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Risky Business: WWII bomber to be salvaged off UK coast

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A famous -- and rare -- German World War II bomber nicknamed "the flying pencil'' has spent decades submerged in the English Channel after being shot down in the Battle of Britain. Now, divers are braving dangerous tides to bring it to the surface.

On May 3, British officials announced a complex salvage operation just off the Kent coast in southeastern England to rescue the only known surviving example of the German Dornier Do 17 bomber. The operation is under way and if all the preparations go well, the plane will be lifted from the water in three or four weeks.

The rare German wartime bomber was discovered on the Goodwin Sands, 70 years after it was shot down Aug. 26, 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain.

Since the Dornier emerged from the sands two years ago, the RAF Museum has worked with Wessex Archaeology to complete a full survey of the wreck site in preparation for the aircraft's recovery and eventual exhibition at Hendon.

Those interested in what is projected to be a challenging recovery, can follow all the progress on the RAF Museum blog. On May 15, By Martin Barker of Seatech (commercial diving services), posted about his team's efforts to create a "cradle" (pictured below) to lift the Dornier from its sea home.


"Last month we test loaded the cradle and frame with ballast weights equal to twice the weight of the Dornier and carried out test lifts to prove the strength and rigidity of the frame. These trials went exceptionally well and the whole Seatech team were proud and excited to see their creation successfully performing the job it had been designed for," he wrote.

"Now we just can’t wait to see the cradle and frame with the Dornier in there instead of the ballast weights!"

If the plane is lifted from the Channel without damage, it will still be several years before it can be put on display. It will be packed in a special chemical gel and plastic sheeting to protect it from damage caused by exposure to air, then taken by road to the RAF Museum in Cosford for extensive conservation treatment expected to take two or three years.

During that time, it will be placed in "hydration tunnels" so that chemicals and salts that accumulated during 70 years underwater can be gently washed away. After that, steps must be taken to stabilize corrosion within the plane itself. Once this is done, the plane should be ready to be put on exhibit at the RAF Museum in London.

To follow the progress, visit and click on Dornier-17.

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