The Wooden Wonder – One Second World War aircraft influenced modern air combat more than any other. And yet it doesn’t adorn stamps or take part in Remembrance Day fly-pasts. It wasn’t the Spitfire, the Hurricane, or the Lancaster Bomber. But it was involved in some of the most successful raids of the war, protected more of its pilots than any other plane in bomber command, and was flown by some of the greatest of the Allies air aces. It was so effective it made Hermann Goering “yellow and green with envy” – lamenting that “they (the British) have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I’ll own something that has always worked.”
Even more surprising, the De Havilland Mosquito was a plane the RAF didn’t want at first – because it was built by its obstinate designer out of plywood. It was made by workers more accustomed to turning out sofas and pianos than bombers. Sceptics at first described it as ‘Flying Furniture’. Yet soon the critics were silenced. The way ‘the Wooden Wonder’ was designed and made turned it into a template for the most modern, high specification combat aircraft fighting today, from the F-18 Hornet to the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Now pilot, plane-builder, C4 Paralympics presenter and Mosquito-enthusiast Arthur Williams is going to celebrate the most unjustly unsung hero of the war – a plane nobody wanted but ended up being more important than any other more famous fighter flown in the war. He’ll discover how the ‘Wooden Wonder’ went from an improvised, ungainly joke to being the most effective combat plane of the war – and find out how its descendants are still defending Britain today.
To do this, he’s going on a journey to see how the Mosquito went from its conception as an ultra-fast but unarmed light bomber to being used for every combat role from reconnaissance to anti-submarine attacks; from night-fighter missions to high-profile tactical raids (they once flew into Berlin and knocked out the central radio station on the 10th anniversary of Nazi rule, incurring Goering’s jealous outburst in the process).
Arthur will dust down the Airfix models he made of the Mossie as a kid – it’s his starting point for asking what was so special about the plane’s design. And, in his workshop where he’s currently restoring a 1940s plane – he will uncover the secrets of aircraft construction in the period. He’ll track down and meet surviving furniture makers who built the Mosquito, to find out how a plane made from birch and balsawood, with no guns, could be flown so successfully against the armed might of the Luftwaffe. He’ll build a section of the plane himself – and discover in the process how the wings of the modern Airbus have their roots in the Mossie’s designs. He’ll tell the story of the raid that made its name – an attack on Gestapo headquarters in Oslo – where four Mossies had to fly a mere 100ft above the North Sea to avoid detection, before bombing buildings at rooftop level. The raid was so extraordinary that the next day the MoD had to reveal the existence of its new secret weapon to the world – the Mosquito.
Finally, Arthur will fly in the only airworthy Mosquito in the world – a plane recently restored by an American millionaire – to find out first hand why this plane was so beloved of its pilots – and generations of romantics who always root for the underdog.
Ultimately, Arthur will return the Mosquito to its rightful place as one of the most innovative and important aircraft we’ve ever made.
Channel: Channel 4
Source: Channel 4 press release