27 April 2023
Thales to deliver F24 reconnaissance camera installations in historic WWII Spitfire restoration project.
Thales in the UK has announced that apprentices and employees based in its Optronics business in Glasgow, have joined the AA810 Spitfire Restoration project, to overhaul and repair the original F24 reconnaissance camera installations ahead of the plane’s anticipated post restoration flight in 2024.
The project is centred around the Spitfire PR.IV AA810 reconnaissance plane, shot down on 5 March, 1942, after carrying out key reconnaissance on the Tirpitz, one of the most important battleships for the German navy.
The Spitfire plane wreckage was recovered in 2018, having spent 76 years in a peat bog on a Norwegian mountain. Despite being shot 200 times, it is the most substantial surviving wreck of the three Spitfire PR.IV reconnaissance aircraft known to exist in the world.
This model is the earliest surviving unarmed reconnaissance aircraft in existence and has the highest operational hours of any surviving Mk1 Spitfire. It is also the only aircraft linked to anybody who escaped in the world-famous breakout from Stalag Luft III.
The restoration of the reconnaissance cameras, led by Thales in Glasgow, is a hugely significant aspect of the project. The earliest British reconnaissance aircraft used F24 cameras, designed by the Williamson Manufacturing Company – but the need for more powerful cameras saw the company team up with W. Vinten Ltd, who continued to produce the majority of aerial reconnaissance cameras for the RAF throughout WWII.
With W. Vinten Ltd having become part of Thales Optronics in 1988, these cameras and their technology represent an important historic legacy for Thales, from which the company’s apprentices will learn more about the history of aerial camera development.
W. Vinten Ltd is not the only Thales link to the project either. 80 years ago, Alastair “Sandy” Gunn – the last pilot of AA810 – also served his own engineering apprenticeship at the Govan shipyards where the cameras for the aircraft will now be restored.
Here, Thales apprentices will work alongside senior staff to restore and overhaul two 14in F24 and one 8in F24, along with their associated mounts and control equipment.
Stephen McCann, Managing Director of Thales’s Optronics business in Glasgow Thales, said, “For over 100 years, we have been producing complex electro-optical systems for use on land, at sea, and in the air. Since 1917 we have been the sole supplier of submarine periscopes and optronic masts to the Royal Navy, so to restore these cameras from such an important period in history for use in such an iconic aircraft is very special to us all.”
The cameras were delivered to the Glasgow site in September 2022, and have already undergone assessment by the skilled engineers at. Relevant material has been drawn from the archives, and it is anticipated that these restored and operational cameras will be completed later in 2023.
Anthony Hoskins, Director of the Spitfire AA810 Restoration Ltd, said, “We’re incredibly grateful for contribution of Thales in the UK to this project who are funding the restoration of the cameras themselves. The efforts of their staff and apprentices will go a long way to ensuring the success of the restoration in time for the AA810 Spitfire to fly again in 2024. We can’t thank them enough.”
Once complete, the restored aircraft will be based with the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden airfield, where it will be available for the public to see both on the ground in the museum and in the air when it flies to events around the UK.
It is anticipated that the aircraft will make a return flight to Norway, as well as flying across the USA in a tour during 2025 or 2026. Further, it has been invited to Wanaka, the largest air show in southern hemisphere, and Oshkosh, the largest air show in the world.
For more information about the restoration project, and history of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit during World War II, please visit: https://www.spitfireaa810.co.uk.
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