AN AMBITIOUS project to recreate one of the great workhorses of the Second World War could be in jeopardy unless new premises are found to complete the work.
Members of the Stirling Project in St Neots, which relies entirely on donations in its aim to create the world’s only Stirling bomber aircraft, have spent more than 15 years engineering parts of the plane in their town centre workshop. But the aircraft – currently not assembled – is said to dwarf a Lancaster Bomber and needs moving somewhere large enough to house its 24ft x 8ft x 12ft frame.
The Stirling was the first four-engine bomber to be used by the RAF but was mothballed in 1946 due to design-limitations. A weak undercarriage and wings that were too short for its large size led to poor performance and a high loss rate. The enormous machine needed a crew of seven and was replaced by the lighter, more effective Lancaster Bomber.
Of the 2,383 Stirling bombers that were built, there are no surviving examples. The project was launched in 1995 by former Stirling navigator Flight Lieutenant Brian Harris. His long-term aim was to construct a scale replica of the original front fuselage while also preserving rare drawings and aircraft components.
The project gained charity status in 1997 and attracted a core of volunteers who set to work on the mammoth task of building the plane which, once finished, will be displayed at the RAF Museum in Hendon or Newark Aircraft Museum.
“The aircraft is referred to as the ‘forgotten bomber’ because there’s no tangible remains,” project secretary John Lathwell told The Hunts Post. “There are no drawings in existence because the manufacturer, Shorts of Belfast (now Bombardier), destroyed most of them post-war, so we have to make our drawings based on photographs.”
Engineers are now working on the cockpit of the plane, including the instrument panel, pictured above left, made up of components recovered from crash sites, and sites where the planes were shot down. Old sections have also been found on eBay and at specialist sales. Drawings are then created using computer-aided design (CAD) which transforms the images into three-dimensional parts for manufacture – work that is also carried out by the volunteers.
Mr Lathwell, of Eaton Ford, added: “At the moment we’re focusing on the cockpit which is the hardest part, but we’ll eventually build the fuselage which means we’ll need a new workshop. In terms of size, the Stirling dwarfs the Lancaster bomber – it’s the size of a railway carriage so we need to move soon. “In addition to the cockpit, which is particularly complex, we’ve built a gun turret which is on display at the Pathfinder Museum at RAF Wyton. The work is gradually taking up more space so we’re looking for somewhere bigger within about 20 miles of St Neots.”