Donald Campbell's Bluebird roars back to life

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Media captionDonald Campbell's Bluebird roars back to life after almost 40 years

The restoration of Donald Campbell's Bluebird has reached its most significant milestone yet, with the testing of the boat's new engine.

Campbell died in January 1967 while trying to break his own speed record on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

Volunteers have been working for the past 15 years on reconstructing the vessel, from wreckage salvaged in 2001.

Now Bluebird's return to Coniston is a step closer after an almost identical engine was successfully tested.

Image caption Bill Smith sat in the cockpit during the successful test

Campbell was 46 when the jet-powered Bluebird, travelling at more than 300mph, somersaulted repeatedly before crashing to the bottom of Coniston.

The fuselage has been painstakingly rebuilt by a team led by North Shields engineer Bill Smith, with almost all the parts having to be specially made.

The replacement engine was donated by De Havilland Aviation in 2007 and is almost identical to the original Bristol Orpheus engine.

It was successfully tested in the reconstructed chassis for the first time, at Mr Smith's engineering yard.

Mr Smith, who sat in the cockpit during the test, described it as "fantastic" and "absolutely amazing".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bill Smith discovered the wreckage of Bluebird and salvaged the vessel in 2001

"The ghost of Donald Campbell must be looking down at me now and falling about laughing," he said.

"We only ran it at 65% power and it was just amazing. That's about as much as we can give it in the yard, because it'll have the building down.

"I absolutely loved it, not just because it's a fun thing to do to sit in Donald's boat and give it some beans. But because of all the work we have all put in to get to this point where it's working.

"The last time it did that was the 4th of January 1967. This is a bit of history."

Once fully rebuilt, Bluebird will undergo further testing at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire next spring, with the hope of it returning to the water in Coniston some time after that.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The original Bluebird topped 300mph at the time of the crash on Coniston Water
Image copyright PA
Image caption Bluebird crashed in January 1967, killing Donald Campbell

Campbell's daughter Gina has visited the yard recently and has supported the restoration work.

Once complete, Bluebird is expected to be put on show at the Ruskin Museum at Coniston.

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