Efforts to raise the sole surviving German Dornier Do 17 bomber from World War II began last Friday, more than 70 years after it was shot down over the English Channel.
The aircraft, a light bomber, rests in approximately 50 feet of water and is in surprisingly good condition, according to those involved with the salvage operation.
Officials plan to raise the bomber with a specially designed cradle later this month.
The project will be the biggest recovery of its kind in British waters, and the price tag could top $900,000, according to Reuters.
The existence of the Dornier Do 17 – lost during the Battle of Britain – off the coast of Kent became known when it was spotted by divers in 2008 lying on a chalk bed with a small debris field around it.
“The plane will be packed in gel and plastic sheeting to shield it from the air before it can be transported to hydration tunnels where the crust created by 70 years underwater will be washed away over the next two years,” according to Reuters.
Eventually, the bomber will be exhibited in the Royal Air Force Museum in London.
Museum director Peter Dye said the bomber will be exhibited next to a Hawker Hurricane fighter that had also been shot down during the Battle of Britain.
“We feel it’s important that they be exhibited side by side,” he said, pointing out that two German airmen died in the Dornier. “With time, we recognize that young men died on both sides, which is why we don’t intend to restore it. We will conserve it and place it on exhibition alongside the wreck of a Hurricane shot down at much the same time in which a British pilot died.”
According to research by the museum, the plane in question went down on Aug. 26, 1940, six weeks into the Battle of Britain, Hitler’s attempt to force England into submission by gaining air superiority over the RAF.
Ultimately, German losses proved too costly and Hitler was forced to rethink plans to invade the island nation.
The Dornier Do 17, nicknamed the Luftwaffe’s “flying pencils” because of its narrow fuselage, was one of four bombers used by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, along with the Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 88 and Junkers Ju 87.
German bombers, not surprisingly, required constant protection from Luftwaffe fighters and often fell victim to the nimble British counterparts such as Hawkers and Spitfires.
In all, more than 2,100 Dornier Do 17s were built before and during the war.
The museum has been unable to determine whether the stricken plane was brought down by a British defender or stray German fire.
Plans call for the plane to be lifted out of the water in three or four weeks if preparations go well.
But Dye cautioned that the recovery would be dangerous as divers will be able to work for just 45 minutes at a time, according to The Associated Press.
“We are not guaranteed success,” he said. “There have been previous aircraft recovery projects that didn’t go so well, cases where the structure has disintegrated on retrieval. When it breaks the surface, gravity and the laws of mechanics come into play, so we very much hope the frame we’ve constructed will support that structure.”
(Top: Swarm of Dornier Do 17s over France during the summer of 1940. Photo credit: Wikipedia.)