Our in-house 3D Environment Artists created an immersive Virtual Reality reconstruction of the Fairey Barracuda WW2 aircraft remains recovered at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire in 2019.
Working on behalf of the IFA2: Interconnexion France-Angleterre 2 project – responsible for laying a High Voltage DC cable corridor between England and France - our archaeologists recorded a rare WWII Mk. II Fairey Barracuda aircraft.
A Fairey Barracuda Virtual Reality (VR) experience - our first marine archaeology focused reconstruction – was created as a bespoke product for our community engagement work.
Above: Expandable information points give context to the artefacts recovered from the Fairey Barracuda.
Recovering the Fairey Barracuda
Specialist divers and archaeologists supported the recovery of the surviving remains of the Fairey Barracuda WW2 aircraft conducted by James Fisher and Sons Ltd. in partnership with aircraft conservationists at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The excavation was carried out as part of the Government’s 2018 South Marine Plan objective to ‘identify and conserve heritage assets that are significant to the historic environment’.
Above: The Fairey Barracuda VR experience invites users to ‘swim’ to explore the submerged aircraft wreck from all angles
The location of the wreck site was shallow and visibility was variable and dependant on weather conditions and the tide. A diver recorded video using helmet cameras and photographs were captured to produce photogrammetry models of the wreck.
The aircraft - lifted using a barge mounted crane and subsea basket - was recovered in sections and the material assessed on-board. The well-preserved wreck was then transferred to the Fleet Air Arm Museum for further conservation, where it now forms part of the museum’s permanent collection with parts from the wreck being used in an ongoing project to reconstruct a complete Fairey Barracuda, as none currently exist.
Above: The location of the wreck was established using dive footage before parts of the aircraft wreckage were retrieved using a subsea basket
A lost WWII aircraft
The Fairey Barracuda’s origins can be traced back to a 1937 British Air Ministry specification for an aircraft to take on the role of the Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber reconnaissance aircraft. The Fairey Barracuda is best known for raids on the German battleship Tirpitz, but was also used in the Atlantic and the Far East on anti shipping missions, anti-submarine patrols, bombing raids and a range of tasks for which it wasn't originally designed.
The Mk. II Fairey Barracuda was one of two recorded as lost near the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent in 1943 and 1944. The two aircraft were lost within four months of each other, both due to engine failures on take-off. The Fairey Barracuda VR features the second of the two lost aircraft, referred to as LS473, delivered from the manufacturers on 24 November 1943.
Above: Photos of the Fairey Barracuda wreck once it had been retrieved from the seabed were used to reconstruct the aircraft
Virtual Reality Reconstruction
Approximately 60% of the aircraft was recovered, with the VR environment accurately demonstrating the level of corrosion and unique details preserved as a result of the Fairey Barracuda’s partially buried condition.
Our starting point for this Virtual Reality environment was photogrammetric data. These were used to create the high polycount meshes of our Fairey Barracuda Sketchfab model which were then simplified for VR. The final stage in the Fairey Barracuda VR’s construction focused on retexturing the model as the photogrammetric recording of the site could not capture the true colours of the wreck in situ due to the murky underwater conditions. To counteract this, our 3D Environment Artist re-textured the site for VR using Unreal Engine gaming software and photo references of the wreck once it had been recovered from the seabed.
Substance packages reconstructed the fine details of the Fairey Barracuda’s aluminium and iron construction materials. Display options for this 3D model, include Augmented and Virtual Reality, which give users a first-hand account of what our dive specialists experienced when recovering the Fairey Barracuda. Using archaeological evidence recorded by our Marine Archaeologists, expandable information points with photos showcase the artefacts recovered whilst retaining a historically accurate visualisation of the underwater landscape.
Above: Virtual Reality users can ‘swim’ further afield to view the wreck from a distance or empathise with WW2 pilots by examining the objects they used every day through the information points
The result is a captivating reconstruction of the aircraft, allowing audiences to experience a rare example of its type .
Above: Designed for use by our Community Engagement team, the Fairey Barracuda VR experience prompts further questions
The Fairey Barracuda lives on
The ongoing work to select and conserve as much of the original fabric of the wreck as possible is being completed by the Fairey Barracuda Restoration project team at Fleet Air Arm Museum.
Our 3D Environment Artist gives an insight into the Fairey Barracuda VR creation process:
“Recreating the wreck of the Fairey Barracuda in VR was a great way to bring the archaeology to life as it makes you feel like you are immersed underwater and gives the sense that you are discovering the wreck for yourself. The expandable information points add details that Wessex Archaeology’s Marine archaeologists uncovered (e.g., boots) without detracting from the immersive aim of the Fairey Barracuda VR.”
David Morris, Senior Conservator (Naval Aircraft) at The Fleet Air Arm Museum, added:
"The Fleet Air Arm Museum’s Fairey Barracuda reconstruction project aims to re-create an example of the type, that would not otherwise exist. The rebuild draws from aircraft wreckage components approved for removal from various crash sites by the Ministry of Defence.
Wessex Archaeology’s Fairey Barracuda VR experience provides an ideal complementary reconstruction. The vision of the Barracuda lying at the bottom of the Solent is one typically seen only by the dive recovery team. The application of virtual reality technology in Wessex Archaeology’s interpretation enables anyone to effectively go beneath the waves and witness the aircraft in position on the seabed in remarkably realistic detail."
Bringing the Past to Life
The Fairey Barracuda VR experience is designed to be used as a multimodal learning resource by our Community Engagement team. This Virtual Reality resource will elevate our engagement sessions at Marine Archaeology and STEM focused events across the UK. This highly detailed, accurate representation of the Fairey Barracuda wreck site enables local communities and school groups to step back in time. Sound, visuals, and haptics guide VR users to explore the nuances of the 3D environment and engage with new features such as expandable information points.