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Steve in Ottawa

Spitfire wing repairs in wartime

26 posts in this topic

I'm down to painting a well-known 1943 401 Sqn Spitfire Vb, W3834, and I'm trying to sort out the odd camouflage pattern seen on this aircraft. As I was comparing known photos of this aircraft the wing camo pattern was confusing me, as the photos don't seem to match with what is considered 'normal' for an 'A-scheme', but the port wing camo makes more sense if it was 'B-pattern'. From what I can see of the of fuselage it very roughly matches up with 'A-scheme', with several significant pattern deviations from the standard. From what I can see in two photos of W3834 the port wing pattern appears to more closely conform to a B-pattern, but with some repainting to make the pattern better match up to the fuselage.

 

So, the question is, for wartime repairs, were undamaged/repairable wings from one aircraft attached to another airframe that needed said wing? The other question considers the possibility of a Spitfire B-scheme paint pattern still in use in 1943?

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From what I have read on the subject, when a damaged or worn out airframe was overhauled, it was disassembled and the parts removed were either repaired, remanufactured, or replaced; when the aircraft was reassembled it frequently was not reunited with its original parts or subassemblies, which could lead to the situation you mentioned.  There are numerous examples of mixed and matched parts on Spitfires and other types that have been recorded and published because of this practice. The National Air and Space Museum's Fw-190 is also a good example of this, IIRC, as it started life as one variant and when it was remanufactured due to battle or crash damage, received  major parts from another variant, as the Germans rebuilt and remanufactured  aircraft on a large scale

Mike

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That's still the case today with commercial aircraft. Overhauled / servicable parts go in to stores and are fitted to the next applicable aircraft in the fleet that needs the part/assembly.

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The identity of an aircraft is with the serial on the fuselage - everything else is spares.  If the fuselage is damaged beyond repair the aircraft is written off, with (as above) wings, tail, engine etc looked at for damage, repaired if necessary, and returned to stock.  If the fuselage is undamaged or repairable, then any other part can be and would be replaced if necessary.  Repainting was probably necessary to some extent anyway, so a mismatch of camouflage wouldn't have been considered a factor.  I recall being told that some of the Spitfires repaired by Heston were hybrids of different marks (although this must have been limited to a considerable extent).

 

I have seen a development Harrier with one serial on the fuselage and another on the wings, although I don't know whether the offending wing had the serials later repainted or exchanged with the original.  I don't believe that either aircraft was actually written off at the time.

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They also manufactured spares, including wings.  One painted to 'B' pattern is perhaps a teensy bit surprising, but I don't remember when they dropped the two patterns in favor of one.

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Not a Spitfire, but I have a picture of a the now Science Museum Hurricane which has both wings in mirror image patterns, the result of a replacement wing

 

 

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Hi guys, great replies, thanks. What bothers me about my 'B-scheme wing in 1943' hypothesis is that they supposedly switched over to only the A-scheme very early in the Spitfire Mk.I production. But (almost) anything is possible, I suppose - I'm combing through photos to try and find any Mk.V's in B-scheme. I don't know enough about W3834's history to know if it ever had damage that might have required wing replacement at some point in its service.

 

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The A and B pattern system was abandoned in 1941.

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1 hour ago, Old Fogey said:

The A and B pattern system was abandoned in 1941.

 

Hi OF,

 

I think that should be further detailed to say that the alternating A and B scheme was abandoned in 1941. Manufacturers chose one or the other and could stick with using just one pattern for all their production.

 

W3834 is a real mess when you compare it to the standard A-scheme pattern:

spitifre-lf-mk-vb_zpse1beyg56.jpg

Edited by Steve in Ottawa
insert photo link
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There was at least one Mk.Vb with exchanged colours - Minden Blake's MB - but I don't recall which pattern it had.  These things happened.

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36 minutes ago, Steve in Ottawa said:

Manufacturers chose one or the other and could stick with using just one pattern for all their production.

 

The variation in the patterns was to avoid the possibility of a regimented appearance when the aircraft were lined up next to each other. Once it was realised that aircraft should be further dispersed, even having their own individual pens, the different patterns became unnecessary, and were discontinued 26th April 1941, before Ocean Grey replaced the Dark Earth. Manufacturers were told to choose either the A or B pattern and apply that to all aircraft. Most seem to have chosen the A pattern.

 

Edited by Old Fogey
finger trouble

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1 hour ago, Steve in Ottawa said:

I don't know enough about W3834's history to know if it ever had damage that might have required wing replacement at some point in its service.

From Morgan/Shacklady Spitfire the History

Supermarine Aviation (Vickers) Ltd Contract No. B19713/39

Second order for 450 Spitfire F Mk I dated 22 March 1940, built as Mks VA, VB between April and October 1941 includes serial batch W3814-W3853

W3834 2033 EA Holt XII FF 2-9-41 38MU 5-9 266S 13-9 154S 23-2-42 FAAC 12-4 ASTE M45M install 5USA 6-8 421S 10-3-43 416S 23-5 401S 1-6 126S 10-8 HAL 12-11 1659CU 5-1-45 SOC 17-9

 

Translates as:-

W3834 - RAF Serial No

2033 - Supermarine construction no

EA - Manufactured at Eastleigh

Holt XII - Presentation name, one of the fourteen Spitfires presented to the RAF by the Canadian Holt family

FF 2-9-41 - First Flight

38MU 5-9-41 - to 38 Maintenance unit for checks/equipment installation

266S 13-9-41 - to 266 Squadron

154S 23-2-42 - to 154 Squadron

FAAC 12-4-42 - Flying Accident category AC (repair on site by contractor)

ASTE M45M install - Air Service Training Exeter, Merlin 45M (medium supercharged, low level engine similar to 45 with cropped supercharger) installation

5USA 6-8-42 - 5th Squadron of the 52nd Fighter Group, USAAF at Eglinton, Northern Ireland

421S 10-3-43 - to 421 Squadron

416S 23-5-43 - to 416 Squadron

401S 1-6-43 - to 401 Squadron

126S 10-8-43 - to 126 Squadron

HAL 12-11-43 - to Heston Aircraft Ltd

1659CU 5-1-45 - to 1659 Conversion Unit

SOC 17-9 - Struck off Charge 17-9-45

 

Re-engining at Exeter looks the most likely source of odd wings

 

More here

Edited by Dave Swindell
updated info from link
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Hi Dave, Thanks for the translation of the M&S entry. I was reading that yesterday and nothing jumped out as being wing-swap worthy to me. What makes you think that the engine upgrade might have required a wing change? I suppose the 12-4-42 flying accident could have been the cause, too, but I don't know if a wing change could be done on-site by contractors.

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Hi Steve

Just an educated guess. Don't know what damage was done during the accident, but it was more than deemed repairable on squadron.

As they were looking for airframes for remanufacture into LF V's, this looks like it was a prime candidate. From accident to reissue to service was just over 3 months, which I'd say was a reasonable timeframe for assessment, remanufacture, and testing.

I'd suggest the damaged airframe was trucked in bits to AST, and as mentioned above by others, the fuselage emerged with other reconditioned components attached as the next incarnation of W3834.

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This might be in B-scheme, but that's based solely on the pattern demarcation seen ahead of the roundel. I'm not sure if the tones near the exhaust represent paint or engine-related stains.

 

f659b97f86db83e9e54db362a0962cdb.jpg

 

Edit - Hmmmm, now this is getting more interesting. It's a poor image but it does look like this Mk.Vb is in the B-scheme pattern -

http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/supermarine-spitfire-mk-vb-1941-the-iconic-british-second-world-war-picture-id463987573?s=612x612

 

as does this Turkish Mk.Vb

spit5-9.jpg

 

Now I'm getting more convinced that B-scheme Spitfires were still fairly easy to find later in the war than I thought was possible:

011c479c7804156e11b67d3581035584.jpg

 

Edited by Steve in Ottawa
additional photos added

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55 minutes ago, Steve in Ottawa said:

This might be in B-scheme, but that's based solely on the pattern demarcation seen ahead of the roundel. I'm not sure if the tones near the exhaust represent paint or engine-related stains.

 

103844_0.jpg
This might help ...

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4 hours ago, Steve in Ottawa said:

Hi guys, great replies, thanks. What bothers me about my 'B-scheme wing in 1943' hypothesis is that they supposedly switched over to only the A-scheme very early in the Spitfire Mk.I production. But (almost) anything is possible, I suppose - I'm combing through photos to try and find any Mk.V's in B-scheme. I don't know enough about W3834's history to know if it ever had damage that might have required wing replacement at some point in its service.

 

Maybe somebody in the paint shop either was dyslexic or grabbed the wrong masking mat? I'm just sayin'!

Mike

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9 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

The identity of an aircraft is with the serial on the fuselage - everything else is spares.  If the fuselage is damaged beyond repair the aircraft is written off, with (as above) wings, tail, engine etc looked at for damage, repaired if necessary, and returned to stock.  If the fuselage is undamaged or repairable, then any other part can be and would be replaced if necessary.  Repainting was probably necessary to some extent anyway, so a mismatch of camouflage wouldn't have been considered a factor.  I recall being told that some of the Spitfires repaired by Heston were hybrids of different marks (although this must have been limited to a considerable extent).

 

I have seen a development Harrier with one serial on the fuselage and another on the wings, although I don't know whether the offending wing had the serials later repainted or exchanged with the original.  I don't believe that either aircraft was actually written off at the time.

Graham,

 

I always seem to learn something new whenever I read one of your posts or replies- did not know the fuselage serial was the "official" ID, but it makes perfect sense! I'm not worthy!

Mike

Edited by 72modeler
corrected spelling

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Wait a mo'- 1943!  Then it will have been repainted into Ocean Grey instead of Dark Brown (plus green, of course).  So it may not be the fault of the spare wing, it may just be a case of "oops, I did the mirror image."

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Graham, there was another thread on the site a while ago dealing with Harriers and reference was made there to fuselage and wing serial numbers not matching.  This could occur when the engine was changed and the wing had to come off: if the wing also required work and wasn't ready to go back on once the engine was in the first available serviceable wing "won" and went on instead in order to maintain aircraft availability.  Once the air test had been successfully completed the correct serial was applied to the wing, something which I suspect might have taken a lower priority if the squadron was on exercise, TACEVAL or APC.

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Really interesting to see that, Dave, thanks. It's a bit earlier than this discussion but still very interesting to see that this kind of thing did happen.

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Hi guys

 

Interesting discussion and one I didn't think was as simple as it first seems with such close tolerances with Spitfire wing spar attach bolts.  However I was very good friends with Johnny Checketts (he lived only a few doors down from me) we used to sit and he would tell me stories and we would look through his albums over a cuppa.

 

Anyway, I saw a photo in his album of a clipped wing Spitfire Vc with D day stripes and with a mostly retracted port u/c leg and resting on her wing.  Long story short, it was his plane on D day and he had a tyre blow out and the tyre had come off the rim.  He got her back down and the crew had a replacement wing ready to go!  He said they were amazing, when he got down they swapped out the wing and sent him back on his way whilst his wing circled overhead 'waiting for their boss'.

 

Too good a story to ignore I arranged for Malcolm Laird (Ventura Publications) to interview him and he came down and scanned them all in hi-res.  You can read all about it and see the photos in one of his books, not sure which one off the top of my head sorry.  Since then his markings on that day J-MC have been produced by a few companies.

 

So it was definitely possible, and quite quickly too it seems.

 

Anyway, that may (or may not be) of interest

Cheers

Anthony

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On Friday, April 21, 2017 at 10:31 AM, Graham Boak said:

The identity of an aircraft is with the serial on the fuselage - everything else is spares.  If the fuselage is damaged beyond repair the aircraft is written off, with (as above) wings, tail, engine etc looked at for damage, repaired if necessary, and returned to stock.  If the fuselage is undamaged or repairable, then any other part can be and would be replaced 

Yes indeed but surely the actual identity of the aircraft is on the data plate? So even the fuselage is a mere spare too. Controversially some restored Spitfires are started with a data plate and perhaps a firewall and maybe armour plate. 

In modern times with modular jet engines. I've seen the ultimate result of this mix and matching where literally the only original part of the engine sn XX1234 was the spot where the data plate was fixed.

Edited by noelh

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Anything mechanical is made up of parts, like the axe of various mythical characters and unknown numbers of grandparents.  Only six new heads and five new handles...  Aircraft restoration from only a dataplate is a modern habit, with the CAA turning a blind eye to the creation of new airframes without exposing them to all the requirements of a genuinely new airframe.  As you said, controversial, but it's a fiddle from which everyone benefits, providing the CAA pays close attention (and it does) to the quality of the people doing the work (which is high).  It isn't what was done in the past.  In harsh truth, these are new airframes with an old dataplate. Hush, someone might be listening.

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