Museum’s restoration of the Comet Racer model outside Hatfield hotel

PUBLISHED: 16:43 19 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:00 19 April 2020

The restored Comet Racer model outside the Comet Hotel in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies

The restored Comet Racer model outside the Comet Hotel in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies

Alan Davies

A model of the iconic DH.88 Comet Racer can be seen outside Hatfield’s landmark Art Deco-style Comet Hotel. Here’s the story of the famous model’s restoration.

The DH.88 Comet Racer model as it arrived at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s workshop. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe DH.88 Comet Racer model as it arrived at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s workshop. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Alistair Hodgson, curator of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, shares some of the Hertfordshire museum’s special attractions and hidden secrets...

I thought I’d share something a bit different with you this week.

I’m sure that most readers will be very familiar with The Comet Hotel, just opposite The Galleria in Hatfield.

The model of the de Havilland DH.88 Comet Racer atop its concrete pole is a famous local landmark.

The DH.88 Comet Racer model with the original paint removed. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe DH.88 Comet Racer model with the original paint removed. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

You will also recall that when the hotel was refurbished in 2018-2019, that model disappeared from the pole for a while, and you may have wondered where it went.

In fact, it spent six months at the museum, being completely restored.

It’s not the original model from when the hotel opened in 1936.

It’s thought to be the third such model, and it’s made from fibreglass.

The completed model of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe completed model of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Having been in position since 1956, it was looking much the worse for wear when The Comet Hotel’s reconstruction began.

In November 2018, I had a call from the construction company asking if we knew who had built the model as they wanted to get it restored.

I said I had no idea, but that we would be happy to restore it for them.

It arrived at the museum in a terrible state.

A close-up of the nose of the completed DH.88 Comet Racer model. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft MuseumA close-up of the nose of the completed DH.88 Comet Racer model. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Both propellers were snapped, the tail and one wingtip broken, the paint badly faded and the fibreglass structure cracked in places.

The first step was to strip off all the old paint, then make the necessary repairs to the fibreglass structure.

The fin and wingtip were reattached using metal rods and a car fibreglass repair kit was used to repair any cracks.

The whole model was sanded smooth, then primed and painted – there are over two litres of paint on it!

Museum curator Alistair Hodgson with Anita Libiszewska from ISG plc, the company who refurbished the Comet Hotel. The model is beneath the  de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s own DH.88 Comet full-size replica. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft MuseumMuseum curator Alistair Hodgson with Anita Libiszewska from ISG plc, the company who refurbished the Comet Hotel. The model is beneath the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s own DH.88 Comet full-size replica. Picture: Supplied by the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The white markings were either painted on directly, or are laser-cut letters made by a specialist company.

I made two new propellers, and for the finishing touch my museum colleague Gerry Mears made new bearings for these – so now they blow round in the wind once again!

We handed the model back to the builders last May, and now it’s back on the plinth where it belongs, welcoming visitors to the refurbished Comet Hotel.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall, London Colney, is currently closed.

It is reliant on visitor admission fees and charitable donations to survive.

You can donate at www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk/product/charitable-donation/

Visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk for more on the aviation museum dedicated to preserving the heritage of the de Havilland Aircraft Company based in Hatfield.


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