This is one of those annoying aircraft which keeps you guessing until you can get close enough to READ what is on the engine nacelle. From any kind of distance your first thought is....'Some kind of Moth'. As you approach, the shiny, metal fuselage puzzles, and the weird shape of the fin and rudder most certainly isn't the classic de Havilland shape, plus the lack of a second cockpit....and what is this? Automatic slats on the upper wing?
Ah! At last all is revealed - its a Blackburn B.2! Not only that, but G-AEBJ is the only surviving B.2 in the world (although parts of one other exist). The Blackburn B.2 had a great deal going for it; it was developed from a successful older Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company Ltd design called the Bluebird IV, which had been powered by the de Havilland Gipsy III engine. The B.2 had a maximum speed of 112 mph, and a useful range of 320 miles.
In the 1930s flying clubs and air forces around the world were eager to buy new trainers; they were considering almost any aircraft to meet the rapidly expanding need for pilots. The new design had been given a tough Alclad aluminum alloy skinned fuselage, unlike the usual fabric or plywood covering of most of the biplanes of the period. The slats on the upper wing are 'automatic' in that they 'self-deploy'; as the airflow over the leading edge of the wing decreases, due to reduced speed, the pressure on the slat reduces and the spring mechanism moves the slat out. This creates the gap between the leading edge of the wing and the slat. What happens is that the airflow through this gap 'sticks' to the upper surface of the wing and maintains the lift which is being generated. In effect, it reduces the stalling speed of that wing at that moment. This type of 'leading edge device' was invented by the Handley Page company, and could be seen on many famous aircraft (including the Messerschmitt Bf 109).
The Blackburn company fitted a number of their B.2 's with Cirrus or Hermes engines, both of which were built by Blackburn's, but the prototype was powered by a de Havilland Gipsy III engine when it appeared at the annual Society of British Aircraft Constructors event (as it then was) at the famous Hendon Aerodrome on 27th June, 1932. All looked set for a bright future, particularly with regard to military orders. The Portuguese Air Force requested that the B.2 take part in a competition to choose their next trainer, in September, 1933. The B.2 was up against aircraft from the Italian firm of Caproni, a Canadian Fleet trainer, and their British rival, the de Havilland Tiger Moth. In the end, as it was to do over and over again - the Tiger Moth won. The deciding factor, according to the Portuguese, was that they preferred tandem seating, as opposed to side-by-side.
A gentle trickle of sales to flying clubs and the newly established Reserve Flying Schools (private firms, training pilots for the RAF Volunteer Reserve) helped to keep the B.2 production line ticking over, but there was no big sales breakthrough, despite the fact that it was a very strong aircraft, with fine handling characteristics. A total of 42 aircraft were built, and other than some appearances in the various handicapped King's Cup Air Races, they spent their working life prior to the outbreak of the war training Reserve pilots. As always in training, there were losses. G-ABWI burnt out after a crash in Yorkshire in 1936, and G-AEBI was damaged beyond repair in a collision with a Hawker Hart bomber in January, 1938.
When war broke out, the remaining B.2s were hastily camouflaged, and were concentrated at No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School at Brough; this was convenient, as this was the home airfield of Blackburn's. The very last three B.2 aircraft were actually the only ones which were military machines, having been issued RAF serials. Wartime losses included a tragic mid-air collision over the Humber estuary between two B.2's; both fell into the estuary.
Now comes the astonishing part. Suddenly, in 1942, the RAF retired ALL B.2 aircraft, simultaneously. Some were sent as ground instructional airframes to RAF technical training schools, but most went to the newly-formed Air Training Corps squadrons as instructional airframes. The ATC was a civilian, but uniformed, organization, where air-minded youths aged 17 and up could receive early training, which enabled them to ease in Service life a lot quicker than would normally be the case. As well as basic instruction in many subjects, the ATC Cadets could be found on RAF bases at the weekends, helping clean aircraft and learning more about the RAF. I have never been able to understand why the RAF withdrew any training aircraft in 1942, when they had nearly cancelled the Mosquito because it might interfere with the production of Tiger Moths!
Only two B.2s survived the war. G-ACLD (powered by a Cirrus Major III engine) and G-AEBJ. Unfortunately, 'LD crashed performing aerobatics, leaving only G-AEBJ in flying condition.
Here we see -BJ in the hangar at Old Warden. Although the aircraft came here in 2008, is NOT a part of the Shuttleworth Trust's extensive collection, but, like the Avro Nineteen (see diary) is part of the BAE Systems Heritage Flight. Despite the legend on the nose '1932', this aircraft was built in 1936; the earlier date refers to the first flight of the prototype. G-AEBJ is now powered by a de Havilland Gipsy Major 1F of 130 hp, driving a de Havilland LA543 propeller. There is one more airframe in existence. I am told that substantial sections of another Series 1, G-ACBH, exist, and may eventually be subject to a restoration.
I have always admired the Blackburn B.2. It was an aircraft which was just a touch too early. Why do I say that? Because immediately after WW2, the RAF switched to a whole series of side-by side trainers, including the Boulton Paul Balliol, the Percival Prentice and the Hunting-Percival Piston Provost - and the Jet Provost, too. The B.2 just wasn't in fashion, that's all.