Alistair Hodgson is the Project Leader for this restoration taking place at the de Haviland Heritage Centre
We started work in May 2006, and so far have managed to strip out the cockpit, remove the engine, main fuel tank and outer wings. (The booms and tail had already been taken off and stored before we started.) Everything has ben carefully photographed and "bagged & tagged" and is being restored piece by piece whenever help is available.
Currently I am finishing off the restoration of the main fuel tank bay and the firewall, prior to getting the inner wings off (hopefully in the next few weeks). The plan then is to turn the Fuselage Pod up on end so that it's sitting on the firewall, as this will make it easier to work on the rotted wood on the Pod, and will also save space in the working area. The wings will be stored, and the main areas of concern for the rest of this year will be the pod and the engine.
Although the aircraft is complete (aside from the radar), its time spent as a Gate Guardian at HMS Dryad in the 1970's did it no good at all, hence the need to replace a lot of the wood on the fuselage. However we're using a new 3-D laser scanning technique to capture the shape of the pod so that when we put the new wood on we can recreate the profiles and curves exactly. This should save us some time and produce a more accurate result.
We're two years into the work and I reckon there's at least another 5-6 years left to go! Visitors are always welcome - The Museum is open afternoons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and all day Sundays and Bank Holidays. I'm usually there on Saturdays and occasionally on a Sunday.
After Engine Removal
Firewall Before Restoration.
Firewall After Restoration
THE RESTORATION TEAM
The engine and outer wings are already removed and the cockpit is stripped out and the components are being restored individually. Currently we're working towards getting the inner wings removed, which will allow us to store them somewhere out of the way and concentrate on the Pod. Taking these off will be a complicated business as we haven't got a lot of room to work in, and getting a crane in means moving a lot of other aircraft out of the way first, which of course requires good weather (they have to go outdoors) and lots of helpers. Nonetheless I hope to achieve this by mid-summer at the latest. The other main activity is the stripping and cleaning of the engine, which we would hope to have completed by next year which is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Museum - so we would like to display the fully restored engine as our team's contribution to the festivities! Once the inner wings are removed, work can start in earnest on removing the rotted wood from the Pod. This will be a slow process, because to preserve some structural integrity the wood will need to be replaced just one section at a time. Eventually the cockpit floor will need to be replaced as this is rotted through in some places, but I would like to get the 'shell' of the Pod back to a sound condition before attempting that.
Thanks to all the team at the Museum from all ex 894 Squadron members and those that remember the old Sea Venom and the sterling things she achieved.
After a great deal of planning, the wings were finally removed from XG730 in August. Our original plans were to immediately mount them out of the way on a specially made storage frame, but this would have involved taking several other aircraft out of the main hangar to get a crane in, and guess what - the weather turned against us on the day so we had to try an alternative approach. One day, when the weather is kinder, we'll manage to finish the job!
So at present we have the two wings on trestles and the fuselage pod mounted on a support plinth that gives good access to the top and sides, so we can see what state it's in. A lot of the balsa will clearly have to be replaced, and there are also one or two repairs needed around the engine air intake apertures. Nothing too difficult though - it will all just take time. I have made a start on the intake areas, and am replacing the damaged plywood with laminations of thin Spruce planking. As reported before, the worst part of the pod is going to be the cockpit floor: I have now managed to put my Size 8 right through it on two occasions, and I am thinking that only the complete replacement of the floor will do, but I want to get the outer shell completely sound first.
We now have a 3-man engine team - alongside Harvey we have his brother-in-law Roger (ex-motor mechanic) and also Jason, who maintains Boeing 777's for British Airways for a living, and says he comes to the Museum because he enjoys the change! Engine stripping is going well (though de Havilland clearly never built the Ghost to be easily dismantled) and we have a comprehensive programme of restoration work planned - it will be the most comprehensive engine rebuild ever attempted by Museum volunteers. Meanwhile on the airframe, I am now assisted by Hadas (an Israeli Aerospace Engineering student in her final year at nearby Hertfordshire University) and Will (still at school but aspiring to a career in the aircraft industry). Progress may not be fast, but morale is high and with a little help from other Museum volunteers as required, we are achieving a high standard of restoration work.
Visits from any 894 squadron members are always welcome - the Museum closes for the season at the end of October, but your gallant XG730 restoration team will struggle on through the winter, even if the paint and the glue do take a little longer to dry at that time of year!
Well we managed to survive another winter, although progress was slowed down somewhat by the cold conditions. The main task of late has been the replacement of the balsawood structure on the Starboard side of the Fuselage pod: the problem was that temperatures were hovering around freezing point in the hangar for several weeks, and under those conditions the glue will not cure properly.
However I’m pleased to say that progress picked up rapidly once the weather improved, and at the Easter weekend I was able to complete the Starboard side woodwork and get it sanded down to the final profile. On to the Port side next, although this doesn’t appear to have been as badly damaged.
The wings are now in their ‘final resting place’, stowed vertically rather than sitting horizontally on trestles. This saves a lot of space in the working area, as the wings won’t be worked on for some time yet.
As for the engine, it’s completely stripped down and we’re awaiting our chance to blast-clean it now – this has been frustrated by the need to move the engine about the hangar to accommodate other work in the Museum, but hopefully this should be resolved very soon and we can get cracking.
We are also working to get everything ‘ship-shape’ for a distinguished visitor – the DH Heritage Trust’s new Patron HRH The Duke of Gloucester is going to pay us a visit shortly, and the team and I look forward to being able to show him the progress on XG730.
I’ll provide another update at the end of the summer, but meanwhile any ex 894 Squadron members are, as ever, always welcome to visit!
Below is a recent photo of the Starboard side of the pod, with replacement balsa sanded to shape
Work has progressed well with the warmer weather - the wood replacement on the Starboard side of the Pod is complete, although the change in weather conditions from winter to summer has caused some of the balsa wood to crack and split, which will require a bit of repair work sooner or later. Repairing the damage to the Port side is proving much simpler, as there was much less decay on this side and consequently there is less to do. Hopefully all will be complete by about the end of August and then the Pod can be turned up onto its back end (bulkhead 4) to allow us access underneath. We are also getting on with the engine, having decided not to do a complete strip and repaint of the main structure – too expensive and too messy! The enamelled finish is in good condition in general, so we will treat the corrosion, repaint and leave well alone.
Our big news is the visit of our royal patron, HRH the Duke of Gloucester on Friday 15th May. He came to unveil plans for the redevelopment of the Museum and to tour the exhibits, accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, the Countess of Verulam. He stopped by at XG730 and I was able to show him the work in progress and introduce him to the rest of the team. The attached photos show the Duke visiting our area – we were told beforehand that he would prefer to see some ‘action’ rather than just meeting people standing around in suits, hence my overalls....but I did wash them in honour of his visit!
I think the last time I wrote, I was expecting to have the balsa totally repaired on the Fuselage pod, with the exception of “a bit of repair work” on some cracked areas on the Starboard side, as I put it.
How wrong can you be? When I looked in detail at the repaired wood on the Starboard side of the pod, it emerged that none of the balsa had properly adhered to the inner plywood, so it all had to come off again – to have carried on regardless would have caused major problems once the final plywood layer was fitted. This put us about 3 months back in the course of an afternoon, and the process of removing the cracked balsa also destroyed some of the inner plywood skin on the pod.
However it’s an ill wind as they say, and having opened up a gaping hole in the side of the pod made it dead easy to get in and repair half of the cockpit floor! Once this was done, the inner skin was replaced with brand new plywood and the result is a much stronger structure (see photo). We also took the opportunity to add extra Spruce bracing to the outside of the pod: not totally authentic it’s true, but it won’t be seen in the finished restoration and it will considerably improve the strength and durability of the wooden structure.
All of this took us well into the winter, and despite the arctic temperatures in the hangar, we struggled on as best we could. Looking at the state of the wood around the canopy frame, I decided to bow to the inevitable and take the frame off altogether, rather than attempt to repair it in situ. That was an epic struggle ending just after Easter when the canopy frame came off in a single piece, the four original sections having corroded together. During the removal process one or two people enquired if we were finally breaking up the pod for scrap! However the end result was well worth the effort as we have now revealed the last remaining rotted areas of the woodwork and we can also properly repair the badly corroded canopy frame. Work is well under way on both these fronts, and we have now also arrived at the stage where the weather is reliably warm enough to work with the balsa wood and the ‘Aerodux’ resin adhesive.
Thanks as ever to the team, which has seen a few changes over the last months. Sadly Ray Gall (see previous reports) passed away last October after a short illness, and is greatly missed by all in the Museum. On a happier note Geoff Follett has joined the team – he’s an experienced DH Museum volunteer and with our combined efforts I’m confident that this summer will see the bulk of the wood restoration on the fuselage pod completed.
20th July 2014
Work on the exterior pf the Fuselage Pod is now almost complete, with all of the outer plywood cladding in place and preparations being made for application of the first primer coats of cellulose dope. This will give us a firm base on which to apply the fabric covering, which I hope we will do early next year or possibly even at the end of this year. Currently we're "fettling" the exterior to remove all traces of excess glue, etc, and ensure that the outer surface of the pod is as smooth as we can make it.
Inside the pod, the cockpit is now being brought back to life with many of the refurbished flight controls, electrical components and wiring looms now being re-installed. This is going to be a very long task and is obviously complicated by the lack of elbow-room inside the cockpit, as I'm sure ex-Sea Venom aircrews will recall! We are refitting the existing wiring looms wherever possible, but there is no intention to power up any of the original wiring or electrical equipment for obvious safety reasons.
The most damaged part of the whole airframe was possibly the canopy frame, and two of our team are currently dedicated to the restoration work in this area. The frame itself is being cleaned back to bare metal and treated for extensive corrosion damage, while the numerous retaining strips for the glazing are being individually blast-cleaned and primed: we will evetually have to re-manufacture most of the Perspex glazing sections, unless anyone knows where we could find replacement originals?
·Aside from the physical work of restoration, the Sea Venom pod has now been made the centrepiece of a new exhibition in the de Havilland Museum. "De Havilland At Sea" charts the involvement of the Company with the Royal Navy in the post-war years, and includes display material and models relating to the Sea Hornet, Sea Vampire, Sea Venom, and Sea Vixen. Of course the star of the show is XG730 herself, but mention must also be made of the Museum's tail section of Sea Hornet VX750 - the largest remaining original section of a Sea Hornet in the world.
Finally - and we have to brag about this - the aforementioned "De Havilland At Sea" exhibition was formally opened on Saturday 21st June by none other than Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown, who joined us for the day along with his lovely wife Jean and sat for two hours signing autographs and chatting to visitors, before making a superb witty speech (completely off the cuff!) and opening the exhibition and then joining members of the Sea Venom Team and Museum officials for lunch, where he spent another couple of hours regaling us with numerous stories of his experiences. It was a real privilege to meet the man and spend several hours in his company.
Of course no update on progress would be complete without a vote of thanks to my long-suffering colleague Geoff Follet (boss of the external pod restoration while I grub about in the cockpit), plus recent recruits Gareth and Stephen (canopy frame) and newest recruit Matt (to whom I unkindly allocated the huge electrical junction box behind the Observer's seat on his first day - but he's still with us!). My personal thanks to all concerned - and of course any members of the 894 Squadron Association are more than welcome to visit us!
Terry Stow presenting a cheque on behalf of Cmdr David Hamiltion toward the restoration of the aircraft. Cmdr Hamilton who now lives in Australia was Senior Pilot of 894 squadron and he flew these aircraft on many occasions.
Pictured are Geoff Follett, Alistair Hodgson, Terry Stow & Matt Landsborough.
27th February 2016
All is going well on the Sea Venom , we've now finished the structure of the Fuselage Pod and are currently refitting the hydraulic pipe work on the rear face of the engine firewall (bulkhead 4). The cockpit internals have all been refitted and the canopy frame is back on - we've had new Perspex panels made up for both the canopy hatch and the rear panels, the originals being either cracked or badly clouded. I have cleaned and re-sprayed one of the tail booms - I can't do the other one just yet as our paint spraying facility had to be taken out of use in the summer for safety reasons, and we're having a bespoke spray booth manufactured from a freight container. This should arrive before Christmas which will put me back in business again, assuming I can get into it before the Mosquito team!
On a sad note, my colleague on the Sea Venom restoration Geoff Follett died a year ago after a short illness. We all miss him around the Museum, but his excellent work on the Sea Venom's woodwork will be a lasting legacy. There are two of us on the team now, myself and Mat Landsborough ( I can't remember if he'd joined us when you came to visit). Mat is an experienced engineer and was an aircraft maintainer in Australia where he grew up.
The main news for the Museum as a whole is that we're building ourselves a new hangar. It's in the place of the old Robin Hangar (which has been dismantled and has gone to another museum) and will be big enough to house the Sea Venom / Sea Vixen / Comet fuselage at one end, and the smaller aircraft at the other end underneath a mezzanine floor which will provide club room, archive storage and office facilities as well as a much larger cafeteria. We've finished the foundations but the next stage is dependent on funding from the Lottery which is in turn dependent on our ability to match their funding with some of our own - so there is a big fund-raising operation in progress!