Preparing the Gloster Gladiator for public display [COSFORD]

Gloster GladiatorPreparing the Gloster Gladiator K8042 for public display

Engineering volunteers are usually seen about the site and are easily identified by their blue overalls – but what do they do? It is hoped that this article may shed some light on this question using as an example Gloster Gladiator K8042 recently transferred from London to be put on display in Hangar 3.

The engineering volunteers at Cosford are dedicated to help maintain the exhibits in the good display standard that is to be expected of a world class museum. This covers a wide range of tasks, from routine cleaning and maintenance, to being involved in deeper conservation and restoration projects. These may be carried out as individual stand alone exercises or as part of larger projects assisting the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre (MBCC) technicians. The work is coordinated through the MBCC manager, with input from the curatorial staff as required. All work undertaken is monitored regularly and documented on a digital engineering log. We have a very broad skill / knowledge base and normally work in teams covering specific areas or locations. Each team has a team leader, between two and six members and regularly work one or two days a week.

The recent preparation of Gladiator K8042 for public display is a good example of what the engineering volunteers do on a day to day basis. The Gladiator was transferred to Cosford in the Spring of 2017 in order to make way for the transformation of the London Museum in preparation for the RAF Centenary in 2018. Cosford engineering volunteers were then tasked with preparing the aircraft for display in Cosford Hangar 3 (War in the Air).

The first task on any Museum aircraft is a condition survey to provide a datum and determine what needs to be done. The main priority is to evaluate the integrity of the airframe and to inspect the main structural components for corrosion, cracking or physical damage. This involves removing all the inspection panels to allow access to the interior spaces. Where this is not possible a fibre optic inspection camera is used to inspect some less accessible areas. In the case of K8042, the internal structure itself was in good condition with only minor corrosion around the windscreen frame needing treatment and missing fuel tank mounting fixings needing replacement.

Some small areas of localised fabric damage were noted, but the biggest concern was that the aircraft was covered in a brown tinged film that had become ingrained into the surface of the fabric. Various cleaning agents and procedures were tested on inconspicuous areas before a method of cleaning was devised to remove the staining without damaging the underlying finishes. This proved to be a tedious and time-consuming job. Working on one panel at a time it took three volunteering teams six working days to complete.

Treated outer wing section showing the contrast with the untreated centre section

Wing

Another major area of interest was the cockpit interior and internal ancilliary equipment. According to the Museum’s individual history file for K8042, the aircraft had been returned to the factory in 1941 for “upgrading to current standards” but no information on what this work involved exists. Probably the engine and propellor were changed for the later Mercury Mk VIII and Fairey Reed 3 bladed metal prop it has today. The instrument panel was also likely to have been modified to accept an RAF “standard 6” instrument panel of the time. The history file also states that the airframe was“refurbished” by RAFM technicians at RAF Henlow in 1967 and “a restoration log of this work exists”. A request to the archives at London for a copy of the log proved unsuccessful so we have no evidence of what work was actually done.

The most obvious omission from the cockpit was the original gunsight, but the mounting ring and sunscreen were still there. The Barr & Stroud manufactured Reflector Sight Mk II was adopted as the standard RAF sight in 1937 and delivered to Gladiator squadrons in 1938. A sight of the correct type with an early oval reflector was located in the reserve collection in Stafford (object no. 74/I/656) and reassigned to K8042.

Gun sight fitted into mounting

Gunsight

A detailed survey of the instrument panel revealed that some of the instruments fitted were later types (circa 1950/60s). Other instruments were obviously misplaced and some were missing. However the misplaced instruments were relocated in their correct positions. The panel anti vibration mounts which had deteriorated badly, allowing the panel to drop out of position, were repaired. A lot of research and effort was made to replace the missing modern instruments and components with those of the correct type and vintage. The first port of call was to the reserve collection at Stafford. With the assistance of both Cosford and Stafford curators, six of the instruments plus cockpit lights and switches were located and reassigned to K8042. Four instruments; air speed indicator, climb & descent indicator, altimeter and oxygen regulator panel were not available at Stafford but were located and purchased from private suppliers by the Aerospace Museum Society (AMS) and donated to the Museum for installation in the Gladiator.

Refitted instruments and components

Instruments

Missing ancillary equipment replaced were the pilot’s oxygen bottle (also from Stafford) with isolation valve (correct type vintage valve sourced and purchased by the AMS and donated to the Museum). An Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) timer box was located at Stafford and reassigned to K8042.

A major puzzle was how the ammunition belts would have been fed from their boxes into the fuselage mounted machine guns. It was eventually discovered that the guns were handed and had been installed on the wrong sides of the aircraft. They were repositioned and short lengths of ammunition belts containing blanks were fitted for added realism.

Other work included reinstalling the windscreen cleaning system petrol tank (yes, they actually sprayed petrol on the screen to clean off oil blown back from the engine!) and repairing the undercarriage fairings.

The above is just a fraction of the work carried out – there were a myriad of other little details also completed by the volunteers to bring the aircraft up to a good display standard as shown below.

Glad

The Gladiator was a view-only exhibit for the September Open Cockpits evenings and was displayed with all the fuselage panels removed to showcase the interior details of this fascinating aircraft – the last biplane fighter operated by the RAF. It was the subject of much interest and praise from visitors. This was very gratifying for the volunteers who had worked so hard to bring it to its current condition.

Graham Guest