It takes immense passion – and a big cheque book – to restore and preserve historic aircraft. Reviving unique types offers an even greater challenge; technical drawings, parts and engineering knowledge are likely to be scarce or, in some cases, non-existent, meaning such restorations begin long before the first components take shape. In many cases the aircraft under restoration may have strong national significance – overcoming the technical hurdles may be one element of a wider plan that aims to inspire and educate.
Those of us in the UK enjoy the most diverse historic aviation scene in Europe – diversity epitomised by several major projects currently taking shape at workshops across the country. The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group’s aim to rebuild Hawker Typhoon RB396 is becoming a reality as Airframe Assemblies’ restoration of the aircraft’s rear fuselage continues, thanks largely to the voluntary group’s fundraising efforts over the last few years. Similarly, efforts to return the de Havilland Mosquito to UK skies have gathered pace. The People’s Mosquito is making advances with build partner Retrotec Ltd, having raised £100,000 of its £250,000 target in a recent fundraising campaign for the manufacture of the essential fuselage moulds, and the first mould is nearing completion. Meanwhile, the Mosquito Pathfinder Trust is making progress in its efforts to secure the late Glyn Powell’s Mosquito project, NZ2308. ‘Wooden wonder’ experts Avspecs Ltd would restore the aeroplane in New Zealand, with the Aircraft Restoration Company providing Design Authority Oversight to satisfy UK CAA Engineering and Compliance ahead of the aeroplane’s relocation to the UK. Both are exciting prospects for European enthusiasts.
Similar ventures on the continent are quietly making good progress. At the forefront is the Fokker D.XXI project in the Netherlands. All being well, the aeroplane should fly in the latter part of 2020. The type served largely with the Finnish forces against the Soviets during the Winter War, and the Dutch against the Germans during the blitzkrieg of 1940. Just one original complete example survives, preserved in the Finnish Air Force Museum, whilst a substantial wreck is on display at the CRASH Air War and Resistance Museum ’40-’45 in Lisserbroek, and a replica in the Militaire Luchtvaart Museum.
The aircraft nearing completion is a replica manufactured to the original Fokker drawings and incorporating some original parts. Jack Van Egmond acquired his first technical drawing of the aircraft in 1959, from which the idea of building a flying D.XXI crystallised. The majority of drawings had been acquired by 2012, and permission was sought from and granted by the Dutch Ministry to build the fighter. D.XXIs fought doggedly against the rapidly advancing German armed forces in May 1940; for the Dutch, seeing one flying again after so long will be very special indeed, and it will be an excellent addition to the country’s reasonably small historic scene. With his company, Egmond Vintage Wings, Jack has worked on the project alongside his sons and his grandson, as well as numerous other enthusiastic individuals – a true family affair to bring back an important fighter from their country’s past.
In France, work is underway to build a replica of a French fighter that, despite its promise, just missed out on being put into production and seeing action before the German forces occupied the country in 1940. Réplic’Air announced in 2013 its intention to build a replica Dewoitine D.551, following the culmination of the company’s previous odyssey – a replica Morane-Saulnier Type G, completed and flown across the Mediterranean from southern France to the northern tip of Tunisia by Baptiste Salis in 2013 to recreate Roland Garros’ epic eight-hour flight. The D.551 was the successor to the D.520, which, though a decent adversary for the Bf 109Es in 1940, wasn’t produced in large enough numbers to make a difference. Émile Dewoitine developed the D.550 for an air speed record attempt in 1939 and work then began on a militarised version, the D.551. Unfortunately, none of the prototypes were complete by the time the armistice came, and the aircraft were scrapped before ever taking to the air. For the past few years Réplic’Air has been gathering the information needed to progress the build, making its own tooling and moving to new premises, and some physical work has now begun, most significantly including the construction of the spar, and fuselage rails and frames. This technically ambitious project will finally realise what was the peak of Émile Dewoitine’s designs, providing a new perspective on French aviation history.
At an even earlier stage is a project spearheaded by Sky Legend, which sets out to recreate the sleek IAR 80, one of Romania’s principle Second World War fighters. The Romanian Air Force flew alongside the Luftwaffe and operated myriad types, including many German, Italian and Polish aeroplanes often built under licence, as well as its native Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR) 80/81s. The diminutive fighter proved nimble and could match the performance of other contemporary fighters such as the Hurricane and Bf 109E, and although lack of available armament delayed its service entry until 1941, it proved itself in combat against the likes of the P-38 Lightning in defence of Ploeşti. Sky Legend has spent the last year amassing people to work on the project, including aerospace engineers and historians, with the hope of promoting aviation events and aerospace careers in Romania. Projects like these strive to put lesser-known types back into the skies – wonderful to see.
Up until recently Germany’s population of airworthy Daimler-Benz-powered Bf 109s had suffered repeated setbacks. The Messerschmitt Foundation’s three Bf 109s have encountered numerous engine issues and suffered a series of accidents in recent years; indeed, its Bf 109G-4 ‘Red 7’ had been intermittently flying for the past decade until a further incident precipitated another major ground-up restoration. For Europe’s Bf 109 population, a solution to the issues that plagued the restored Daimler-Benz engines may offer a breakthrough.
In recent years Michael Rinner and his team at Rinner Performance Engines (RPE) in Austria have sought to overcome some of the Daimler-Benz’s reliability issues, working with Hangar 10’s founder Volker Schülke (who was sadly killed in a flying accident on 2 August) to formulate a workflow for the operation of the collection’s two airworthy Bf 109s. Another Bf 109 recently surfaced at Usedom, this being the Messerschmitt Stiftung’s G-6 FM+BB, which has not flown for over a decade. The fighter has undergone an overhaul in conjunction with Hangar 10, Rinner and other companies, and should begin test flying soon before handover to the Foundation, from which point it will presumably be very active on the European airshow circuit, as ‘Red 7’ had been. The Bf 109 was technically advanced for its day; now, in preservation, RPE’s technological advancements and knowledge of the Daimler-Benz engine is fundamental to keeping the airworthy 109 population flying.
Beyond these rare and unique types are more familiar rebuilds as continental operators seek to restore aircraft relevant to their respective nations. To that end, it is buoying to see the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation making strides with its project to restore Mk IX PL258 to flight. The visit to the country of Spitfire Mk IX RR232 in the temporary markings of Rolf Berg’s mount was a significant moment of remembrance for the Norwegians, and you only have to watch the video of the speeches from the NSF PL258 project launch to understand the team’s emotion and enthusiasm for operating a Spitfire in Norway. It’s positive to see the Norwegian Flying Aces’ plans to do the same with Mk IX EN570, which is being rebuilt as a two-seater.
Furthermore, funding has recently been received for the 423 project (so named after the number of an aircraft that flew against the advancing Germans in April 1940) to support its aim to secure Gladiator N5719, currently under restoration to flight with Retro Track & Air, and bring it to Norway. What a boost for the burgeoning Norwegian warbird scene! We’re extremely lucky in the UK to enjoy dozens of Spitfires and two Gladiators; the passion amongst Norwegian enthusiasts and aviators to secure just one or two of these aeroplanes puts a new perspective on our appreciation of the UK’s vibrant historic aircraft industry.
Some of the Spitfires that have either recently flown or are under restoration to flight in the UK offer new perspectives on a familiar type. A trio of Spitfires at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar (BHHH) epitomises this: the Hangar 11 Collection’s Mk IX PT879, which is being completed in its wartime Russian lend-lease markings and could fly within the next month; Mk IX LZ842 in desert colours from its time serving in Malta and Sicily, and newly airworthy Tr IX TE308, which BHHH has painted in striking Royal Australian Air Force 457 ‘Grey Nurse’ Sqn colours before its first flight in August 2020 – all aircraft with very different appearances, backgrounds and stories.
There are some unique marks being restored to flight too. Air Leasing has Spitfire Mk XII EN224 – the first variant to enter service with the Griffon engine – on its books. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated is an early photo reconnaissance mark, with work underway at Airframe Assemblies on PR.IV AA810, an aeroplane shot down over Norway in 1942 whilst on a mission to photograph the Tirpitz. AA810 will be a supremely beautiful example once finished, with the clean lines of the ‘baby’ Spit in unarmed PR configuration and a wrap-around windscreen. It will also carry with it the layered stories of the early PR squadrons and of its pilot, Flt Lt Alastair ‘Sandy’ Gunn, who was flying the aeroplane when it was lost. Gunn became a PoW and later took part in the ‘Great Escape’. Captured a second time, he faced summary execution. His exploits inspired the Sandy Gunn Aerospace Careers Programme that runs alongside the restoration project to encourage the interests of young people in engineering and aerospace. The project’s very active social media channels are well worth keeping an eye on for the regular and insightful technical updates on the restoration.
Another Spitfire restoration recently registered in the UK will have particular significance to the Poles. 303 Sqn veteran Mk IIb P8331 is owned by Łaguna’s Spitfire Legacy (LSL, named after Piotr Łaguna, who was killed when the aircraft was shot down over northern France in 1941) and in tandem with the restoration, the organisation is aiming to promote Anglo-Polish ties with educational stands at airshows, Polish Heritage Days and community events. Scott Booth, the head of LSL, is working closely with the Historic Aircraft Collection on promoting Polish heritage within the RAF and once P3881 is back in the air, plans are afoot for the Spitfire to visit Poland as part of HAC’s Polish Heritage Flight alongside its 315 and 317 Polish Sqn veteran Spitfire Mk.Vb BM597 and 303 Sqn-painted Hurricane. What an occasion that will be.
These are just some examples of projects taking shape in Europe, thanks to the incredible drive of the people involved; their efforts will shine a light on each aeroplane’s respective national or individual stories. These aircraft can also shape our perspectives of the types we may have become blasé about – we have much to look forward to, and much more to be thankful for.