During a recent trip to the UK I was very grateful to be given an inspection of the Bristol Blenheim Mk.I L6739 (G-BPIV) being completed to flying status by the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) by John “Smudge” Smith.
This project had its genesis in the 1970’s when Ormond Hayden Baillie acquired two Canadian built Bolingbroke Mk.IVT, RCAF serial No’s 10038 and 9893. On the death of Ormond Hayden Baillie in a P51 crash the project was taken over by Graham Warner who set up the British Aerial Museum of Flying Military Aircraft and 10038 was chosen to become a massive rebuild over a period of 12 years by a mainly volunteer crew and flew as G-MKIV in 1987. Sadly it was involved in a major incident 4 weeks later and was damaged beyond repair, the crash being caused by pilot error. Arco, who by then had been set up by Graham and John Romain, then set about rebuilding a second Canadian aircraft, Bolingbroke IV (RCAF 10201), which then flew in 1993 as G-BPIV. This restoration was much more successful and remained on the airshow circuit for 10 more years. Tragically though, it was also involved in a serious incident in 2003 and was extensively damaged, again pilot error being the cause. Thankfully both accidents resulted in no serious injuries to the crew.
Bristol Blenheim – 2003
There was little doubt that the Blenheim would again be rebuilt. However this time it would be another 11 years to complete this work. Interestingly this time it was decided to rebuild the aircraft not as a Mk IV bomber but as a Mk I Fighter version. This work was greatly assisted by the discovery of an Mk I nose section. The Mk I is essentially the same as the Mk IV except for the nose section and as such is interchangeable. Restoration of the nose had started but was considered to be a long term project with the possible use on a flying aircraft but the accident accelerated this decision and its restoration was carried out whilst work the main aircraft was carried out. Its restoration was relatively straightforward, a feasibility inspection had been carried out to ensure its viability, the main difference being the control layout between the Canadian Bolingbroke and the British variant, the main flying controls are the same but throttles and hydraulic are all in different positions and had to be reconfigured to the British layout. The nose section had been adapted postwar by an Ex Bristol employee into a car using an Austin 7 running gear and chassis! The Mk I nose section comes from Blenheim L6739, a Battle of Britain Night Fighter aircraft and thus the restoration represents a very significant and historic aircraft in its own right. At some time in the future the nose from the Mk IV could easily be refitted if required.
Bristol Blenheim Mk.I L6739 (G-BPIV) – 2014
I was very impressed with the high quality of the work done on the Blenheim and it is a real work of art. At the time of my visit engine runs had been carried out and the aircraft was largely complete. It was expected that it would fly again within a couple of months – an event widely anticipated across the globe. As with all restorations the actual first flight will take place “when it’s ready” as many technical details are attended to.
Throughout the restoration the aircraft has received great assistance from the Blenheim Society who have raised considerable monies to help fund the aircraft and the Arco volunteers who have tirelessly worked on the project putting in just under 50,000 man hours to ensure this magnificent aircraft takes to the air once again. Without the efforts of all the volunteers the aircraft would not be where it is today, two of the volunteer’s being Arco employees. Initially two full time Arco engineers where employed alongside the volunteers to get the project moving but as funds became scarce the project reverted to a volunteer project until nearer completion when again full time engineers were employed to rebuild the engines.
John Romain and Arco have overseen this project from the word “Go” and have guided it through all its stages and of course would not exist without that guidance and expertise.
As I toured the aircraft “Smudge” was very knowledgeable, revealing many of the details of this historic aircraft. One particularly interesting component was the fully restored Gun pack in the bomb bay – a feature of the Fighter version of the Blenheim. This pack gave the aircraft it’s “Punch” as it carried 4 X .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning Machine guns and led to a very successful Night Fighter with Radar equipment. This Gun pack is a recreation utilizing a fragile remnant one found abandoned which was not suitable for airworthy restoration but as such it is at least very accurate.
The Bristol Mercury XV radial piston engines are also works of art in their own right and had proven quite reliable in the previous restoration; whilst fairly rare there are sufficient stocks of spares in place to maintain the aircraft reliably.
I was also surprised, having frequently sat in the Australian Caboolture based DAP/Bristol Beaufort to see how familiar the interior of the aircraft is. Many of the fixtures and fittings are recognizable as is a commonality of layout.
Bristol Blenheim “L6739” will fly in her actual Battle of Britain color scheme and it is indeed an attractive scheme. The addition of the black undersurfaces, the Gun Pack and the pugnacious short nose all endow the Blenheim with a much more aggressive and purposeful look – far more than the Mk IV bomber.
Warbirds Online are very grateful to “Smudge” and all those concerned with this magnificent restoration for allowing me the opportunity to view this historic aircraft. It is indeed a credit to the whole crew of volunteers and engineers from Arco, and the Blenheim Society. I look forward with great anticipation to seeing her in the air on my next visit to the UK, hopefully surrounded by Battle of Britain Mk I Spitfires and Hurricanes!
Thank you to Smudge for his assistance in preparing this article. Well done to all involved!
Great news as we went to press an email was received from “Smudge” to advise that the Blenheim has successfully flown and performed well with only minor niggles to be attended to, as is to be expected. The aircraft flew in the late afternoon at Duxford Wednesday 19th November 2014 and it is hoped to test fly it more before the nasty winter weather sets in over the UK.
Warbirds Online congratulate the team at Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) who have put in all the hard work over all these years to achieve what is a stunning result and a truly unique Warbird.
© John Parker 2014