Bristol Blenheim Mk.I (G-BPIV)
• Aircraft Type: Bristol Blenheim Mk.I
• Operator: Aircraft Restoration Company
• Year of Manufacture: 1934
• Powered by: 2 x Bristol Mercury XV Radial Piston Engines rated at 905hp
• Colour Scheme: 23 Squadron RAF
The Bristol Blenheim Mk.I is a truly unique British aircraft. As a type the aircrafts history is long and formative and an important milestone in the history of British aviation. Designed as a small airliner in the early 1930s by Frank Barnwell, Chief Designer of the Bristol Aircraft Company, it was funded by Lord Rothermere who named it ‘Britain First’. It proved much faster than the latest biplane fighters, with a speed of over 300mph, and Rothermere promptly donated it to the nation.
Barnwell then redesigned the aircraft as a bomber and it became the first stressed skin aircraft with hydraulic actuated undercarriage, flaps and turret to be accepted by the Royal Air Force. It was the fastest bomber of the day and it became the backbone of the RAFs light bomber force. At the start of WWII the RAF had 1089 Blenheim’s in service more than any other type.
The Blenheim bore the brunt of daylight operations during the early war years, whilst other bombers were switched to night operations, and the crews paid a heavy price. Many Blenheim’s were lost not only to fighters but to anti-aircraft fire especially when attacking ships. Even so it was well liked by its crews and Churchill paid homage to their bravery comparing them to the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’.
The Blenheim was pressed into many roles for which it was not primarily designed, such as long range and night fighter duties. It became the first radar equipped night fighter and got the first kill using that equipment.
The first Blenheim project a Canadian licensed built MKIV, which they called Bolingbroke, was recovered in a derelict state and restored to fly after a twelve year rebuild by a small dedicated team led by a licensed aircraft engineer. It made its debut in May 1987 only to be destroyed in an accident exactly one month later, suffice to say that the accident was not due to a mechanical fault.
Determined not to be without a Blenheim another airframe was found and the same team gave themselves five years to complete the project with the aircraft flying in May 1993, it became the only flying example of a Blenheim representing the light bombers of the early war years. Flying for ten years from Duxford on behalf of the late Graham Warner, the aircraft was well known on the air show circuit and flew with great success building an enviable serviceability record amongst the vintage aircraft fraternity.
In August 2003 the aircraft suffered an accident whilst landing at Duxford, again through no mechanical fault with the aircraft, and suffered significant damage. The aircraft was dismantled with the ownership subsequently transferring to Blenheim (Duxford) Ltd in December 2003.
It was decided that the aircraft could be repaired and work started with a team jointly made up of full time staff and the original and some new volunteers. Initially work concentrated on the centre section and fuselage and it was at this stage a feasibility study was carried out to see if the aircraft could be converted to Blenheim MkI status. A MkI nose had come into possession of the team and it was realised that the production break at the rear of the fuselage was the same for all marks of Blenheim so the decision was made to go ahead with the conversion. The conversion did cause some headaches in that although the main fling controls are in the same position in the British and Canadian variants it is in the positioning of the ancillary controls such as throttles, pitch, carburetor and hydraulic controls, the positioning of instruments and the rerouting of hydraulic and electrical lines that would take time.
The MkI nose had been donated to the team and had an interesting history in its own right; it had been obtained by a Bristol employee Ralph Nelson after WWII and converted to a car. He had mounted it on an Austin Seven chassis and with help of colleagues completed the conversion. The car was battery powered and he drove the vehicle around Bristol until 1957 when it was damaged by fire. The conversion necessitated the nose being modified to create doors and interior fittings so basically destroyed the stress skin construction, so after jigging to maintain its integrity a considerable amount of manufacture of new airframe parts had to be carried out including reskinning. Fortunately Ralph had kept a considerable amount of the interior fittings and most of the control systems including the seat and these were refurbished and refitted.
A data plate in the nose revealed its build number and that it had been built by AVRO. Contact with Avro’s heritage Centre showed that the aircraft serial was L6739 being issued to 23 Squadron on 2nd September 1939. It fought throughout the Battle of Britain as a night fighter before being struck off charge in December 1940 after being damaged. Further research revealed that it had carried the codes YP-Q and a photo was found of it ground running at Wittering in February 1940. This has enabled the aircraft to be painted in the authentic colours worn in 1939-1940 and fitted with the MKI(f) gun pack.
The Mercury engines were overhauled in house being stripped down to their component parts and checked for wear and damage and reassembled. All ancillary items such as magnetos, carburettors, pumps and the many items that make up the engines examined and checked for airworthiness before being fitted.
After 11 years of painstaking work, on the 20th November 2014 Chief Pilot John Romain and James Gilmour as Flight Engineer took Blenheim MkI(f) on its maiden flight at Duxford for a successful 26 minute test flight, following some minor adjustments a further two test flights were carried out.
The Blenheim received its full Permit to fly at the end of 2014, enabling the aircraft to be ready for the 2015 season.
Read more: http://www.arc-duxford.co.uk/restorations/blenheim/
Large Image: Jarrod Cotter
Small Image: Brian A Marshall