Guardians of the Gate

On 14th August RAF High Wycombe received a brand new Hawker Hurricane Gate Guardian to replace the 30-yearold weathered damaged one that has stood proudly at the entrance of Air Command for the past 8 years.

“However this isn’t the end for the 30-yearold Hurricane as it will be given a new lease of life!”

The new aircraft was installed, assembled and commissioned by Gateguards  UK Ltd. The same company who built the Mark 11A Spitfire, Gateguards UK  Ltd are manufacturers and suppliers of high-quality, full size replica aircraft for museums, collectors and film industries around the world. They are based at  RAF St Mawgan and can only be commended on a fantastic job.

The new state of the art model is constructed from Glass Reinforced Plastic around a galvanized steel internal structure and will easily outlive the 30 year life of the previous airframe. The sheer distance from RAF St Mawgan to RAF High Wycombe made it a logistical nightmare; a 600 mile round trip for the team of engineers towing a 16ft fuselage and two 8-foot wings. As well as the distance, the fuselage is classed as a wide load and had to be brought up separately to the wings, with half of the team bringing the wings the day before and taking the opportunity to clean and repaint parts of the Spitfire.

As the Airframe came up in separate parts it needed to be constructed in situ which was no easy feat. After construction the Hurricane was lifted by a specialist team from M and M crane hire and GateGuards UK, and lowered onto the steel pins to hold it in place. All in all it was in a process that took 10 hours from start to finish, and that doesn’t even include the travelling time!

The Hurricane
The Hurricane gate guardian is actually a full size model and not as previously recorded a two thirds scale model. It is painted in the colours of No. 242 Squadron which was famously flown by Douglas Bader. The Hurricane aircraft that the model is based upon entered service in 1940, and completed fighter air operations in Northern France.

Douglas Bader’s Hurricane
During the Battle of Britain, Bader used three Hawker Hurricanes. The first was P3061, in which he scored six air victories. The second aircraft was unknown, but Bader did score one victory and two damages in it on 9 September. The third was V7467, in which he destroyed four more and added one probable and two damaged by the end of September. The machine was lost on 1 September 1941 while on a training exercise.

On 12 December 1940, Bader was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services during the Battle of Britain. His unit No. 242 Squadron had claimed 62 aerial victories. Bader was gazetted on 7 January 1941. By this time, he was an acting Squadron Leader.

Journey of the Old Hurricane
The previous Hurricane started its life at RAF Coltishall and represented the base’s vital role in the Battle of Britain. The fibreglass model, which was on display since 1989, was positioned just behind the gatehouse to the base as a reminder of its glorious second world war past.

When Coltishall closed in 2006 the replica Hawker Hurricane was transferred to RAF High Wycombe to do ‘gate duties’ at the then Strike Command headquarters.

However this isn’t the end for the 30-year-old Hurricane as it will be given a new lease of life! Post restoration it will stand proudly once more as RAF Cosford’s new Gate Guardian.

The Spitfire
The restored and repainted replica Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIA, built by Gateguards UK is painted in the markings of No. 41(F) Squadron RAF. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice it is painted in the colours of the Observer Corps and bears the insignia of the aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Donald Osborne Finlay (later Group Captain, DFC AFC) when he commanded No 41(F) Squadron at  RAF Hornchurch during the Battleof Britain.

The Spitfire cost the Royal Air Force the princely sum of £1 as its purchase was sponsored by British Aerospace.

Donald Finlay
During World War II Donald Osborne Finlay initially flew Spitfires with No. 54 Squadron during the Battle of Britain before being wounded and later commanding No. 41 Squadron. He was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander in August 1941, becoming 11 Group Engineering Officer. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in June 1942. His victory tally flying fighters was 4 and 2 shared destroyed, 3 and 1 shared damaged. He then commanded 608 Squadron, flying Lockheed Hudsons in the Middle East in 1943. In 1945 he commanded 906 Wing in Burma, being awarded an Air Force Cross. He became a Group Captain in 1950.

Before and during his career he ran for Great Britain in three Olympics, both pre and post-World War II. He first competed in the 1932 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in the 110 metre hurdles where he won the bronze medal. Four years later he returned as British Team Captain at the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, improving to win the silver medal. In 1948, aged 39, he was selected to take the oath at the London Olympics, but missed out on the final, catching a hurdle in an earlier round.

Donald Finlay’s Spitfire (P7666)
The commandant of the Observer Corps Air Commodore Warrington Morris announced that the Corps would Purchase a Spitfire to be piloted by Squadron Leader Finlay. Built by Vickers-Armstrong (Castle Bromwich) Ltd, she was donated to the RAF and then passed to 8 Maintenance Unit on 15th November 1940.

She immediately entered active service with 41(F) Sqn with the code of EB-Z as “the legend of the Observer Corps”. The aircraft was flown by Squadron Leader Finlay and on the first sortie shot down an ME 109 but suffered considerable damage.

So Why Have Gate Guardians?
Gate guardians are a reminder of the RAF’s heritage and a symbol of the corporate image of the Royal Air Force. I would urge you all to visit the aircraft next time you pass by RAF High Wycombe and spend a few moments to remember ‘the Few’.