Team at IWM Duxford unveil restored RAF de Havilland Vampire WZ590 training jet

By Ruth Hazard | 15 March 2012
A photograph of an orange and grey Vampire aircraft sat on a runway surrounded by a team of people who restored it
© Darren Harbar
A team of staff and volunteers at IWM Duxford has just completed a four-year project to restore a de Havilland Vampire WZ590.

Steve Woolford, Head of Interpretation and Collections, thanked the team for their dedication and commitment at an event presenting the aircraft to the public and press on March 13.

Among them was Dr Rohan Nelson, who travelled all the way from Canberra in Australia to assist with the conservation of the Vampire.

The aircraft is now due to go on permanent display to the public.
Chris Knapp, Conservation Manager, said, “This is another successful project completed to our high conservation standards.  

“We are particularly proud of the Vampire as it has involved more detailed conservation than we are usually able to undertake.  

“Many components within the aircraft are still in the original paint and condition that they were during the aircraft’s time in service.”

The de Havilland Vampire WZ590 (construction number 15165) was first delivered to the RAF in November 1953, where it was issued to RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire.

It went on to fly for the No.5 Flying Training School at RAF Oakington in 1959 before moving to RAF Swinderby in 1962.

Basil Gowring, who flew Vampires during the 1950s, reminisced: “I always found her to be a pleasure to fly, both in the twin- and single-seat versions.

A picture of an orange and grey RAF plane with a number 49 and target symbol on the side
© Darren Harbar
“Considering the limited power of the single-engine, the  ‘Vamp’ nonetheless leapt off the ground with fair alacrity and showed a reasonable rate of climb. We used to do formation training in the Vampire at 30,000 feet and above.

“It had a good rate of turn, at high and lower levels and when doing simulated combat training some good hassles with the simulated enemy could be had - provided again that you retained plenty of power on.”

About a year after the Vampire arrived at RAF Swinderby, the Jet Provost was introduced in the advanced jet trainer role and the WZ590 was withdrawn from service and placed in storage.  

Between February 1963 and January 1969, 77 Vampire T.11s were sold back to Hawker Siddeley Aviation for possible refurbishment and sale to other nations.  
However, no market was found for the de Havilland Vampire WZ590 and it was gifted to the IWM in 1973.  

It arrived at Duxford without an engine or a number of other smaller items, such as radio-fit armaments and fillet fairings.  The museum has managed to source almost all of the missing pieces and the aircraft is now all but complete.
The vampire has had deep conservation work, involving it being completely dismantled and conserved.
The team wanted to keep as many of the original features as possible and so, if the component in work was not damaged or corroded, then it was simply cleaned and protected with a microcrystalline wax.  
This was possible for much of the interior, but unfortunately the aircraft was repainted at IWM Duxford in the late 1970s in a rather inaccurate rendition of the Swinderby.No.8 Flying Training School scheme.
The team has now instead repainted the de Havilland Vampire T.11 WZ590 in the colours it wore when in service at No.5 Flying Training School, RAF Oakington.

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