We would like to thank:
Air Gunners Association: Yorkshire Air Museum
CHC Aerial Supplies, Lisburn
Denroy Plastics, Bangor
Elliot Smock: Whitley Project
Pascal Mathieu: Royal Museum of the Armed forces and Military History, Belgium
Fraser Nash & Whitley Bomber Background
Frazer Nash was a British automobile manufacturer and engineering company founded in 1922 that had produced around 400 cars by the mid 1930’s. A separate company Nash & Thompson was established in 1929 by business partners Archibald Frazer Nash and Henry Ronald Godfrey to develop aircraft turret designs that Frazer Nash had originated. The designs were consequently numbered in a series prefixed with "FN".
Nash & Thomson built a wide range of turrets for aircraft. All used hydraulic power supplied from the aircraft’s hydraulic system and carried 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers K or Browning machine guns. Later in the war heavier calibre 0.5 inch machine guns were introduced on some models. The same model of turret might be fitted to several different aircraft types, the FN-5 for example being fitted to Lancasters, Wellingtons and Stirlings.
Having suffered from years of exposure to the elements, the turret was in rather poor state. Corrosion had begun to take its toll, parts where rotting or damaged and in some cases absent completely. The mechanisms used within it had seized long ago, and what was left from the original Perspex glazing was either missing, shattered or beyond recovery. Notably, it was also a turret without its four Browning machine guns.
During 2000 the turret first came to the attention of John who expressed an interest in taking it on as a restoration project, and in September of that year John relocated the turret to his garage workshop facility.
Restoration initially involved stripping the turret down into sub assemblies and components, with as much original material as possible being retained. Where rust or corrosion had taken their toll, parts were repaired cleaned and repainted.
One particularly difficult item to locate was the extremely rare turret control grips, with an example finally being found for sale on e.bay. Drawings for the Browning machine guns were obtained from the Imperial War Museum, and visually accurate replicas, made from wood and metal, were constructed to replace the originals
The replica guns also managed to assimilate a few kitchen utensils, with the conical flash eliminators being fashioned from modified salt and pepper shakers spotted on a shopping trip to Woodsides supermarket.
From the outset John developed contacts throughout the aviation world including the Yorkshire Air Museum, The Whitley Project and probably most significantly enthusiast Walter Lindekens from Belgium and Capt. Pascal Mathieu from the Royal Army and Military History Museum in Belgium.
The museum has the only other FN-4A turret on display in the world, which underwent a parallel restoration. Without doubt the single most difficult task in the restoration was forming and fitting the Perspex, but luckily the Belgian museum had fabricated a set of moulds which were transported by courier to Denroy Plastics in Bangor where the moulding was carried out by society member David Jackson.
Another Society member Joe Fairley contributed his expertise in welding, and fabricated a replica stand based on an example supporting an FN turret used for training purposes in Canada.
The Nash & Thompson FN-4A turret on display at Maze Long Kesh is a superb example of restoration work, a credit to Ulster Aviation Society member JOHN BLAIR who carried it out over a decade, and a benchmark standard for others engaged in similar projects within the collection to emulate.
In 1994, the turret lay in Seaford Scrap Metals yard awaiting its fate. But luckily the yard's proprietor, Lawrence Killen had recognised its historic worth, and after the turret had been viewed and identified by Society members, it was moved to join the collection, then at Langford Lodge, Crumlin.
Nothing is known about the turret's actual history, but it is believed to have been recovered during the 1950s from RAF Bishopscourt where it may have been used for instructional purposes during the Second World War by No 12 Air Gunners School.
The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley entered service with the RAF in 1937. When war was declared in 1939, Bomber command had six Whitley squadrons, with the Mark III being the standard version in service. These were soon to be replaced by the first Merlin-powered version the Mark IV, and then the definitive Mark V.
The Whitleys first operations of the war ironically were not to drop bombs, but propaganda leaflets, and these duties continued well into 1940. The first bombing raids on Germany were made in May 1940 with the first raid on Berlin in August. Because of its better range, Whitleys were used on some of the longest-range sorties in the early war such as the raid on the Skoda factory in Czechoslovakia.
Whitleys first appeared in Northern Ireland in November 1938, when No 51 Squadron came to RAF Aldergrove from Linton-on-Ouse for a short stay to use the facilities of No 2 Armament Training Station. It was March 1940 before more of the type appeared when four were taken into the temporary care of No 23 Maintenance Unit at Aldergrove.
They were the first batch of a large total handled by No 23 MU between that date and the latter half of 1943. On 3rd September 1940, three Whitleys of No 102 Squadron, Bomber Command arrived at Aldergrove, the first of a small detachment which operated in conjunction with the Ansons of No 502 Squadron in Coastal Command until recalled to Prestwick on 8th October. One of the Whitleys concerned was captained by Pilot Officer G L Cheshire of later 'Pathfinders' fame.
No 502 Squadron began to re-equip with Whitleys in September 1940 and by the time the squadron moved its base to RAF Limavady in January 1941 it was fully equipped with the type. By mid-1942, Whitleys were also to be seen occasionally at RAF Stations Long Kesh and Nutts Corner, in their role as tugs for the Glider Ferry Service which operated between Netheravon and Northern Ireland to provide training for men of the Airborne Division.
Other centres of Whitley activity were Sydenham, where records indicate that some were processed by the Civil Repair Organization at Short & Harland during the period 1940-44, and at RAF Ballykelly where a few were on strength with the Coastal Command Development Unit which was based there from December 1941 until June 1942.
In cases where they were beyond repair, the part was used as a pattern for a newly fabricated item. Some of the smaller missing parts came from the Society’s collection. The gun sight for example was liberated from a scrap aircraft during the war by Society member Jim Mc Sweeny, only to find itself installed in a turret again 60 years later. Many of the standard issue Air Ministry parts came from militaria dealers stock in the UK.
Slowly over a ten year period the turret was rebuilt with an integrity and attention to detail that any collection would be proud of. John Blair kept a logbook of the time he spent on the project, and at completion, excluding research, searching for parts, sourcing technical info, and communication with other individuals, 1399 hours had been logged in the workshop on actual restoration work. The turret now stands as a fitting tribute to all the aircrew who have served as air gunners, and a tribute to the skills, methods and dedication of the man who restored it.
The F.N.4A is a four gun tail turret that was fitted to the Short Stirling and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, with a different cupola design being fitted to each aircraft type, this example being Whitley. The Whitleys defensive armament consisted of two turrets, an F.N.16 nose turret, equipped with a single Vickers 'K' machine gun, using a 97 round drum-type magazine, and the F.N.4A tail turret, fitted with four 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning machine guns, using ammunition belts that supplied 1,000 rounds to each gun. The ammunition boxes in the F.N.4 A were fitted under the guns, which limited the supply and could affect the trim of the aircraft.