Countdown to raising the Dornier commences
It doesn't seem as if five years have passed since we first heard of an aircraft wreck on the Goodwin Sands, just off the Kent coast. Since learning for certain that it was a German Dornier Do-17 bomber, the only remaining example of thousands built for the Luftwaffe, the RAF Museum has worked tirelessly to save the aircraft from destruction and preserve it for future generations. We now stand on the brink of bringing the sole surviving German bomber from the Blitz back to the very city that Hitler had once hoped to bring to its knees.
The irony is that of all the hundreds of bombers shot down during the Battle of Britain, none survived the war - all went to the smelters, many to be turned into RAF aircraft that attacked Germany in increasing numbers as the war progressed.
In preserving and exhibiting the Dornier we have an opportunity not only to celebrate the cutting-edge science and innovative engineering that underpin the project, but also to explain the wider story of the Battle of Britain. The aircraft will allow us to commemorate the young airmen from both sides - including volunteers from over a dozen countries who came to Britain's defence – and to highlight those maintaining and repairing Fighter Command’s aircraft; working in the factories; and supporting the emergency services - as well as those, young and old, who watched the battle unfold in the skies above London and across much of the country during the summer of 1940.
By now, some of you would have seen the news stories reported on the BBC about the actual lift and the construction of the cage. These preparations are part of the final stage of a project that has been in planning for the last 18 months – a project that is laden with uncertainties and danger at every step of the way.
To assist us with these challenges the Museum has developed relationships with various partners, some of whom will be telling you their stories in this blog over the next few weeks.
In particular, I would like to thank the Port of London Authority for their assistance with the co-ordination of the lift, the National Heritage Memorial Fund whose substantial financial contribution to the lift enabled this element of the project to occur and the team under Dr Mary Ryan at Imperial College London who have been central to the development of our conservation process.
Without their help, and the assistance of all our partners, including EADS, the Museum would not be able to succeed in its ultimate aim of displaying the conserved Dornier Do-17 at our London site, although there is much to be done before this can become a reality.
First the aircraft must be carefully raised from the destructive tides of the English Channel. Then it must be packed in a specialist chemical gel and plastic sheeting to protect it from the air before it begins its long journey by road to the Museum’s Cosford site.
Here, it will be carefully positioned in specially constructed hydration tunnels where the aircraft will be on display to the public as the accretion of chemicals and salts created by 70 years underwater will be gently washed away over the next two to three years. Only then can our technicians at the Sir Michael Beetham Conservation Centre start the process of stabilising the corrosion within the airframe.
The cost of the project is significant but its value lies not only in preserving an unique artefact of national and international importance but also in what it has taught us and what we have yet to learn. Each step in the project has been part of a learning process that has pushed forward scientific knowledge while developing advanced engineering and conservation techniques. We have already shared this information with other museums and restoration centres.
Our Access and Learning Team at Cosford will use the presence of the Dornier to excite the imagination of our school visitors – inspiring a new generation of engineers, chemists, designers and conservators. To this end, the Museum will be building a new education and exhibition centre next to the hydration tunnels at our Cosford site.
Members of the Museum’s Michael Beetham Conservation Centre will use the expertise they have acquired during this process to assist others wishing to recover large underwater objects.
And the lessons that we have learnt will form part of a micro-site created in partnership with redLoop, the research and innovation centre of Middlesex University. We are working with redLoop to create an interactive exhibition programme that will develop as the Dornier is conserved. The micro-site will disseminate information to those engineering, chemistry and conservation students across the globe, unable to visit the Dornier in situ during the conservation process.
Recent visitors to our London and Cosford sites will have noticed that in our car parks we have drawn the outline of a Dornier Do-17. Soon you will be able to hold your smart phone over this area to see the aircraft come to life, hovering in mid-air thanks to augmented reality.
We will also have a new interactive display at our London site where you will see the Dornier rise again from the floor of the Sunderland Hall, while at Cosford the Dornier will fly out of a wall towards you. Around both exhibitions, pixels of information will explain the various stages of the recovery and conservation programme. These exhibitions and the construction of our Dornier 17 education centre would not be possible without the generous sponsorship of Wargaming.net.
There is much to be done over the coming weeks and we will keep you updated through this blog, the Museum’s website, e-newsletters and social media platforms as and when each element occurs. So if you would like to be kept up to date over the Dornier Project, and haven’t yet done so, please feel free to join our Twitter Stream, Facebook Pages or sign up to our e-newsletter.
Your support is vital to the success of this project and we would welcome your comments and observations about the raising and conserving of the Dornier to create a shared digital archive about this exciting time in the Museum’s development.
You may also give practical support to the Dornier Project by visiting the aircraft at our Cosford site - we will announce when it is on display to the public - or by making an online donation here.
In the meantime, I hope that this project excites you as much as it excites me and I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this entry.