4. Boeing 247D DZ203

Top Secret Boeing cover

“Top Secret Boeing” cover, ilustrating Boeing 247-D DZ203 above Defford Airfield and Croome Park, with the Malvern Hills beyond

Although very many individual aircraft and different types of aircraft served at Defford, the Boeing 247D DZ203 was one of the few which was present from the start of radar research at Defford in May 1942 (after the move of TFU  from Hurn and Christchurch), and was still present at the end of the War, indeed up to the end of 1946. It has a unique place in history as arguably the single most important individual aircraft to serve at Defford in World War 2.

On the direct authority of Winston Churchill, a British mission was sent to USA (which was then neutral) in 1940 to hand over all our scientific secrets, including the Cavity Magnetron which made 10cm radar feasible. The Americans rapidly built a prototype radar based on the British magnetron, and the Canadians supplied an elderly American airliner, a Boeing 247D built in 1933, as a suitable aircraft to be fitted out as a demonstrator for the first American AIS radar. The Boeing arrived by sea at Liverpool Docks in July 1941, and was erected at Speke in RAF roundels and camouflage with serial number DZ203. It was first flown in England by Frank Griffiths (then Flt/Lt, later G/Capt o/c Flying at Defford) who had been sent to Speke to collect and test-fly the Boeing, and deliver it to the TFU.

The Boeing and its 10cm AI radar was exhaustively tested and demonstrated to high level officers and officials, and remained with TFU at Christchurch, then Hurn. At Defford from May 1942, it continued to be a very valuable research tool used as a flying laboratory, on a whole variety of projects. Besides the work on 10cm AI radar, it pioneered 3cm X-band radar later used for blind bombing, and for ASV with extensive anti-submarine trials over the Irish Sea, and much more.

The Boeing 247D DZ203 was the only one of its kind this side of the Atlantic, which must have made maintenance difficult for an aircraft so intensively used. It was popular with aircrew and scientists alike. In 1944, it was decided to completely rebuild and refurbish the Boeing to use it for Automatic Blind Landing research. The work was carried out at Defford, and included fitting new engines from lease-lend stocks intended for Harvards.

In January 1945, DZ203 made the world’s first completely automatic orbit, approach and blind landing. The aircraft continued to be used for automatic blind landing research and demonstrations after the War, especially for the civilian aviation authorities. The work pioneered by DZ203, thanks to the vision of G/Capt McDonald and G/Capt Griffiths, finally saw fruition in commercially service with Trident in the 1960s. By this time DZ203 had long gone, withdrawn at end of 1946, and scrapped at 34MU, in August 1947.

The book ‘Top Secret Boeing’, published by DAHG, covers the complete life history of Boeing 247 c/n 1726, which became successively NC13344, CF-BTA, RCAF 7655, DZ203, and DZ203/G, with over 90 photographs  illustrating all stages in the career of this aircraft from 1933 to 1947, but especially covering its role at TFU in radar research.

Bob Shaw