Historic Comet Racer replica to return to landmark Hatfield hotel

PUBLISHED: 13:32 10 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:55 10 February 2019

The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.

The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.

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After major restoration work a replica of an iconic prize-winning aeroplane will return to the skies over a landmark Hatfield hotel.

The Comet Racer before its latest restoration.The Comet Racer before its latest restoration.

The one-fifth scale model of a Comet Racer will once again be mounted on a 20ft high pylon outside the Grade II-listed Comet Hotel.

The DH88 Comet Racer was designed and built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company in 1934 at its Hatfield factory just yards away from where the hotel stands today.

A replica of the Comet Racer has been a feature there since the hotel was opened in 1936.

The Art Deco-style hotel, recently know as the Ramada Hatfield, is now nearing the end of a two-year multi-million refurbishment, which will include elegantly furnished student accommodation.

The Comet Racer model undergoing restoration work with de Havilland Aircraft Museum curator Alistair Hodgson, left, and Terry Pankhurst. Picture: DHAM.The Comet Racer model undergoing restoration work with de Havilland Aircraft Museum curator Alistair Hodgson, left, and Terry Pankhurst. Picture: DHAM.

Contractors found that the fibre-glass aeroplane replica, made in 1966, had suffered considerable damage over the years.

Repairs have been entrusted to the restoration team at the nearby de Havilland Aircraft Museum in London Colney.

“It is a remarkable replica with a fascinating story,” said museum curator Alistair Hodgson, who will be masterminding the work.

“One wingtip and the tail assembly are broken off, and the cockpit canopy is dislodged, so it needs a lot of attention, but we should have it back in pristine condition in time to remount it on its pylon in May.”

The arrival of the model at the volunteer-run museum was a poignant moment for another of its volunteers, Terry Pankhurst.

On two earlier occasions, he had himself carried out repairs to the same model during his time as head of woodwork at the de Havilland Apprentice Training School.

He recalled: “It was a famous feature of the hotel, so famous in fact that in 1971 students at Hatfield College (now the University of Hertfordshire) stole it as part of their Rag Week activities and ransomed it back for a £50 donation.

“Plus, as it was showing signs of weather damage, they had repainted it in the same brilliant red and fitted a new cockpit canopy.”

The de Havilland DH88 Comet racer in action. Picture: Neil JacksonThe de Havilland DH88 Comet racer in action. Picture: Neil Jackson

The white G-ACSS registration markings are those of the original DH88 Comet Racer, named Grosvenor House, which was one of three specially designed and built to take part in the England to Australia ‘MacRobertson’ Air Race in 1934, which it won.

The race began at Mildenhall at dawn on October 20.

The red two-seat, twin-engined Grosvenor House, flown by Flight Lt Charles William Anderson Scott and Captain Tom Campbell Black, crossed the finish line at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne at 3.33pm (local time) on October 23, 1934.

Their official winning time was 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds.

The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.

When restored by the de Havilland museum, the replica aircraft will be in exactly the same red and white colours.

With its method of construction and design, the Comet Racer was the forerunner of de Havilland’s famous Second World War ‘Wooden Wonder’ Mosquito fighter-bomber.

The prototype Mosquito is one of three such aircraft that can be seen at the museum at Salisbury Hall, London Colney, which reopens to visitors on Sunday, February 17.

The Mosquito prototype was designed and built in secret at Salisbury Hall during the way, away from the main de Havilland factory, before construction later moved to the Hatfield aerodrome site.

The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.The Comet Racer replica outside the Comet Hotel in 2015.

The original Comet Hotel, when viewed from above, can be seen to be built in the shape of an aeroplane.

It is currently undergoing a transformation, with Fusion Students building high-spec apartment accommodation.

• For more on the de Havilland Aircraft Museum visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk

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