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Percival Gull monoplane
The Percival Gull Six monoplane came with a reputation for high performance. National Museum of Australia

High performance monoplane from an Australian engineer

This Percival Gull monoplane is one of a few surviving examples of Australian engineer Edgar Wikner Percival's most successful aircraft designs.

Percival was fascinated by flight from a young age, and studied engineering in Sydney. He served with the British Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and returned to Australia after the war to start a flight charter company. He was also busy working on his own aircraft designs, and moved to England to co-found the Percival Aircraft Company.

In 1932, the company began manufacturing the Gull, a three-seater, low-wing monoplane, in a number of variations. Gulls had aerodynamic light wooden frames covered with doped, or lacquered, fabric. Coupled with a selection of powerful four or six-cylinder engines, they were faster than many air force fighters.

After more than a decade of development, Percival released a series of variants on the Gull — the Gull Four, Gull Six, Vega Gull and Mew Gull — as fast private and commercial transport, racing aircraft, and for long-distance and record-breaking flights. During the Second World War, the Percival Aircraft Company developed a military version of the Gull, named the Percival Proctor, as a training aircraft for the Royal Air Force. The Museum also holds a Proctor aircraft, VH-FEP, in its collection.

Slideshow

Photograph of a monoplane, deep red in colour, with silver wings and rudder. The aircraft has the registration 'G-AERD' in white at the far end of the fuselage. National Museum of Australia

Photograph showing the interior of an aircraft cockpit. The instrument panel includes various gauges, button and switches. National Museum of Australia

Color photo of a small metal propeller on a wing stub. National Museum of Australia

Colour photo of the Gull's 'G-AERD' registration, painted in white letters with black trim, on a deep red backdrop. National Museum of Australia

Gulls set new distance flight records

The success of Percival’s monoplane design inspired other aircraft manufacturers at a time when biplanes still dominated the skies. Gulls quickly established a reputation for high performance and attracted the era’s most daring pilots, helping to inspire the public’s growing interest in aviation.

In the 1930s, Charles Kingsford Smith and Jean Batten flew Gull Six aircraft to establish distance flight records. Percival himself won many competitions and awards flying his aircraft. In 1935 he was awarded the Oswald Watt medal, an Australian award for ‘brilliant performance in the air’, for flying from England to Morocco in his Mew Gull.

Preserving Percival’s design

The National Museum’s Gull Six monoplane, with the registration G-AERD, was made in 1936 at Gravesend in Kent, England. A Swiss woman, Ariane Dufaux, bought the plane and took it to Switzerland, under the registration HB-OFU, for her private use. Forty years later, the aircraft was sold to a collector in England, where it was restored and became popular on the air show circuit. The plane was involved in several crashes and passed through a series of owners and restorations before the National Museum bought it in 1986.

The National Museum’s Gull Six has never been flown in Australia but it has been regularly serviced and maintained in near flying condition. The restoration work carried out after its numerous crashes is still evident in some of the aircraft’s framework.

The Gull retains its original de Havilland Gipsy Six, Series 1 engine, maintained in pristine condition. First developed by the de Havilland Aircraft Company in 1934, these high performance six cylinder, 200 horsepower engines powered many of the racing and record-breaking aircraft of the 1930s.

Photos of the Gull during maintenance in the workshop

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The Gull underneath a gantry in the workshop, with wings, propeller and engine cowling removed. National Museum of Australia

The Gull's nose cowl and propeller with other parts on a workbench

The de Havilland constant-speed airscrew

View of the Gull's de Havilland Gipsy Six engine from above, with crankcase cover removed

Parts of the engine cowling on a workbench beside the Gull

View of the exhaust underneath the Gipsy Six engine

The Gull's Gipsy Six engine undergoing maintenance in the workshop

The exposed propeller shaft on the front of the Gull

Showing the straight inline mounting of the cylinders designed by de Havilland to reduce vibrations and improve the performance of the engine

Close up of the drive wheel at the front of the crankcase

The de Havilland constant-speed airscrew

The Gull's Gipsy Six engine undergoing maintenance in the workshop

The Gull's Gipsy Six engine undergoing maintenance in the workshop

The crankcase cover removed on a bench beside the Gull

Wheel structure with casing removed

Conservator Ainslie Greiner inspecting the engine

Conservator Ainslie Greiner inspecting the engine

Conservator Ainslie Greiner inspecting the engine

Percival archive

A black and white photo of a man standing at the front of plane, with one hand resting on a propeller blade.
Percival standing beside an AVRO ex-military aircraft used in his Australian charter business, 1920s, National Museum of Australia

With the purchase of the Gull, and through subsequent acquisitions, the Museum holds a substantial archive of material related to Percival and his aircraft.

The collections include advertising material, scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine articles, technical drawings and models, prize medals and certificates, and a range of photographs.

Percival Gull advertising pamphlet 1936

The Gulls were the primary products manufactured by Percival Aircraft, and the company logo featured an illustration of a seagull in flight. In an article for the London Sketch in 1938, Percival explained his decision to use the 'Gull' title for his monoplanes: 'I selected the name "Gull" because it is so perfectly associated with flying. The gull is a graceful bird, it has a one-syllable name easily remembered, and there is a fine family allowing successive names'.

Percival Gull pamphlet sent to plane's original owners

This is the pamphlet with price list sent to Mr and Mrs Dufaux when they were considering purchasing a Percival Gull. The detailed listings and handwritten notations on this pamphlet show that the Gull was available with a choice of engines and came standard with a turquoise blue body and silver wings, echoed in the colour of this pamphlet.

Slideshow

Copy of the pale blue cover of an advertising brochure for the 'Percival Gull, higher speeds, easier landing', with an illustration of a monoplane registered 'G-ADEP'

Copy of a pale blue advertising brochure for the Percival Gull aircraft. Text includes: 'The Gull may be fitted with either a Gipsy Six or Gipsy major engine, when the performances are set out under the respective headings in the attached list'

Copy of a pale blue advertising brochure listing 'Percival Gull prices'. In addition to the printed prices on the brochure, 'frs. 23.500 rendu a Geneve' has been added in type

Copy of a page from a pale blue advertising brochure for the 'Percival Gull 3-seat cabin monoplane', listing peformance details and overall dimensions. The printed figures are supplemented with typed metric conversions and handwritten notes in pencil

Copy of a page from a pale blue advertising brochure for the Percival Gull. Typed text begins: 'The GULL is backed by nineteen years' experience in the design and actual operation of aircraft, and is built to withstand hard wear and service, maintenance costs being reduced to the absolute minimum'

Copy of the back cover of a pale blue advertising brochure for the 'Percival Aircraft Company'

Certificate of airworthiness for Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1937

When the Museum purchased the Gull, this certificate was found in one of the older journey logbooks of the aircraft, according to the regulations established by the Air Ministry of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Slideshow

Copy of the front page of a 'Great Britain and Northern Ireland Air Ministries Certificate of Airworthiness'. The form includes a black and white photo of a small monoplane and lists the owner as 'Miss Ariane Dufaux', of 'Geneva, Switzerland' as the owner of the Percival Gull aircraft pictured

Copy of Page 2 of the Certificate of Airworthiness, listing details of the plane's engines, airscrew, weight and compulsory conditions

Copy of Page 3 of the Certificate of Airworthiness, listing 'Precautions to be taken for safety in navigation'

Copy of Page 4 of the Certificate of Airworthiness, titled 'Periodical overhauls', with four columns for details. The far right column includes an initialled Air Ministry stamp

A painting showing a monoplane in flight above an airfield. The plane, registered 'GA-CND' is rounding a marker. - click to view larger image
Reprographer: Katie Shanahan


Edgar Percival flying his Mew Gull in the 1935 Kings Cup Air Race

Artist: Herman R Bollin

Percival caused a sensation by setting a new race speed record in the 1935 Kings Cup Air Race. He finished in 6th place but averaged about 210 miles per hour (337 kilometres per hour). At the time, it was the first time a competitor had recorded a speed of more than 200 miles per hour.

Herman R Bollin was an aviation artist, prolific during the 1930s and 1940s, producing numerous covers for Popular Aviation, and working as art director of Flying and Radio News magazines.

Copy of a technical drawing showing various elevation views, profiles and detailed features of 'Captain Edgar Percival's Mew Gull E3H' monoplane, registered 'GA-FAA'. Colour scheme details and data are listed bottom left. - click to view larger image
Reprographer: George Serras

Technical drawing of a Percival Mew Gull E3H aircraft

Percival developed a single-seat racing version of his Gull in 1934. He made only six of these aircraft.

While Percival won races and established records in his aircraft, it was Alex Henshaw who established the Mew Gull’s place in history. Henshaw won the 1938 Kings Cup Air Race at an average speed of 236.25 miles per hour over the triangular course of 1012.14 miles — the fastest ever recorded by a British aircraft. In February 1939, Henshaw flew his Mew Gull from England to South Africa and back in just 4 days, 10 hours and 15 minutes, smashing the previous record.

This history has made the Mew Gull popular with aircraft modelling enthusiasts.

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