Scientists race against time to save the last 'Flying Pencil'

Scientists are in a race against time to help save the last remaining intact World War II German light bomber Dornier Do-17, known as The Flying Pencil (Fliegender Bleistift), which lies underwater in the English Channel off the Kentish coast in the UK.

The researchers, from Imperial College London, are donating their time and scientific expertise to help the Royal Air Force Museum rescue the submerged aircraft, which was discovered in the shallows off the Goodwin Sands in 2010.  Shifting sands have uncovered the aircraft, which was previously protected by layers of sediment, exposing it to the corrosive effects of seawater and threatening to destroy the plane entirely.

The Imperial researchers are working with the Royal Air Force Museum to prevent the aircraft from corroding further after it has been lifted out of the Channel. This will enable the Museum to display the plane in a proposed gallery that they plan to build in tribute to those who have lost their lives during the Battle of Britain.

Dr Mary Ryan, from the department of materials at Imperial College London, who is working on the project, says, "This is the last remaining intact Flying Pencil of its kind in the entire world, so the significance of this project to our history cannot be underestimated."

Dr Ryan adds, "We have been analysing fragments already brought to the surface and it is absolutely fascinating to see how this bomber, which crash landed more than 70 years ago, has been so well preserved by the layers of sand. We are relishing the challenge of finding a way to help save this historical treasure, so that it can be raised and put on display for future generations."

One of the challenges for Imperial researchers is devising a method for cleaning and removing the corroded layers from the Flying Pencil's aluminium fuselage. It contains large amounts of the corrosive agent chloride, which comes from the seawater.