How Wolverhampton's proud plane was left waiting to fly again

Safely stored in a hangar far from its Wolverhampton beginnings is Wulfrun II, the very last of its breed, and awaiting the time that one day it may take flight once again.

Mr Mitchell, instructor of the Midland Aero Club at Wolverhampton aerodrome, inspects the new arrival in November 1938.
Mr Mitchell, instructor of the Midland Aero Club at Wolverhampton aerodrome, inspects the new arrival in November 1938.

In the heady pre-war era, your Star was an enthusiastic promoter of civil aviation, and our proprietors presented two light aircraft, named Wulfrun I, and Wulfrun II, to the Wolverhampton branch of the Midland Aero Club, in 1928 and 1938 respectively.

Wulfrun I was a de Havilland Moth, which was in continuous service with the club up to 1936.

But Wulfrun II was a Wicko, one of only a handful ever built. Fast forward over 80 years from its Wolverhampton early days and it is now the only survivor of the Wicko family, having been expertly restored to full flying condition, although its owner is getting on and it hasn't taken to the skies for a little while.

Mr Mitchell, instructor of the Midland Aero Club at Wolverhampton aerodrome, inspects the new arrival in November 1938.

The designer and manufacturer was Geoffrey Wikner, who at war's end solved the problem of getting back to his native Australia in a manner that made headlines. He went along to RAF High Ercall, which had become a massive aircraft graveyard, bought a Halifax bomber, and flew it to Australia with his family and paying passengers.

As for Wulfrun II, this gift from the Express and Star was reported in the paper of November 8, 1938.

"In order to assist the Wolverhampton branch of the Midland Aero Club with their scheme under the Civil Air Guard for training pilots, the Proprietors of the Express and Star have presented the club with a Gipsy Wicko monoplane, which arrived at Wolverhampton airport yesterday," the story said.

"The club, in recognition of the gift, has agreed to train as pilots each year, entirely free of cost, four people nominated by the Express and Star. Nominations have been made from organisations dealing with the youth of Wolverhampton."

November 7, 1938, and the gift from the Express and Star stands proudly at its new home at Wolverhampton aerodrome.

Tuition was taking place at Wolverhampton aerodrome, at Pendeford, and the eight organisations invited to nominate candidates, from which the four most promising would be selected, were Wolverhampton Grammar School, Tettenhall College, Wolverhampton Municipal Secondary School, St Chad's College, Wolverhampton Boy Scouts Association, Wolverhampton Federation of Boys Clubs, Wolverhampton Battalion Boys Brigade, and Wolverhampton Amateur Football League.

Wulfrun II was finished in a colour scheme of red and cream, the club colours, and the paper said that although it would not be used exclusively for the training of Civil Air Guard pilots, it would help the club carry out that important work.

The Civil Air Guard was a government scheme to increase national air-mindedness, while also providing a pool of trained pilots in case the nation needed them, with greatly reduced fees for flying instruction. It was was open to both sexes aged from 18 to 56.

Of course it was not long afterwards that that "need" arose with the advent of war, and Wikner told of the role of Wulfrun II, which in civilian guise bore – and continues to bear – the code G-AFJB, in the book about his life called Flight Of The Halifax.

"Over the luncheon table at the opening of the Wolverhampton Aero Club, Trudy (Wikner's wife) sold Wicko G-AFJB to Norvel B. Graham, who owned a large Midlands newspaper," he said.

Trudy Wikner with Wulfrun II.

"The same machine later went right through the war as a taxi plane with the Air Transport Auxiliary. After the war I bought it back from the Ministry of Aircraft Production, reconditioned it, and resold it to Philippa Bennett.

"Philippa flew right through the war as a ferry pilot with the ATA. She almost came to Australia with us as co-pilot in the Halifax but changed her mind. Instead, she bought two Wickos from me with which to start a small charter business.

"The same Wicko G-AFJB made a forced landing and fell over an 80ft cliff into the sea. The occupants were not injured, the plane was salvaged, repaired, and began flying again."

Later the plane went through several owners before going into store near Coventry. It was bought in 1998 by Joe Dible, who had flown the aircraft in the 1950s, and was restored to flying condition for him by the late Ron Souch and his son Mike, of Aero Antiques, based at Durley, near Southampton.

Before restoration, and painted in its wartime colours.

And it is to Mike we turn to bring the story up to date.

"It was in a dreadful state," he says.

"It was a full restoration for a gentleman who lived in Ireland who had been involved with the aeroplane in the past and wanted to revisit it. He is Joe Dible, who is the registered owner.

"We did a full restoration for him putting it back to stock, as we say in the trade – that's back to how it would have left the factory at Eastleigh in Southampton in the 1930s.

"It flew for a number of years and ended up on a private farm or estate only about two miles from where I am now, and hasn't flown for about five years. We no longer maintain it. It isn't flown. It is, so to speak, out of MOT, and needs a new MOT and would then be serviceable.

"The gentleman who owns it, Joe, is quite long in the tooth. I think he had the intention of being very active with it, but age has caught up with him. He rents hangar space for it."

The restoration put it back in the factory colour scheme, with red and cream livery.

"Because it's the last one left, the history is really quite well known. It ended up with a private individual near Rugby who had it for about 40 years, which is where we went and saw it. He had it in a Nissen hut in his garden. He thought he was going to restore it, but like many of these things they have the enthusiasm but are lacking on the ability.

"We bought it off him for Joe and did the full restoration. That was my late father Ron, and I, who are Aero Antiques. We are at Hill Farm, Durley.

"Of the whole Wikner Wicko family, it is the last airframe. Wikner did not do a very long production, and there is just that one aircraft left."

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