Bad weather disrupts efforts to retrieve a historic war plane from the English Channel

Dornier Do 17 bomber recovery operation on hold

Attempts of the RAF museum specialists to bring the only surviving German Second World War Dornier Do 17 bomber from its watery grave in the English Channel off the Kent coast have been postponed.

The aircraft was shot down more than 70 years ago during the Battle of Britain. The project aiming at retrieving it from the seabed is believed to be the biggest recovery of its kind in British waters. According to the museum’s spokesman Ajay Srivastava it was unlikely that any progress would be made during this week as bad weather was expected. The museum hopes the operation will continue as early as possible.

Originally, the team planned to construct a special cage around the aircraft in which the plane would be recovered from water. This strategy was later abandoned as the team believes they can raise the Dornier by attaching lifting equipment to its strongest parts. It will then be placed on a barge and sent to the museum's conservation centre at Cosford, Shropshire.

Peter Dye, director general of the museum, said: "We have adapted the lifting frame design to minimise the loads on the airframe during the lift while allowing the recovery to occur within the limited time remaining."

Throughout this process, the RAF Museum has worked extremely closely with the dive company SeaTech and both organisations remain determined to complete this challenging task and see the Dornier safely recovered as planned and delivered to the museum's conservation centre for preservation and public exhibition.

Divers discovered the crashed bomber in 2008 lying on the seabed at Goodwin Sands in the depth of 15 meters. Consequently, the RAF Museum, Wessex Archeology and the Port of London Authority performed a series of sonar scans and confirmed it was the Dornier Do 17Z Werke number 1160, nicknamed the Luftwaffe's ‘flying pencil’ bomber because of its narrow fuselage.  The aircraft is said to be in remarkable condition. According to experts familiar with the recovery operation, apart from the effects of sea life, such as barnacles, coral and marine life, the plane is largely intact.

Unexpectedly, the main undercarriage tyres remained inflated but the propellers clearly show the damage inflicted during the bomber's fateful final landing, experts have said.

''The discovery and recovery of the Dornier is of national and international importance. The aircraft is a unique and unprecedented survivor from the Battle of Britain and the Blitz'', Dye said. ''It will provide an evocative and moving exhibit that will allow the museum to present the wider story of the Battle of Britain and highlight the sacrifices made by the young men of both air forces and from many nations. ''

Perhaps equally demanding as the recovery procedure itself will be the delicate process of conservation. The Dornier will be placed in two hydration tunnels and soaked in citric acid for the first stage of its conservation. After that, the aircraft will be displayed at the museum's London site within the context of the Battle of Britain story.

The work is financed by the National Heritage Memorial Fund from a £345,000 grant, which was set up to save the country's most precious heritage. The Dornier Do 17 will join a range of more than 1,200 objects and places which have been safeguarded by the NHMF at a cost of more than GBP300 million.

These include HMS Caroline, the last surviving First World War ship, a rare collection of work by Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing and HMS Alliance, the last surviving submarine of the Second World War.

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