Scientists in race against time to help RAF Museum save WWII German Dornier bomber

By Culture24 Reporter | 03 November 2011
a 3-D scan of a plane on a seabed
A sonar image of the Dornier shows it to be wheels-up with its bomb bay doors open© Wessex Archaeology
Scientists from Imperial College London have been drafted in to help the Royal Air Force Museum save a World War II German Dornier bomber discovered in 2010 in the English channel.

The experts are donating their time and scientific expertise to help the museum save the Dornier Do-17 which lies underwater off the Kent coast at Goodwin Sands.

Known as The Flying Pencil (Fliegender Bleistift), the light bomber is the last remaining World War II German light bomber of its kind, but the sediment which once preserved it has now been washed away and scientists are working on fragments from the plane to see how to best preserve it after its recovery – currently planned for Spring 2012.  

Once recovered it will be transferred to the RAF Museum's Conservation Facility at Cosford, where it will be prepared for display in the planned new Battle of Britain Beacon wing at the museum's London site.

a black and white photograph of a twin engined Dornier DO17 bomber in flight
The Dornier DO 17 was a mainstay of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain© Courtesy The RAF Museum
One of the challenges before then is to devise a method for removing the corroded layers from the aluminium fuselage, which contains large amounts of the corrosive agent chloride from the seawater.

Citric acid found in citrus fruit is being tested to develop a solution powerful enough to clean the bomber and remove corrosion and crustaceans without damaging any remaining paintwork and markings.

Dr Mary Ryan, from Imperial College's Department of Materials said: "The significance of this project to our history cannot be underestimated.

"We have been analysing fragments already brought to the surface and it is absolutely fascinating to see how this bomber, which crash landed more than 70 years ago, has been so well preserved by the layers of sand.

"We are relishing the challenge of finding a way to help save this historical treasure, so that it can be raised and put on display for future generations."

The RAF Museum is also working with Wessex Archaeology, English Heritage and the Dornier Museum in Germany on the project to recover and display the bomber, which crashed on August 26 1940 during the height of the Battle of Britain.

Manned by a crew of four and loaded with 2,000lb of bombs, it was part of a large German formation en route to attack airfields in Essex. Intercepted by RAF Bolton Paul Defiants, the aircraft sustained heavy damage and crashed, belly up, into the shallows off Goodwin Sands.

The pilot, Sergeant Effmert, and another crew member, Corporal Ritzel, survived the crash, later becoming prisoners of war. However, two other crew members, Sergeant Reinhardt and Aircaftman Huhn, were killed. Their bodies were later recovered and buried in military cemeteries.

RAF Museum curators are researching the story of the crew with a view to presenting them when the plane eventually goes on display.

  • Find out more about the conservation and recovery project as well as the story of the Dornier 17 on the RAF Museum website
Watch the film of the DO17 underwater survey from Wessex Archaeology:

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