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A B.C. group is painstakingly rebuilding a WWII aircraft so it can take to the skies again

A group on Vancouver Island that is rebuilding a rare Second World War-era fighter-bomber recently acquired a key component that they hope will help the aircraft take flight. 

The Hawker Typhoon was flown by three Canadian squadrons during the Second World War. The aircraft played a major role in the Battle of Normandy, says Ian Slater, project lead of the Typhoon Legacy Co. based in the Comox Valley. 

Slater says they’re restoring Hawker Typhoon Serial No. JP843 to remind people of the sacrifices made by Canadians who served during the war. But they don’t want it to be just a museum piece. 

“The goal with this aircraft is to see it fly, to hear the Sabre engine again, and to educate people about the sacrifices these crews made,” he said. 

WATCH | Vancouver Island group aims to get rare plane in the air: 

a b c group is painstakingly rebuilding a wwii aircraft so it can take to the skies again

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Rare World War 2 aircraft gets rebuilt in B.C.

11 hours ago

Duration 2:03

A Comox Valley group is rebuilding a rare Hawker Typhoon Second World War aircraft. The painstaking work began years ago to locate and find original pieces. Our video producer, Mike McArthur, went to check out the progress.

‘A mean, vicious machine’

The Hawker Typhoon was a ground support aircraft that was plagued by design problems — but Typhoon pilots proved instrumental in turning the tide at several major battles in favour of the Allied forces.

Jack Hilton, a fighter pilot in the Second World War, told CBC back in 2016 of the dangers he faced in the cockpit of a Typhoon. 

“You were flying 100 feet, 200 feet, sometimes as low as 50 feet off the ground,” he said. “We had to land the damn thing over 120 miles an hour at times. The Typhoon was a mean, vicious machine.

“We lost pilot after pilot … you’d look over and your wingman was on fire, and all you could say was ‘Jump Charlie, jump.’ You got to the point where you didn’t make friends, you made acquaintances.”

The Typhoon Legacy Co. tests a Roll-Royce Merlin engine.
The team at the Typhoon Legacy Co. spent three years rebuilding a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine to swap for an engine to power the Hawker Typhoon. (Submitted by The Typhoon Legacy Co.)

More than 3,300 Typhoons were built during the war, Slater says, but only one remains and it’s not airworthy. A Typhoon hasn’t taken to the air since the late ’40s or early ’50s, he says. 

Trading engines

In 2019, the team at Typhoon Legacy Co. was well on its way to rebuilding the structure of the aircraft, but they were still searching for a 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine. Fewer than 40 were known to exist, most of them recovered from crashes.

Slater says they approached a private collector and asked him what it would take for him to part with a Sabre engine. 

A name plate with patent numbers from a Napier Sabre engine
A name plate with patent numbers from a Napier Sabre engine. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

He jokingly said he would trade it for a functioning Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. 

Slater and his team tracked down a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, spent three years refurbishing it, and recently completed the swap. 

After years spent on the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, they’ve set their sights on an even more daunting project: getting the Napier Sabre up and running.

They plan to reverse engineer and produce the parts needed to make the aircraft fly again.

“What we want to do, for lack of a better term, is to heal this,” he said of the engine.

Hawker Typhoon project leader Ian Slater.
Ian Slater has dedicated his life to the rebuild. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Slate says he is motivated by the thought of one day seeing the Typhoon take to the skies.

“The day this aircraft flies is going to be unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve spent essentially my entire life working to that end.

“To see and hear a Sabre-powered Typhoon fly again is going to be the highlight of my life.”

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