Bristol Bolingbroke
Aviation History

WWII Plane To Be Restored To Glory After Arriving In The UK In 2006

Do you know which plane was the first to see action in the Second World War?

Bristol Bolingbroke

The Bristol Blenheim was the first aircraft to see action on the first day of World War II.

It went out on a reconnaissance mission over the North Sea to photograph the German fleet. The next day it tried to bomb them. The mission was not successful; four aeroplanes were lost.

Flying out of Nova Scotia tracking German U-boats, as well as flying out of Alaska to attack the Japanese, it was one of the few planes that hunted both Nazi and Japanese submarines.

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A Canadian copy of the Blenheim is being restored at the Bristol Aerospace Museum. A team of 7 dedicated volunteers are working on the aircraft and calling it a “labour of love".

Situated in the heartland of British aerospace engineering, the Aerospace Museum plays an integral role in preserving and restoring British aviation history literally piece by piece.

In 2006 a copy of the iconic Bristol Blenheim arrived in the UK from California in three different parts.

It is currently being put back together in the hanger where it was originally designed, destined to play an integral role in the Second World War.

According to long-time volunteer David Bradley “the whole purpose of this museum, is about the Filton sight”.

Known in Canada as the Bristol Bolingbroke, the Blenheim represents an aeroplane that was designed and built at Filton “from the bottom up”. Mr Bradley adds:

“... like the Concorde in its day, it was way advanced”.

“When the Blenheim came into service in 1937 it was the first aeroplane the RAF ever had that had brakes, it had flaps to enable you to take off in shorter distances, and it has a retractable undercarriage. All new to the RAF”

“When it first entered the RAF service as a bomber it was nearly 100 miles faster than their fastest fighters.”

By 1940 it was considered old fashioned, due to the rapid developments in wartime aircraft engineering.

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The iconic aircraft was brought from California by Bill Morgan thirteen years ago. 

Born and raised in Bristol, Bill joined the Bristol Aeroplane Company as an apprentice in 1952 and dedicated his whole life to aerospace engineering.

When he found the aircraft in an airfield in Ohio it was “in a pile of bits”.

At the end of the Second World War, the British scrapped every Blenheim.

The only Blenheims on display around the world are Canadian built Bolingbrokes painted to look like RAF Blenheims.

The Canadians disposed of their fleet by selling it off to farmers for scrap metal at 50 dollars each.

Aircraft 9048 that is currently being restored at the museum has bullet holes in it. However, it was unlikely to have seen battle since it was used by the RCFA for training purposes.

It was most likely used as target practice by farmers. When Bill acquired it, it was badly damaged.

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Since it arrived in the UK restorations on 9048 were completed in garages and garden sheds.

Now all the parts of the aircraft are all in one place under the roof of a 103-year-old hanger where it was originally designed.

The funding to restore the hanger comes from a £547,277 grant from the Biffa Awards which gives money to communities and environmental projects across the UK.

When asked when the plane will be completed retired aircraft engineer David Bradley said:

“My answer that is how long is the average piece of string?”

Now the plane is back in Filton where the idea for it was conceived, with a team consisting of seven dedicated volunteers, it will hopefully soon be restored to former glory.

Mr Morgan strongly believed in preserving aviation history. He said:

“Unless you build on what you’ve got you really haven’t got a future.”

If you're interested in aircraft history tune into Totally Connected on Forces Radio BFBS where this week Jess Bracey and Rachel Cochrane delved deep into the exhibits at the British Aerospace Museum.