In all, six Percival P6
Mew Gull aircraft were produced. Of these, only one - G-AEXF - survives,
and that has been rebuilt twice - once in 1978 to it's original factory
specifications, and more recently, to its Cape Records configuration. John
Cull - himself a former Kings Cup winner and for many years one of
Britain's top racing pilots, is also in the process of building a replica
The original Mew Gull was
the first civil aircraft to exceed a speed of 200 miles per hour. Later
versions introduced steady improvements, and the fastest speed recorded by
G-AEXF in its 1938 Kings Cup configuration was in excess of 270 mph. At
sea level, it was faster than a Hawker Hurricane.
One of the entrants in the
1936 Schlesinger Race from Portsmouth to Johannesburg was Major Allister
Miller, regarded by many as the father of civil aviation in South Africa.
Major Miller was unfortunately forced to abandon the race in Belgrade, and
his aircraft, a Mew Gull named The Golden City and having the
registration ZS-AHM, was returned to England where it was subsequently
bought by Bill Humble. Humble was however about to get married, and soon
had second thoughts - under the circumstances - regarding the suitability
of the aircraft. He therefore accepted an offer to swap it for a Leopard
Moth owned by Alex Henshaw, and the Mew Gull was re-registered in
Henshaw's name as G-AEXF. Thus, XF had a close association with South
Africa even before the flight which made it famous.
The aircraft underwent
considerable modification for the King's Cup race of 1938, which Alex
Henshaw won at a record speed of 236.25 mph.
Following this success, XF
was further modified for the Cape Records flight. These modifications
included such things as increased fuel capacity (87 imperial gallons),
modified instrumentation, and a retractable navigation light mounted just
behind the cockpit canopy. The ARB were unwilling to issue a certificate
of airworthiness before a second navigation light was fitted underneath
the aircraft. Henshaw pointed out that since he would be the only person
flying at night over Central Africa, this would serve no purpose other
than to slow the aircraft down by several miles per hour, and the issue
was not raised again.
Much of the customization
for both for the 1938 King's Cup and for the Cape Records attempt was
carried out by a small aero engineering company Essex Aero Ltd, based at
Gravesend, London and run by Jack Cross. Alex Henshaw gives Cross much of
the credit for the outstanding performance and reliability displayed by
the Mew Gull in such diversely demanding roles as King's Cup racer and
Cape Records challenger. Jack Cross was also involved in the 1978
restoration of G-AEXF to her factory configuration.
Alex Henshaw, Jack
Cross and restored Mew Gull, 1978 (From The Flight of the Mew Gull)
extensively modified for the Cape Records attempt. There was no
turn-and-bank indicator, but instead a very stable gyro compass, which
Alex Henshaw regards as critical to the success of the flight. The was
also a large Huson P5 magnetic compass mounted on a bracket just in front
of the pilot, and a chronometer with three stopwatches for dead reckoning.
Alex Henshaw taxiing
the Mew Gull