Spitfire Progress – Dispersed Production

The Coronavirus outbreak halted much of the work on Spitfire RW388 for a number of weeks. Several members have been working on new or refurbished parts away from the main workshop. There are many pieces of the Spitfire which were missing when it came to the city. Replacing these with replicas or authentic spares has been an important part of the overall restoration.

As work to make or restore these smaller components has spread out, it has reminded the team of the ‘Dispersed Production’ programmes of the Second World War, albeit for very different reasons.

During the war, it was feared that bombing raids on factories could severely affect the production of weapons and equipment for the war effort. ‘Shadow Factories’ were established to spread production out – reducing the impact that a single, damaged factory could have.

Local shadow factories included the Rootes Securities site at Blythe Bridge, producing parts for various Bristol aeroplanes, and the Birmingham Small Arms Company factory in Newcastle-under-Lyme producing Hispano cannon.

Here’s a selection of replica or refurbished parts the team have been working on:

Wheel chocks
Oxygen valve
Hydraulic hoses
Generator mounting bracket

Painting Continues

The second colour in the Spitfire’s camoflague scheme has been applied to the fuselage. This dark green and grey scheme was the preferred choice for late-war fighters as it offered better camoflague against a mixture of land and sea. Internally, the cockpit area has been painted with primer following a careful clean-up.

Dark sea green camoflague applied to the fuselage. You can also see one of the refitted armour plates at the back of the cockpit area.
Cockpit area after priming

Building models

For parts that still need to be manufactured, the team have been producing a series of cardboard templates from which accurate drawings can be made for various attachment and support items. 

‘Flight to Ground’ switch resting on a cardboard template for its mounting bracket.

In a first for MAPSL, 3D printing is being employed to make a replica front panel for the radio select controller – having a scanned an original panel kindly loaned by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger. A low quality test-print has been done to test the scan – and a second, higher quality print using ABS material will follow soon.

Radio select controller, loaned by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger for 3D scanning
Low-quality test print of the radio select controller front panel

Building the seat

Another major assembly that is taking much time and attention is the pilot’s seat.  The seat assembly that is on loan from Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger has been returned to MAPSL from R Lane Engineers.  Using the genuine seat for reference, this company has produced the complicated height adjuster and its associated ratchet and support tubes.

Seat assembly with height adjuster

The numerous brackets attached to the rear of the seat that hold the seat harness in place and the amour plate are in progress too.  It is planned to start manufacture of the actual seat soon.

Wheels and Wings

Since the last report all three wheel and tyre combinations have returned from foam filling at Vaclug and the undercarriage doors have been painted in medium sea grey.

Undercarriage door, painted in medium sea grey

For the wings, fibre glass cannon cowlings are due to be manufactured by Replica Aircraft Fabrications in Cornwall, temporarily on hold due to the lockdown. However, the two brake flaps have been painted in medium sea grey and the rear wing to fuselage fairings have been painted in medium sea grey and ocean grey.

Rear wing-to-fuselage fairing, painted in medium sea grey and ocean grey

The aluminum frame of the gun camera support that fits in the starboard wing root has been thoroughly cleaned, rebuilt, and painted silver.  The bakelite material has been cleaned and lacquered.

Gun camera support cleaned, rebuilt and painted.

That’s all for this Spitfire blog, but as ever there’ll be more to come soon! Including some updates on the construction work on RW388’s new home. I’ll leave you with this image of MAPSL’s ‘Battle Bear’, who has been rebranded in light of recent events. A lighthearted reminder of the continued importance of staying safe wherever you live and work.

Written by admin - Modified by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

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