It’s been called one of the greatest planes of World War II—and it might be making a comeback.
The twin-engine wooden Mosquito, designed by British aviation whiz Geoffrey de Havilland, was one of the lightest and fastest airplanes in operation when it entered service in 1941. Used for bombing runs, reconnaissance, hunting German U-boats in the English Channel and North Sea and as a day or night fighter, it also proved to be one of the most versatile.
Now, the so-called “Wooden Wonder” may soon fly again. More than 20,000 engineering drawings and diagrams recently resurfaced in a former wartime factory in Britain. Thought to be the only surviving complete set of drawings depicting the famous aircraft, the documents are fueling the dreams of a group of enthusiasts who hope to rebuild a crashed Mosquito and take it to the skies.
According to John Lilley, the chairman of The People’s Mosquito project, an engineer stumbled on the hidden stash of plans for the famed wooden aircraft earlier this year at the former de Havilland factory in Broughton, England. “The building itself was soon to be demolished and the contents discarded,” Lilley told the Telegraph. “It’s incredible to think that [the drawings] might have been lost forever.”
At a time when metal was scarce, de Havilland designed the aircraft out of wood, including spruce, balsa and birch. In an impressive example of British wartime ingenuity and cooperation, cabinetmakers, piano makers, coach builders and other woodworkers were called into service to assemble the planes by pressing the pieces together and securing them with glue.
The Mosquito entered the war effort relatively late—a year after the Battle of Britain ended—but made a big impact. The planes proved particularly effective at making low-altitude, high-accuracy raids on such valuable enemy targets as the Gestapo headquarters in Oslo and Copenhagen, among other places, and a prison in Amiens containing hundreds of captured French Resistance fighters. Hermann Goering, German wartime minister of aviation, famously ranted about the brilliance of the Mosquito, claiming the wooden aircraft turned him “green and yellow with envy.”
Exactly 7,781 Mosquitoes were eventually produced, with 6,710 delivered during World War II. The last Mosquito was manufactured in November 1950, and the last one saw combat six years later, during the Suez Crisis. Today only one airworthy Mosquito is believed to survive; after an eight-year, reportedly $4-million restoration, it took a long-awaited flight in Virginia Beach in 2013.
The recently rediscovered plans from the Broughton factory include details about the Mosquito’s design that were kept top secret during the war. Among the papers are designs for variants of the plane that were never built, including models that could carry torpedoes or take reconnaissance photographs.
According to the Telegraph’s report, The People’s Mosquito hopes to use the plans to restore a night fighter that crashed at a Royal Air Force base in Coltishall, Norfolk, in 1949. Though the discovery of the long-lost plans has enthusiasm running high, fans of the Mosquito might have to wait a while before seeing results. A planned restoration will reportedly cost about £6 million (about $7.8 million), and the project has raised only a small amount of the total so far.