Percival Mew Gull
|Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF at Breighton Aerodrome in 2007|
|Manufacturer||Percival Aircraft Company|
|First flight||March 1934|
|Primary user||Civilian racer|
|Developed from||Percival Gull|
The Percival Mew Gull was a British racing aircraft of the 1930s. It was a small, single-engine, single-seat, low-wing monoplane of wooden construction, normally powered by a six-cylinder de Havilland Gipsy Six piston engine. During its racing career it set many records and was considered a significant, efficient design, one that eventually reached a top speed of 265 mph (425 km/h) on a modest 205 hp (153 kW) in its final 1939 form. A modern-day observer has characterised the Mew Gull as "the Holy Grail of British air racing". During the second half of the 1930s, Mew Gulls were dominant in air-racing in the UK and consistently recorded the fastest times until the outbreak of war stopped all civilian flying in late 1939.
Design and development
With the Percival Gull already making a name for itself as a racer, over several months in 1933–1934, Capt. Edgar W. Percival designed and built a single-seat racer derivative initially named the E1 'Mew Gull'. This was developed into the E2, E2H and the E3H variants between 1934 and 1938. The sometimes-used designation "P6" is incorrect; this retrospective tag was created after Percival left the company and long after the Mew Gulls were built, thus no Mew Gulls were ever built as "P6s". With the exception of the sole E3H, G-AFAA – which was built after the company moved to Luton, all of the Mew gulls were built in the small factory at Gravesend. It should be noted that the E3H, whilst very strongly visually resembling the E2H, was in truth a totally new and different machine, with each element differing from its predecessor in some way. It was most certainly not a 'clipped-wing' version of the E2H as it has sometimes been described.
Structurally, there was very little commonality of parts between the Gulls IV/ VI/ Vega Gull and the Mew Gull, other than a few minor components. All of the Gulls, however, did use a similar generic structure. Proprietary equipment such as engines, airscrews, spinners, instruments, undercarriage legs, wheels and tyres were generally common to all series. The Mew Gulls (apart from the E1 in its initial configuration) used a fixed, conventional oleomatic main undercarriage and a fully castoring tailskid. Small manually operated, split trailing-edge wing flaps were incorporated into the mainplanes, but were "...singularly ineffective even when fully extended".
The aircraft was designed for handicapped air racing which gained huge popularity in the UK during the 1920s and especially 1930s – the so-called "Golden Age" of aviation. The King's Cup Race, an annual handicapped air racing event developed to aid in the development of British light aircraft, was considered to be the "Blue-Riband" event. Ultimately, Mew Gulls went on to win this event four times.
The prototype G-ACND first flew in March 1934 with a 165 hp Napier Javelin, but it was replaced with a more powerful and reliable 200 hp Gipsy Six engine, fitted with a fixed-pitch airscrew, prior to its first race.
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The King's Cup was a handicap race dating back to 1922; each racing result was compared to the time that the committee decided each contestant should have completed the course. The greater the margin by which an entry beat its prescribed time, the better its chance of winning. Initially King George V was to present a cup to the winner, and like the Schneider Trophy, the same cup would be engraved and awarded to the new winner each year. After the first year's race it was decided that a new cup would be presented each year.
Percival entered the King's Cup Race in July 1934, but failed to place. The original E1 was redesigned following an accident into the much-refined E2 configuration, with much of the design work completed by Arthur Bage. In July 1935, with a 180 hp French Regnier installed, G-ACND competed in the Coupe Armand Esders, a race of 1,046 miles from Deauville, France to Cannes and back. The Mew Gull was flown by Count de Chateaubrun, the Percival representative in France, and averaged 188 mph in the race. Immediately after, the original British de Havilland Gipsy Six was reinstalled. Guy de Chateaubrun subsequently became the only pilot to bail out of a Mew Gull, abandoning G-ACND because of fog.
In September 1935 Percival placed 1st in a 120-mile (190 km) race, and in July 1936 he finished 4th in the King's Cup Race flying G-AEKL, the third Mew Gull and first "production" E2H. Later in August, Percival finished 7th in the 174-mile race for the Folkestone Trophy.
In September 1936 G-AEKL, having previously been Edgar Percival's private mount, was re-engined and modified to enter in the Schlesinger Race. The Schlesinger African Air Race was a race from England to South Africa (6,154 miles), but G-AEKL was withdrawn ten days before the Schlesinger following a fatal taxiing accident at Liverpool Speke Airport. Two other E2H Mew Gulls were entered, both of which had been built at the same time to the same specification as the modified KL. Both failed to finish the race to South Africa. In the 1937 King's Cup Race, the rebuilt and re-painted G-AEKL was 1st with Charles Gardner at the controls in his house-colours of dark blue with pale-blue lettering and trim (See Flight of the Mew Gull, p91.). He averaged 234 mph over the 1,442-mile course. Percival flew his latest E3H "Super"-Mew G-AFAA, the sixth and last Mew Gull built, to a third-place finish and still another E2H, G-AEXF was raced by Alex Henshaw.
The 1938 King's Cup Race was a 1,012 mile event and this time, Alex Henshaw's much modified E2H G-AEXF came in 1st at 236 mph and Giles Guthrie in his red "standard" E2H G-AEKL placed 2nd. Edgar Percival flew a third Mew Gull, the E3H (G-AFAA) and finished 6th. Percival might easily have won, but as well as being made scratch-man by the Handicappers, he left the fine-tuning of his airscrew pitches until just before the race and his ground-crew were still tinkering with them as Alex Henshaw took off. At this time the Bracket-Type airscrew simply did not have the pitch-range to cope with the exceptionally wide speed range of the E3H (59–265 mph). An optimisation for either cruise or takeoff and climb would inevitably compromise the other.
Alex Henshaw attempted to take the England – Cape Town Record in 1939, taking off on 5 February 1939 from Gravesend Airport, landing at Wingfield Aerodrome at the Cape the next day, covering the 6,377 miles course in 39 hours and 25 minutes, averaging 209.44 mph while in the air. The return trip was just 11 minutes longer. It is interesting to note that during all of Alex Henshaw's adventures in this aircraft it was never damaged.
Henshaw sold G-AEXF to Frenchman Victor Vermoral in late 1939. During the Second World War, the aircraft was stored in a hangar in France with several owners continuing to hide it from German authorities. In 1950, Hugh Scrope found and bought it, and with Doug Bianchi's help, refurbished the aircraft to fly it back home to England. After restoration, G-AEXF continued its racing career but it was damaged in a landing accident in August 1951 at Shoreham. J.N. Somers, the next owner repaired it and raced G-AEXF again. A new owner, Ernest Crabtree, flew it last in the 1965 Manx Air Derby. By this time however, other owners had further altered this historic aircraft, resulting in lowered performance. Eventually, the derelict aircraft found its way into the hands of a poorly run museum, where it became damp, had its wings crudely sawn off, and many parts lost to souvenir hunters. In this state, Tom Storey and Martin Barraclough acquired the aircraft and rebuilt it during the late 1970s. Wishing to make the aircraft more practical to operate, a configuration closer to its original design was chosen, making G-AEXF look somewhat like an E2H/E3H hybrid, painted in the white and British Racing Green she wore when owned by Alex Henshaw in the 1930s. XF was again damaged at Redhill in late 1983, when an Auster taxied into it. The aircraft continued to be operated in the configuration as rebuilt by Storey and Barraclough until it was offered for sale.
Desmond Penrose was the next owner, who based the machine at Old Warden. The aircraft was written-off two further times: one at the time of purchase and again a few years later. After the first of these rebuilds, the machine was re-configured to resemble its configuration for the 1939 Cape flight. G-AEXF was extensively rebuilt yet again for a third time and continued to operate from Old Warden for some time until sold-on.
In 2002, G-AEXF was sold to the current owner, Rob Fleming, and is now operated by The Real Aeroplane Company at the Breighton Aerodrome, Yorkshire, UK. XF was temporarily shipped over to the USA to fly in a "demonstration race" at the 2003 National Championship Air Races at Reno, Nevada, the first Mew Gull to touch American soil.
In 2012, G-AEXF was operating from Breighton, 76 years after her original incarnation. In October 2013, in its 77th year, it was sold to the Shuttleworth Collection, at Old Warden, Bedfordshire, UK, where it will remain flying as part of the museum.
A UK Registered replica of a Mew Gull, G-HEKL, is now airworthy in the UK.
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The Mew Gulls were a family of "half-siblings," each tailored to the customer's demands. Six were built:
The prototype Mew Gull, designated Type E.1 was fitted with a Napier Javelin engine, and first flew in March 1934. In October 1935, G-ACND was destroyed in a crash near Angoulême during the Coupe Michelin.
The Type E.2, powered by a 200 hp Gipsy Six, carried the same registration as its predecessor but was almost a complete re-design. G-ACND was temporarily fitted with a smaller 180 hp Regnier engine to qualify for the Coupe Armand Esders of 1935. With the Gipsy Six reinstated, the aircraft flew in a number of later races and won the Folkestone Trophy Race.
The E.2H. Fitted with a De Havilland Gipsy Six and flown by Edgar Percival in the King's Cup and Folkestone Trophy Races of 1936. Sold and re-engined with a Gipsy Six Series II, G-AEKL was entered in the Schlesinger Race along withZS-AHM and ZS-AHO. However, the aircraft was damaged in a fatal accident at Liverpool Speke Airport that autumn, Tom Campbell Black being killed. Rebuilt in 1937, G-AEKL won the Newcastle Race for its new owner. G-AEKL was rebuilt twice, was fitted with three different engines and had a total of six paint schemes. Subsequently, the aircraft passed through several hands before being destroyed by German bombs at Lympne early in the war.
The Golden City, also an E2H, was built to the order of A.M. Miller for the Schlesinger Race and powered by a Gipsy Six Series II. Miller retired at the Belgrade checkpoint. Percival re-engined the aircraft with a Gipsy Six and sold it to Bill Humble who registered it in the UK as G-AEXF. Humble never took delivery, instead selling it to Alex Henshaw, who soon won the 1937 Folkestone Trophy with G-AEXF. For 1938, XF flew with a Gipsy Six R engine to win the Kings Cup. In February 1939, then powered by a Gipsy Six Series II and with revised equipment, it set a new mark for the out-and-home Cape class-record which stood until 2009. Although rebuilt many times and essentially a replica, G-AEXF powered by a Gipsy Queen II still flies to this day in the UK.
AJD Engineering (Ipswich, UK) who restored the original Mew Gull G-AEXF after its crash at Shuttleworth were commissioned by the late Alex Henshaw to manufacture a static replica Mew Gull, representing the Cape configuration of G-AEXF. This aircraft is now complete and on initial display at the RAF Museum Hendon.
Baragwanath, was another E2H powered by a Gipsy Six Series II engine, built to the order of S.S. "Stan" Halse for the Schlesinger Race. Due to bad visibility, Halse made a forced landing in a ploughed field in Southern Rhodesia, where the aircraft flipped onto its back and was written off. At the time of the accident, Halse was well ahead of the rest of the field, so much so, that by the time Scott and Guthrie's winning Vega Gull arrived, most of the disappointed spectators had gone home.
The one-off Type E.3H (the so-called "Super"-Mew ) was Edgar Percival's personal mount. While looking very much the same as the E2H, this was actually a completely new design, powered by a Gipsy Six Series II. It first flew in 1937 and was raced by Percival in 1937–1939. On loan for propeller trials at Hatfield during the war, G-AFAA was written off in a landing accident by a de Havilland pilot. The remains of this aircraft were burned with those of G-ACND at a Percival Aircraft garden fete at Luton Airport immediately after the war.
Specifications (Type E.1)
Data from British Civil Aircraft Since 1919
- Crew: 1
- Length: 18 ft 3 in (5.56 m)
- Wingspan: 24 ft (7.32 m)
- Height: 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m)
- Wing area: 88 ft² (8.2 m²)
- Empty weight: 996 lb (453 kg)
- Loaded weight: 1,460 lb (664 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Napier Javelin IA inline, 165 hp (123 kW)
- Maximum speed: 195 mph (170 knots, 314 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 175 mph (152 knots, 282 km/h)
- Range: 550 mi (478 nm, 885 km)
- Related development
- [dead link] "And Then there was One." Air & Space Magazine, February/March 2007. Retrieved: 5 July 2009. Quote: "Tony Smith speaks of the Real Aeroplane Company’s tiny, cream-colored monoplane as legend. 'It’s the Holy Grail of British air racing,' says Smith, RAC’s chief pilot."
- Williams, Gary. "Percival Mew Gull: The Holy Grail of British Air Racing." America's flyways magazine, January 2005 Cover Story. Retrieved: 5 July 2009.
- Ogilvy, David F. Motorsport, Vol.XXVIII, No. 4, April 1952..
- "Static Mew Gull – Henshaw Rebuild." hawker-restorations-ltd.co.uk. Retrieved: 5 December 2009.
- Jackson, Aubrey J. British Civil Aircraft since 1919, Volume 1. London: Putnam, 1974. ISBN 0-370-10006-9.
- Green, Peter and Ken Ellis. "Alex Henshaw." Flypast, No. 310, May 2007.
- Henshaw, Alex. Flight of the Mew Gull. London: John Murray Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 0-7195-3740-1.
- Henshaw, Alex. "The Fastest Ever." Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 9, September 1980.
- Riding, Richard. "A Truly Remarkable Aviator." Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 35, No. 5, May 2007.
- Silvester, John. "Percival Aircraft 1933–1954 (Part 2)." Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 11, No. 118, February 1983.
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