Famed Percival Mew Gull speed record air racer back at Biggleswade's Old Warden Park

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 November 2013

A record-breaking pre-World War II plane returns to the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire via France and Yorkshire

A photo of a small white plane moving across grass under a blue sky
The Percival Mew Gull is back in Bedfordshire after 12 years away© Courtesy Shuttleworth Collection
The single-engine, one-man air racer which averaged more than 200 miles per hour during a record-breaking flight from London to Capetown 74 years ago will be back over the skies of Bedfordshire after being bought by a local collection.

Alex Henshaw set off on his 6,377-mile journey to South Africa from Gravesend in 1939, flying the Percival Mew Gull for 39 hours and 25 minutes. Henshaw had form: the pilot won the coveted, 1,012-mile King’s Cup Race the previous year, having become a famed air speedster following an extensive spell testing Spitfires during the First World War.

A photo of a man flying an ancient white plane with a propellor across green grass
Captain Edgar W Percival came up with the original design© Courtesy Shuttleworth Collection
“It has been sorely missed,” says Jean Michel Munn, the chief engineer at The Shuttleworth Collection, announcing plans to fire up the airworthy plane during a number of special events between May and October.

“The Percival Mew Gull was once based at the collection and regularly flew on flying days. It is fitting that it has now been acquired by the Collection and returned to its spiritual home."

Back in the region for the first time since 2002, the plane’s average speed during Henshaw’s famed trip was 209.44 miles per hour – slightly less than the 236 miles per hour recorded on his way to cup glory.

Despite being known as the aircraft of choice for racers during the 1920s and 1930s, the plane was hidden in a hangar in France after the outbreak of war, and damaged by accidents, alterations and poor maintenance after returning to Britain during the 1950s. Its most recent base was at Breighton Aerodrome in Yorkshire.

More than 40 airworthy antique aeroplanes are based at the collection near Biggleswade, where their Old Warden Park base is open to the public throughout the year.

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