The warbird scene is currently revelling in the emergence, continuation and completion of a variety of interesting and high-profile projects, some once thought to be inconceivable. The unremitting efforts of individuals and organisations around the world to locate and recover airframes, research and gather knowledge, and develop advancements in the engineering, restoration and operation of challenging aeroplanes have heralded a new era of historic aircraft preservation.
The vintage aviation community has been abuzz in the wake of the glut of rare and unique restoration projects that have broken cover in recent months. These range from lake bed recoveries to roll outs, partnerships and reveals. All signify different points in long and demanding journeys that add to the richness of the ever changing preservation scene around the world.
It is fitting that as we have commemorated the centenary of the cessation of the First World War, the Historic Aircraft Collection’s (HAC) de Havilland DH-9 has been undergoing engine runs and taxy trials – even so far as getting the tail up on one run down Duxford’s grass runway in early November. Guy Black and Retrotec Ltd have already achieved some incredible feats in solving complicated engineering issues to return vintage aircraft to the air – none more so than the complex construction of spars for Hawker biplanes and Hurricanes, including HAC’s Fury and Nimrod – and the restoration of the DH-9 marks one of their most demanding projects to date. With all of the engineering hurdles successfully tackled in the restoration, the first flight of the DH-9 is all that is required to conclude one of historic aviation’s most challenging and lengthy endeavours.
In Scandinavia, esteemed early aircraft restorer Mikael Carlson has been toiling away in his workshop in Sweden for several years, fashioning a stunning Pfalz D.VIII reproduction that is now largely complete and due to fly in spring 2019. Mikael enjoys flying aerobatic routines in his authentic First World War recreations and the prospect of him flying the pugnacious Pfalz with the same gusto as Fokkers Dr.I and D.VII is a very exciting prospect. Alongside the likes of The Shuttleworth Collection and The Vintage Aviator Ltd, these restorers are continuing to revive and operate First World War aeroplanes even 100 years on from the Armistice, and we have unprecedented numbers of genuine and authentic reproduction Great War types flying for our education and entertainment. We owe a debt of gratitude to their kind.
The historic aviation scene lost a great visionary with the passing of Paul Allen in October 2018. Allen pursued remarkable projects across myriad fields including science, medicine, nature, community, the arts and history. With regards the latter, his lasting legacy will be his Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum (FHCAM) at Paine Field, Washington, which has amassed one of the world’s finest collections of Allied and Axis warbirds. As a testament to this, 10 November 2018 saw FHCAM publicly unveil another of its projects with the reveal of Junkers Ju-87R-4 Stuka in a relatively advanced state after five years’ restoration behind closed doors. The dive bomber will now come together in FHCAM’s new hangar under a team led by Jason Muszala, with the public invited to view its progress over the next few years as it approaches completion. When finished, the Stuka will be one of just three complete airframes worldwide and the only airworthy example – a preserved flying Stuka was once but a dream for enthusiasts. Paul Allen’s legacy lives on.
There has been something of a resurgence for Second World War Luftwaffe types of late, the Stuka being the latest project to break cover. Alongside the Ju-87, FHCAM’s original Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe, with its restored Junkers Jumo 004 turbojets, is in the final stages of restoration and will hopefully soon take flight. Also in the US, the Collings Foundation are the owners of two genuine Focke Wulf Fw 190 projects; the first, an F-8 variant powered by a BMW 801 engine, is under restoration to fly with GossHawk Unlimited and the second, a long nose D-9, is expected to follow suit. Due to the paucity of surviving airframes and the general lack of surviving information regarding the majority of these types, rebuilding these aircraft presents significant challenges for workshops and significant cheques for their owners, whose tenacity in pursuing these complex projects is to be applauded.
In recent years Avspecs of Ardmore, New Zealand has led the revival of the de Havilland Mosquito, producing two immaculate examples of the type in the last six years. The Avspecs team are currently approaching the completion of their third de Havilland Mosquito project, with the latest to be rolled out from their workshop bound for Rod Lewis’ Air Legends collection in Texas, USA. PZ474 is a fighter-bomber FB.VI variant that has been restored with the Merlin engines it rolled off the production line with in the 1940s, and engine runs have been conducted recently. Resplendent in RAF Banff Strike Wing markings, its light blue upper surfaces, bold D-Day stripes, red spinners and fully furnished rocket racks strike a very different aesthetic to the company’s last two Mosquitoes. Interest in this latest project has illustrated the resounding popularity of the Mosquito and indeed, it remains one of the most sought after aircraft for some of the world’s most revered warbird collections. Under the leadership of Warren Denholm, the Avspecs team have now condensed the workflow of a Mosquito project into around two years from the point they receive a fuselage from Glyn Powell’s workshops. The next Mosquito to be completed by Avspecs, T.43 NZ2308 (a project started by Glyn Powell), is destined for The Mosquito Pathfinder Trust and bound for the UK – the birthplace of the ‘Mossie’. The Mosquito buzz is set to continue, and European enthusiasts may finally have their desire to see this beloved type back on the airshow circuit fulfilled.
The resurrection of such rare types can only be achieved with the technical expertise afforded by leading engineering facilities and individuals. To that end, in late October we were privileged to help the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group announce a new partnership with the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) at Duxford that will see ARCo managing the aircraft’s restoration to flight. The project has been steadily gathering pace since its formation in early 2016, gathering parts, information and funds with great success, but the link up with a world renowned facility of ARCo’s standing is a huge step forwards. This collaboration gives us the best chance of seeing Hawker Typhoon RB396 fly in future – a remarkable feat that, whilst a long way off and dependent on successful fundraising, is a tantalising prospect nonetheless.
Understandably, those seeking to revive rare aircraft have to find a compromise between restoring a largely complete airframe and rebuilding or reproducing the aeroplane from the ground up using very little of the original aircraft. Both approaches are equally challenging and important. There are, though, still people and organisations striving to recover substantial aircraft wrecks that have the potential to be restored to flight. In Russia, the Wings of Victory Foundation is responsible for the restoration of the world’s only flying examples of the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik (owned by the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum and Vadim Zadorozhny respectively, the latter being the most recent restoration of the two), a pair of MiG-3s and various Polikarpov fighters. The Foundation’s aim is to connect past, current and future generations of Russians through the recovery, restoration and demonstration of historically significant Second World War aircraft. Recently they have made two incredible recoveries in the form of a rare single-seat Il-2 and a Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2, both from lakes in the Murmansk region. Initial inspections have revealed that the cold water and silt preserved the airframes remarkably well over the 70-plus years since the aircraft were submerged, making them prime candidates for restoration to airworthiness. Tenacious plans to bring Zadorozhny’s airworthy Il-2 to several European airshows during the summer of 2018 were unfortunately thwarted by technical issues following an historic appearance at the Berlin ILA event, however the will is there, and the prospects of seeing an Il-2 at a British or European airshow have never been better. This demonstrates the passion the Wings of Victory Foundation has for reviving these aircraft, from recovery through to display.
The recovery of P-38 Glacier Girl from the Greenland ice cap in 1992 is one of the most incredible stories of airframe retrieval in recent times, and now a team are leading an ambitious second mission to recover more aircraft from the icy depths. During the Second World War many US military aircraft transited from the US to the European Theatre by flying the northern air transit route across Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland. In 1942, bad weather hampered one particular flight of aircraft and, low on fuel, the aeroplanes landed on the ice, submerging over time. The latest expedition, led by Jim Salazar and Ken McBride from Arctic Hotpoint Solutions and Fallen American MIA Repatriation Foundation respectively, has located another P-38 using radar imaging and probes, and recovery is no longer a pipe dream. They are also planning the further location and recovery of a Douglas C-53 and a US Coast Guard Grumman Duck. These are the hard fought beginnings of new projects that we may well see take flight one day, in the ever shifting topography of the historic aviation scene.
This whistle-stop overview only touches on a few of the most notable projects ongoing in 2018. There is great work going on throughout the scene at every level, but it is these boundary pushing projects in particular that demonstrate just how far the preservation movement has come since it’s formative years and suggest that it will continue on at strength into the future. Underpinning it all is the hard work, dedication and passion of the people behind the aircraft, as well as the enthusiasts who support the scene so ardently and revel in the recreation of types previously consigned to history; the overarching importance of these restoration projects shouldn’t be underestimated – the education of current and future generations through the stories these aircraft can tell. Who knows what may be possible in the future as the scene moves ever on, beyond our wildest dreams.