RAF WWII Starter Trolley (Accumulator Trolley)

Photos By Max Otten

Photos were taken at RAF Museum, Hendon (London, England), in 2008 and 2103. By 2013 the solid-wheel trolley had been moved to the Spitfire I at the Battle of Britain display.

Starter trolleys were often found on RAF airfields in WWII to assist in starting aircraft engines. They were not required, though, as the aircraft could be started from their own batteries. In fact, when going through reference photos, the majority do not show the trolleys, even where the aircraft is being started. They would, of course, not be used with aircraft with a Coffman starter like the Spitfire Mk. II or the Hawker Typhoon. The trolleys are also often shown plugged in to the electrical socket on the port side of Spitfires (below the cockpit).

There are several types that can be found in reference books or on the web. There were simple accumulator trolleys as depicted here and ones that had an additional small engine on top to take care of the charging of the batteries. So far I have seen three types of wheels. There is one in the photos that has what I call the solid wheels, which are concave on the outside and convex on the inside, without any holes in them. Then there is a type where the wheel looks a bit similar to the solid wheel but with a different axle construction and it has what appear to be solid tires (Google for pictures from RAF Museum Cosford). And finally there are wheels with a more complex shape with 12 holes around the rim. I have seen a remark that this latter type is post-war, which very likely is the case as all trolleys I have seen in reference photographs are of the first two types, with the first being the most abundant by far (I went through a lot of the reference photographs I have that show starter trolleys – more than one hundred). According to a drawing of the third type in B. Robertson and G. Scarborough (1974; Hawker Hurricane. Classic Aircraft 4) the diameter of the wheel including the tire is about 75 cm.

Other trolleys such as those used for transporting photo-reconnaissance cameras were based on similar frames and wheels.

The first type, solid-wheel trolley is shown photos 1 through 6. The aircraft that it is plugged into in the photos is a Boulton-Paul Defiant (visible in photo5). Note that in photos 1 through 3 there is a bicycle in the background. The yellow part in photos 3 and 4 is a propeller tip from the Defiant, while the yellow top in photo 5 is the wing of an aircraft (not the Defiant which is black).

The third type of trolley (photos 7 through 10) in the museum is plugged in to the electrical socket of a Spitfire Vb. The trolley has a brighter blue color than the solid-wheel one. Photo 9 shows the front end while photo 10 shows the back end which has a fire extinguisher.

© Max Otten 2013

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This article created on Wednesday, February 12 2014; Last modified on Thursday, March 31 2016