February 21, 2024
Somewhere on the Eastern Coast of the United States, in the tiny "First State" of Delaware, and in an typical 'cookie cutter' single family home is a piece of IAF Warbird History that one least expects it to be.  Displayed on the wall of a garage are four aluminium panels, each almost 12 feet long - that used to form the left side of the rear fuselage of a WW2 era Hawker Tempest II fighter. Still faintly visible on these panels are the remants of the Indian Air Force Orange Green roundel and the faint tracings of the tail number HA557 - still clearly visible.

Tempest II MW404 was built during the fag end of the Second World War, in August 1945, just as the Atomic bombs were dropped over the cities of HIroshima and Nagasaki,  Built at the Langley factory, it was inducted into RAF Service with No.247 Squadron at Chilboten.  

Three years later, in 1948, the aircraft was stored at the No.20 MU and was bought back by Hawker aircraft Ltd. The aircraft was refurbished and sold to the newly independent Royal Indian Air Force, which procured over a 100 of these aircraft from 1948 onwards.  Tempest II MW404 received a new identity, HA557 which was soon applied on the tail. 

The aircraft was ferried to India by Anthony Hart Lovelace, reaching India on 18th April 1949, a bit too late to see any action in the India Pakistan War in Kashmir that ended a few months earlier. The aircraft went to  No.4 Squadron RIAF at Poona.  Among others, the aircraft was flown by then Squadron Leader I H Latif (who would later become the Indian Air Force Chief of Air Staff) in the year 1950. 

 Its history from 1950 till 1977 is obscure, but at some point in time the aircraft may have been dumped in the grass of Poona airfield. Its journey to the west began with the great warbird auction of 1977. In the papers issued calling for public auction, along with 50 Harvards and 4 Spitfires, 11 Tempests were listed for disposal. HA557 being one of them. This airframe along with others were all lying around in Pune airfield. The aircraft were finally procured by famed collector Doug Arnold, who ran a company by the name “Warbirds of Great Britain Ltd” based in Blackbushe, UK.  Arnold, after winning the auction was faced with a choice of shipping only those airframes that were in reasonable condition. Accordingly some fuselages were matched up with wing sets from other aircraft, and only six or seven of these fuselage with similar number of wing sets were shipped to the UK.  The other fuselages were reportedly scrapped (possibly in India) and their fate is obscure.

HA557/MW404 was procured by Jim Horsley in UK in 1988 and remained in storage for years in UK. In 2012, the Tempest project was purchased by Chris Miller from Texas in the US. The aircraft was pulled out of storage and shipped by container to the US.

As Chris Miller patiently began restoration of the Tempest. it was evident that the fuselage panels were being replaced with new Aluminium skins.  A brief correspondence with a gentleman in Delaware, and the old skin panels with the Indian paint roundels still visible were shipped to Delaware State, where they have been installed in the car garage of a cookie cutter single family home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *