naval Air Squadron from June 1939 to January 1940 and was named "Hope" as part of the Hal Far Flight on 19 April 1940. She was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941.
Her fuselage is was preserved in a semi-skeletal condition in the Valetta Armoury until the 1960s when the aircraft was removed for restoration for the Malta National War Museum in Fort St Elmo. The fuselage was certainly in a much better state when -in November 1974 - it was used to ceremonially haul retiring Station Commander Group Captain M.J. Armitage off RAF Luqa: not long before British forces left Malta and the George Cross island began to pursue a more independent World role.
However, the "restoration" by the RAF was historically inaccurate and a growing body of opinion in Malta believes that N5520 should be transferred to the Malta Aviation Museum based at Ta' Qali for a full restoration incorporating wings from the RAF Museum and from Finland.
The last airworthy Gloster Gladiator - K8032 - returned to Hucclecote in August 1953 under the civilian registration G-AMRK when the Gloster Aircraft Company bought it from Vivian Bellamy who had restored it. Gloster test pilots Dicky Martin and Geoffrey Worral flew G-AMRK at a number of airshows in the 1950s before it was refurbished by Gloster apprentices to 72 Squadron markings and transferred to the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, Bedfordshire, on 7 November 1960.
|THE FINISHED PRODUCT|
|On closer inspection, the 1/10
scale model of Gloster Gladiator N5520 was not all that
Although built with immense skill - and some unbelievably tiny dovetail joints that I did not even try to match - the wings had sadly warped over time; possibly by not being kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. It was to try and stabilise this warping that the lower ailerons were repaired in a fixed position. Although built with fully functional aileron control rodding and rudder controls, it was clear that this artefact would have to be preserved in some kind of display case. This would mean that these working features would under any circunstances be out of reach and effectively inoperable.
The same was true of the model's electrical system to power its wingtip, ventral and tail navigation lights. The metal socket panel on the starboard side of the cockpit - and the type of lights themselves and cabling used to connect it - helped date the model to the 1960s and although some of the lights were persuaded to shine by the application of 12 volts dc to some of the sockets there was realistically no way of keeping the lights on in a sealed display case. It was also generally agreed that the overscale lights and non-authentic socket panel detracted from what was essentially a fine wooden model designed to show off the construction methods typical of a 1930s biplane and for that reason too attention should not be drawn to them.
|As sourcing exact matches for the
original wood and varnish used proved near impossible, it
was decided to repair the damaged sections with currently
available materials and keep them as a feature in
themselves rather than try to pretend that the model had
magically survived the last five decades intact. To this
end, the lower port wingtip was cut and carved from a
single piece of limewood - an timber attractive to both
the eye in terms of its marbled grain and to the nose for
its abiding scent of lime. In contast, the ailerons were
fabricated mainly from balsa wood - technically a
tropical hardwood despite being easily crushed and a long
time friend of the wooden aero modeller.
Also of interest in this picture is the square hatch just below the cockpit - used on this model to access the electrical system mentioned above.
|This starbord view shows the non-authentic metal four-socket panel under the cockpit, the lower port aileron ( again fabricated from balsa ) and some of the inter-wing bracing components that had to be replaced. Once again, no attempt was made to match modern paints with the original blue and silver of the parts involved.|
|Perhaps the most challenging damage to repair was that to the rudder. Although similar diameter wooden rod was still available this proved so delicate that even moving the model around the Jet Age workshop in Brockworth resulted in new damage to the restored upper section. It was decided that further attempts at restoration in this area would be counter productive and the model was thus stored in the condition seen above.|
|Another frustration was not being able to obtain the correct curve - as per original drawings - on the lower part of the rudder. It is possible that the original modeller used some kind of steaming technique that I was unable to replicate. However, closer inspection of the tail revealed that although the 12" to the foot N5520 was a Sea Gladiator, this model had no arrester hook for carrier deck landings.|
|PROTECTING OUR HERITAGE|
|As mentioned above, restoring the
wooden skeletal Gloster Gladiator would have been a waste
of time, effort and resources if no secure environment
could be found to prevent further damage. However, the
sheer size of the model and the desire to view its
construction from all possible angles brought new
challenges in terms of a display case. Wooden cases that
I had built for other model dioramas had only involved one transparent panel and
the 1/10 scale model required an 18mm MDF base 42"
square: the absolute limit of what would fit diagonally
in the back of my Rover 25!
6mm thick Perspex would also be required - particularly for the lid - to make the case stiff enough not to sag under its own weight and, as it turned out, the sides and ends could not be glued together without leaving ugly marks on the transparent material - thus undermining all the other work that had gone into making the model attractive to visitors. Luckily the well known firm of Haden-Browne Plastics ( 01452 525314 Fax 01452 300671 ) were able to offer a solution based on Perspex panels drilled and bolted togther with 90 degree joiners.
Previous customers for such display cases had included Aardman Animation (of Wallace and Gromit fame ) and once I had delivered the two base sections of MDF ( the lower one 6mm larger in each direction than the upper 42" square ) to 278 Barton Street Gloucester GL1 4JJ Haden Browne's craftsman Lee made a superb job of the transparent element before delivering it personally to the Jet Age workshop. He even took the trouble to wrap the polished Perspex in cellophane so that it would not be damaged by finger marks until it was ready to be displayed in its permanent position.
|For the time being however, the 1/10 scale Gloster Gladiator remains visible yet protected in its display case stored high above the busy workshop floor next to Jet Age's collection of grey ex Concorde seats. However, hopefully it will not be too long before both sets of historic artefacts - encompassing the rapid changes of just thirty years of Twentieth Century aviation history - will be more accessibly positioned for the enjoyment of visitors.|