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RAF Cosford: New lease of life for salvaged plane

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Hidden under tarpaulin and kept in a controlled environment, the Dornier Do 17 is almost ready to return to public view at RAF Cosford.

It has been nearly three years since the plane was raised from the Strait of Dover. But now the plane – the last surviving aircraft of its kind – is unrecognisable to when it was first seen. Work to remove all the build-up from its 70 years under the water has been completed on the main body of the plane, but the metal has been left fragile, requiring special care as it waits in the conservation centre at RAF Cosford before going on permanent display.

Huge tarpaulins cover the remains of the Dornier Do 17
The salvaged and cleaned Dornier Do 17 is being kept in a controlled environment at Cosford museum

The German war plane has not been on show since November 2014.

At first glance it looks like an unremarkable warehouse.

The Germans built 1,500 of the bombers. The one now sitting at RAF Museum Cosford was raised from the bottom of the Strait of Dover almost three years ago.

Cared for by experts, there is just a little bit more work to be done before the plane can go on permanent display.

The Dornier and its many small components were sprayed with a citric acid solution for months in order to clear them of debris from their time under the water. Experts from the Imperial College London are working out the best way to treat the metal before it can be shown to the public in Shropshire.

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The plane's shape earned it the nickname of Flying Pencil

Darren Priday, RAF Museum Conservation Centre manager, said: "We are waiting for final confirmation from our project adviser, Professor Mary Ryan from the Imperial College London, on how best to treat the metal before the aircraft goes on display.

"It is now in the hands of the museum's design and interpretation team to decide how the aircraft should be displayed and what supporting materials should be included in order to tell the story."

It has been almost three years since the aircraft was lifted from the bottom of the English Channel and transported to Cosford for conservation.

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The Dornier's twin-engine, twin-fin configuration, together with the narrow fuselage and shoulder-mounted engines, gave the aircraft a distinctive silhouette and earned it the nickname the Flying Pencil.

More than 400 were employed by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

At the time of the Dornier's recovery it was unclear just how much of the aircraft could be saved following more than 70 years on the seabed.

The process so far has seen the aircraft systematically sprayed, inside purpose-built hydration tunnels, with a low concentration citric acid-based solution.

It has helped to remove marine growth and subsequently rust and corrosion in the aluminium aircraft structure.

Confident that the citric acid solution has done its job, the fuselage was removed from the tunnels in early September 2014 and has undergone an intense wash down, before being moved into the conservation centre.

Technicians then began working on the Dornier full-time. The gradual process of removing the thick layer of marine deposits revealed several bullet holes and shrapnel damage on the airframe, plus small areas of the original paint finish.

The plane was shot down by the RAF on August 26 1940 during the Battle of Britain. Part of a large enemy formation, it was intercepted at noon as it tried to attack airfields in Essex.

This particular aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on the Goodwin Sands at low tide after an attack by Defiant fighters of No 264 Sqn that left both engines stopped and the crew wounded.

Once work is complete the plane's permanent display will be the first time it has been seen since November

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