October 21st, 2015
A centre piece in the current 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Britain, ‘Sentinel’, by Tim Tolkien, salutes the efforts of the Castle Bromwich aircraft factory in supplying arms for the war effort. Funded by the National Lottery, the vast sculpture, with its three Supermarine Spitfires peeling off into the sky, was enabled in part by the metal bending and profiling expertise of Barnshaws Section Benders.
The Castle Bromwich factory originally produced the iconic Spitfire fighter and capacity was subsequently also utilised for the production of the Avro Lancaster bomber. Almost 12,000 Spitfires were rolled out of the factory, while over 37,000 test flights were conducted from the adjacent aerodrome.
In 1997, Tim Tolkien was commissioned to produce a memorial on the island (now commonly referred to as Spitfire Island) outside the location of the aircraft factory, situated on the A47 at the entrance to the Castle Vale Estate in Birmingham. The 16 metre high sculpture required precision cutting and bending to produce the individual Spitfires and the metal trails. Consequently, Barnshaws Section Benders of Tividale were contracted to apply their expertise to the project.
Each individual half-scale Spitfire shape was plasma-cut from aluminium sheet, with Barnshaw’s large CNC machining capacity allowing all the work to be carried out in-house. The vast smoke trails were produced from steel sections, which were split into tees and then precision curved to offer the structural rigidity required and give the effect of vapour trails streaming from the wing tips.
Barnshaws great experience with ferrous and non-ferrous metal bending and profiling ensured that they were entrusted to help produce both aspects of the sculpture, with its vast in-house capabilities facilitating a short lead time to the final assembly fabricator to meet the opening ceremony on the 16th November 2000.
The structure itself was built from first principles, as the usually applicable steelwork design codes for static structures (BS 5400 and BS 5950) did not take into account the scope of the sculpture. Therefore, advanced CAD modelling and analysis was needed to translate Tolkien’s vision into a structurally sound application. Due to these exacting design constraints, the tee sections from Barnshaws were required to be curved within the very minimum of tolerances to guarantee integrity.
‘Sentinel’ impressively portrays the rich wartime history of the area and the great efforts of the pilots and workers who strived to protect British shores. With the help of Barnshaws Section Benders’ metal bending and profiling expertise and everyone involved in the project, the sculpture will stand as a source of local and national pride for many anniversaries to come.