Restoring the F2-b

Now that the Bristol Fighter has flown, we thought we would record some of the pains and pleasures encountered during this extremely long restoration period. The time alone spent restoring this aircraft must be something of a record!

The story actually started in the late 1980’s when HAC Director Guy Black purchased a very derelict Falcon-engined Bristol Fighter and the even worse remains of an Hispano-engined F2b from Neville Franklin (one of the original founders of the Newark Aviation Museum). Apart from the remaining fuselage and wing structures, it had the original cowls, seats tanks and much else – including the all important identity. However, without some substantially better parts being found, a restoration to flight would be very hard.

Help was fortuitously at hand when in 1982 an exchange was concluded with the Shuttleworth Collection for a huge quantity of original F2b parts, including an ex-Weston-on-the Green fuselage, a set of wings and struts, a complete empennage and much more - all in amazing condition. The wings and tail surfaces were still covered in fabric, but the uncovered fuselage was more degraded. However, it came with a large quantity of unused original spare parts which was to make our life very much easier. In addition to this, Guy purchased a second Weston-on-the-Green fuselage to enable the Hispano-engined F2b to be completed as a static, now in the Brussels Air Museum.

For the first years much time was consumed in a search for information and more parts, including a Rolls Royce Falcon engine, which did not come with the airframe.

The Search for an Engine.

Without doubt the discovery of a Falcon was an essential step forward before anything else could be done, as having the ‘wrong’ engine in it was simply not acceptable. A world-wide search concluded that there were very few Falcons surviving, and those existing were firmly established in major museums. Apart from two in aircraft, there were.

Rolls Royce Heritage Collection – no way would they give this up!

Shuttleworth spare, again this was not available.

Two at the National Technical Museum in Prague (then firmly shut off to westerners by the Iron Curtain. One of these engines eventually went to the TFC F2b).

One on display at MOTAT in New Zealand. We tried very hard to exchange this one, but they could not be persuaded to part with it.

No others! With the 5 existing above, we had to find a sixth.

And then we heard that a damaged one had recently been unearthed from the cellars of the Brussels Air Museum. This museum is one of the great aviation secrets of the world, with a stunning collection of engines, 1st WW aircraft and without doubt one of the finest collections of 1st World War military artifacts in existence. They were willing to discuss an exchange and with a good track record of exchanges already with this museum, a deal was agreed and we supplied a Gnome rotary engine and a supercharged Kestrel engine in exchange.

At last the project could go ahead and to boost morale we assembled the existing parts to create a mock-up of the aircraft.

Identification

The identity of the aircraft was discovered to be D-7889, as this number was stenciled on the old cowlings. This makes it a genuine 1st war survivor, though no further history has yet been discovered of its service life, the RFC records unfortunately all being destroyed in the blitz. With the Shuttleworth F2b’s being post-1st World War aircraft, and the TFC F2b being based on an unidentifiable Weston-on-the-Green fuselage that appears to be post-war also, this makes it just one of two 1st war survivors, the other belonging to the Imperial War Museum.

Restoration

When finally all the parts we thought we could ever find were gathered together, the airframe parts were given to Skysport Engineering to restore, the sheet metal items and radiator being undertaken at our own facility at Westfield, and the wings going back to the Shuttleworth Collection for restoration. During this process we were able to use just about 100% of the metal parts except, sadly, the cowlings which were too corroded, although the brass latches were reused (the original panels have been kept as the all important identity is on these parts). The wings were in perfect condition, though we re-glued most of the critical wooden joints.

Due to other commitments, the airframe restoration dragged on for some years, but was finally finished in 1999.

Meanwhile it was found that the engine had some major problems including a smashed camshaft tunnel, seized and broken pistons and much besides. Even the reduction gear casing was cracked, suggesting that the engine was the victim of an accident. Over the years many new parts had to be made or found, but finally we were able to re-assemble the engine. The ‘bottom end’ was done by Vintec, and the rest was undertaken in our own facility at Westfield.

Finally the airframe was moved from Duxford where it has been in store whilst the engine was being completed, back to Skysport to have the engine installed and the aircraft prepared for flight.

The first post restoration flight took place on the 25th May 2006 with Stuart Goldspink at the Controls.

At the end of 2006, Bristol Fighter (G-AANM, D-7889) was exchanged with the Canada Aviation Museum’s duplicate Heinkel 162 (Wk. nr. 120076, Air Ministry 59, RAF serial VH-523). The Bristol arrived in Canada in early December.

The exchange also included rare aero engines which will enable Aero Vintage to complete restoration work. In the package is an extremely scarce Siddeley Puma in excellent condition, now destined for their DH9 (E-8894, G-CDLI), which is to be made airworthy.

Guy Black said - “It was a major wrench to lose the Bristol, but to enable the DH9 to fly we badly needed a Puma. I also like serious engineering challenges, and this rather quirky aircraft has always held a fascination for me. It is in fantastic condition and totally complete; with modern technology the aircraft’s weaknesses - poor brakes, low engine power and bad fuel economy can surely be resolved. In the meantime it will be placed in storage pending a decision on its future”.

 

Bristol F2b

Wing Span : 39 ft 3 in (11.96 m).
Length : 25 ft 10 in (7.87 m).
Height : 9 ft 9 in (2.97 m).
Power-plant : Rolls-Royce Falcon III, 12 cylinder, liquid cooled inline V, 270 hp.
Weight : 2,779 lb (1,261 kg).
Maximum Speed : 123 mph (198 km/h).
Service Ceiling : 221,500 ft (6,553 m).
Range : 3 hours endurance.
Armament : 1 Vickers machine gun, synchronized,
forward firing 2-3 Lewis machine guns on a scarf ring, rear cockpit.
Bomb load : 240lb (108.9 kg).


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