Is orange juice key to preserving last intact German Do-17 light bomber downed in Battle of Britain?

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Thanks to an Alert Reader in North Carolina, I've learned of an historical research project in England that seeks to raise and preserve what is believed to be the last remaining intact German Dornier Do-17 , a World War II-era light bomber shot down over the English Channel in summer 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

Interestingly, it may turn out to be orange juice -- or some similar derivate rich in citric acid -- that may be key to preserving the aircraft remains, now submerged under the English Channel, from the ravages of salt-water-induced corrosion.

Experts from Imperial College London and the Royal Air Force Museum are joining hands to rescue the downed Do-17 -- better-known as the "Flying Pencil" -- and display the restored Nazi bomber in a proposed gallery planned to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain.

The aircraft was found last year in the shallows off the Goodwin Sands in the English Channel between the England and France. Shifting sands uncovered the aircraft, which had been protected for decades by layers of sediment. Its exposure to salt water, however, threatens to destroy the remains. The Battle of Britain, fought in the summer and fall of 1940, refers to attempts by Nazi Germany to establish air superiority over the United Kingdom as a prelude to a German invasion of the British Isles, which never came, thanks to a tenacious defense by the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The recently discovered Do-17 had been manned by a crew of four and loaded with 2,000 pounds of bombs on 26 Aug. 1940 when it was shot down by RAF fighters. Its pilot and another crew member survived, and two were killed when the airplane went down.

For now, researchers are testing an environmentally friendly solution based on citric acid -- found in high concentrations in citrus fruit like oranges and lemons -- to remove surface layers of corrosion and sea deposits on the Do-17 remains, but leave remaining paint and markings on the aircraft intact.

If all goes well, researchers plan to raise the aircraft remains from the English Channel next spring, restore the aircraft, and display it in the planned new Battle of Britain Beacon win at the Royal Air Force Museum's London site.

Editor's note: special thanks goes out to Chris Burke, president of BtB Marketing Communications in Raleigh, N.C., a man of catholic interests, keen insights, and broad expertise. Don't laugh; he knows how to cook a turkey in a garbage can.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

June 2015
Volume 26, Issue 6

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