15 Jan

There were 116 Whirlwinds built, between 1938 and 1941. Once we knew we were building one, the question was asked - which one? It seemed the factors were:

  1. Does it represent the whole career and all those who flew it?
  2. Can we gain sufficient detail on anything non-standard to make it authentic?
  3. Does it represent all 116 while having it's own distinctive interest?

We are not including sufficient original parts to let it inherit a serial and an identity, airworthy Spitfire-style, so we are free to apply whatever serial we like. While the use of a Westland press for some parts might suggest the number after the last one built, it would no longer be representative of those that served. 

One Whirlwind suggested itself early - P7056. Like many of its kin, it was a presentation aircraft - sponsored by an organisation (for a wildly inaccurate price, but that was how presentations worked, much like sponsoring a rhino). In this case it was a local lodge of the R.A.O.B that raised the money - and it duly emerged onto the factory airfield in the summer of 1941 with "The Pride of Yeovil", painted over her green/brown camouflage:

She was allocated to 263 Squadron that October and sometime after May 1942 was coded HE - E. Here she flew over 60 operational sorties, shared among the Sergeant pilots of B Flight.

..and then after repair and an obscure spell as a hack on the RAF Colerne Station Flight, moved on to 137 in April 1943 where she became the regular mount of (then) Flying Officer John McClure - who over seventy years later became a great friend and supporter of the project. This we discovered only after settling on P7056. From the 137 Squadron Operations Record Book:

April 25th    F/O J.E. McClure   P7056     Rhubarb   

April 29th      F/O J.E. McClure   P7056     Dive-Bombing Operation

May 16th      F/O J.E. McClure  P7056      Night Rhubarb

May  17th     F/O J.E. McClure    P7056     Intruder

May  19th     F/O J.E. McClure    P7056     Night Rhubarb 

June  13th    F/O J.E. McClure    P7056     Intruder Patrol

Of course, visiting a maintenance unit between each posting meant P7056 received many resprays. "Pride of Yeovil" soon disappeared to be briefly replaced - on all flight-line aircraft - with a hastily applied  '"Bellows" for a visit by a film crew, making a piece to send back to the semi-secret Bellows organisation of British Ex-pats in neutral Argentina.. They had raised a lot of money for the RAF  and were told they had essentially paid for a whole Whirlwind squadron - and now they wanted to see it!

The gent on the wing is New Zealander Flt Lt Bob Beaumont, grandfather of Jeff Beaumont. Jeff, by sheer co-incidence, was an immediate colleague and friend of WFP co-founder and treasurer, Matt Bearman in a small software enterprise in Cambridge, UK, despite hailing from NZ. This was also only discovered some time into the project!

It then turned out (from Jeff's own earlier research, of which Matt had no inkling) that - almost unbelievably -  P7056 was also his Grandfather's regular mount while he was with 263 Squadron:

August 31st            Sgt R.C. Beaumont      P7056    Armed Shipping Recce

September 6th     F/S R.C. Beaumont      P7056    Operation Starkey

September 9th     F/S R.C. Beaumont      P7056    Operation Starkey

September 11th     F/S R.C. Beaumont      P7056    Night Ranger

September 18th    F/S R.C. Beaumont      P7056    Chattanooga Choo Choo

We believe there was at least one other sortie, a strike on railway lines, by Beaumont in Pride of Yeovil in this period, misrecorded as another aircraft that was in fact unserviceable at the time.

Her involvement in operation Starkey, a deception raid on Dieppe, shows that she was fitted with bomb racks and converted into a 'Whirlibomber'. Again, this makes P7056 very representative of the type's entire career. 

At this point there was absolutely no question about it, P7056 it was going to be, proudly bearing Beaumont's own invented, hand-painted character, Gruffy the Gremlin, on her nose. 

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