On July 21 1996, de Havilland Mosquito RR299 crashed at an airshow in Manchester, killing two people. It was the last time a Wooden Wonder took to the skies over Britain, but that could soon change.

“The crash of RR299 has done little to keep the Mosquito’s memory alive, and it has somewhat been lost to history. We want to change all that,” said a defiant John Lilley.

John is the managing director and project lead of The People’s Mosquito, a project with the aim of returning a de Havilland Mosquito to the skies in the UK.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: John Lilley is the man leading The People's Mosquito project.John Lilley is the man leading The People's Mosquito project. (Image: The People's Mosquito)

“Most importantly of all, it was a war winner. It became an absolutely vital piece of equipment,” said John.

“It was the first multi-role combat aircraft, so when you look at today’s aircraft like the F35 and the Typhoon, the Mosquito started all of that because it was such a wonderful piece of design.”

It was the Mosquito’s innovative design that was the key to its success.

Geoffrey de Havilland, head of the de Havilland aircraft company based in Hatfield, decided to make the aircraft from wood rather than metal, which was in very short supply in 1940.

Bombers in the early years of the Second World War were cumbersome and took heavy losses over enemy territory, but the Mosquito was light and fast, even outflying the agile Spitfire during testing.

Originally it was designed to be unarmed and the early versions were, but as its reputation with the RAF grew, so did its workload, taking on countless roles including as a strike aircraft, a pathfinder and a night fighter. There was simply nothing the Wooden Wonder couldn’t do.

It was such a problem for German forces that Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring raged: “It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy.”

Welwyn Hatfield Times: The fuselage moulds for the Mosquito have been a crucial part of the project.The fuselage moulds for the Mosquito have been a crucial part of the project. (Image: The People's Mosquito)

But the wooden design that made the Mossie so successful, which sees ply and balsa sandwiched together with glue, has caused John and his team real problems.

“There is a difficulty with what we’re doing because of the wood. There’s a reason why you see 20 to 30 Spitfires flying in the UK today, but you don’t see a single Mosquito flying,” he explained.

“Using wood in 1940 was seen as old technology, something they used in World War One. Fast forward to 2022 and we can make wings, the tail and everything else for a Mosquito, but the issue is the fuselage because you need a mould.

“Technology moved on and the jet age happened, so all the original moulds were destroyed when they stopped building Mosquitos in 1950.

“Imagine the Mosquito as a giant Airfix kit, because you have to do the fuselage in two halves, and you need the mould to hold the wood and glue in place and let it dry and stick.

“Thankfully we found most of the original designs for the mould, and we are very close to finishing them off.”

Welwyn Hatfield Times: The Mosquito was designed and built by de Havilland in Hatfield.The Mosquito was designed and built by de Havilland in Hatfield. (Image: The People's Mosquito)

The project has not come cheap either, with John estimating a final cost of around £9 million, with hopes the aircraft will be airborne in just over five years, but they need the public’s support.

“We’ve raised just under £1 million so far. We are run by volunteers, no one takes any money from what we are doing, so we really do need donations from the public,” he explained.

Despite the mammoth task of returning this war-winner to the sky, John is determined to see the Mosquito fly in Britain again to honour those who flew her, and educate the next generation.

“Our three pillars are to fly, to educate, to remember, because the next generation need to know how important the Mosquito was,” he said.

“We also need to honour those who flew the Mosquito. They took on some of the most dangerous missions of the war, like the Amiens Prison Raid and the raids on Berlin, flying at almost 400mph at a height of just 50ft.

“There are only a few Mosquito pilots still alive, and these men flew countless missions deep into enemy territory, putting their lives at risk every single time. We must remember them.”

Welwyn Hatfield Times: The de Havilland Mosquito, pictured in 1942.The de Havilland Mosquito, pictured in 1942. (Image: Flickr)

And it is one of those pilots who is serving as the driving force and inspiration for John as The People's Mosquito team push on in their quest to get the Wooden Wonder flying again.

“When we do finally get the Mosquito back into the air, I think I’ll be lost for words and there will certainly be a lump in my throat,” he added.

“When I started looking at this project, a lot of people said it was impossible, but I remember reading a quote from a Mosquito pilot called Sir Ivor Broom.

“He said ‘they’d come to us with all these missions. In another aircraft it would be impossible. In the Mosquito, we’d have it sorted in 24 hours’.

“It is that spirit I think about all the time. We can’t get it done in 24 hours, but we will get a Mosquito flying in the UK again.”

To donate to The People's Mosquito, visit www.peoplesmosquito.org.uk/donate.