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Horsa Cockpit

Remembering Operation Varsity

24th March 1945 saw the beginning of Operation Varsity, the last and largest airborne operation of WWII. Some 440 British gliders where towed to Germany and released near Hamminkeln close to the river Rhine. 

After the loss of so many army glider pilots during Operation Market, RAF reserve pilots were given the opportunity to volunteer to transfer to gliders and two of our museum volunteers, Ken Plowman and Leslie Kershaw, where among them. 
In 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of their operation, the Jet Age Museum held a small commemorative event and offered Ken and Les the opportunity to sit in our Horsa cockpit, the first time they’d climbed aboard the type since 1945. They didn’t need to be asked twice and were soon working through their old cockpit drills together.
An additional surprise came after a lot of research by Jed of the Horsa Project team. Digging in various archives he located some original operational documents and among then was the after action report for D Squadron and glider 432. There on the top was Ken’s name along with S/Sgt. Ryans, his co-pilot and details of the load, route and comments from the tug crew.
Sadly no such documents existed for Leslie’s flight, but Jed had found some archive film footage in an Australian archive which showed the gliders of his unit, A Squadron, preparing to depart from RAF Rivenhall and Leslie’s co-pilot was identified in the film.
In all it was a fantastic day not only to remember those that risked and lost their lives flying on this operation but to remind us why building the Horsa cockpit stands as a tribute to their bravery.

Horsa Restoration News

First of all, apologies for the lack of recent updates on the project, however we can assure that that work has been progressing, albeit a little more slowly due to other commitments.
The largest structural addition to the cockpit has be the installation of the cockpit floor. Made of only 1/8” thick plywood, fixing in this place helped bond the cockpit structure in the horizontal axis and added a great deal of strength overall. So far it’s managed to support the weight of two original crew members without any issues at all.
Most effort has been spent working on the area beneath the cockpit floor and fabricating the metal components that interlink the pilot’s controls to the flight surfaces.  These components were a “blocker” in that we could not add more to the exterior surface until this was done as access afterwards would be difficult. Unfortunately without any manufacturer drawings there was a long process of reverse engineering involved to derive dimensions, pattern making and fabrication.
However we’re happy to report this has now been completed the parts are now fitted and bolted in. This will enable us to hopefully soon start installing the pilots control columns and wheels more permanently.
The project also gained some additional features, namely a set of pilot control wheels, accurately re-created in wood from an Airspeed drawing using similar wartime methods. We hope soon to fabricate the hubs these mounted to so that we can fix them into the cockpit.
The biggest challenge to date has been creating the formers and stringers which make up the framework that defines the shape of the lower half of the cockpit. This required a lot of lofting calculations to produce ribs that would allow the cockpit lines to flow correctly. Although we are using a CAD system, there is still a great deal of craftsmanship and feel needed to get the lines right.  At present these have been dry fitted to the cockpit while we make final adjustments before permanent fixing.
Finally, there have also been numerous small additions along the way. The cockpit seats now have their backs fitted – and very comfortable they are too! We’ve also manufactured and installed the brake lever as well as the linkage assembly for the rudder controls.
If all goes to plan, we hope to be finished with the lower half of the cockpit in the coming months and can start to focus on the upper section and cockpit framing.
Cockpit progress at the end of 2015 included almost complete pilot controls and the addition of the support ribs.


A multitude of metal components have been reverse engineered and fitted including control column fittings and wheel brake controls.

Pilot control linkages are now complete and fitted in place under the cockpit.

Horsa - can YOU help?

Of course, when it comes to restoring historic aircraft, the parts can sometimes be hard to locate.

Days like the Varsity Celebrations of course inspire us, and remind us why our restoration work is so important.

There are two components that are needed for our cockpit that we’ve thus far been unable to locate.  

We’d like to either obtain originals for fitting or loan so that we can make pattern parts replicas. 

The parts are:

  • 10D/8907 T.R.9.D Controller, Remote Type C.2.
  • 5J/2284 – Accumulator 12v, 40ah (Battery)

If you can help the project with either of the above, please get in touch.

Special Thanks

Our restoration work is only possible thanks to our kind sponsors and volunteers.

We have some special thank yous for their support on this restoration project:

Firstly, thank you to the Gloucestershire Environmental Trust, which encouraged our grant application.

We also offer sincere thanks  to the following project partners for their pledges of support:

  • Paul Webb Woodturner & Furniture maker
  • K M Reprographics
  • Timbmet
  • TBS Engineering Ltd
  • VMCC Anglo Dutch Trial
  • Haidon Horticultural Engineers
  • Haden Browne Plastics
  • AVM Transport Ltd
  • Gloucestershire Airport
  • Renart
  • Airfix
  • BAe Systems
  • Wellington Park Properties Ltd
  • The Flying Shack Staverton
  • Elliott Bros(Chelt) Ltd
  • Mike Lillistone
  • Ken Plowman
  • Savidge & Son
  • The RAF Down Ampney Association

Questions, Information and Contributions

If you wish to contact us about the Horsa project, please get in touch using our website contact form or the Museum’s e-mail address.