Aviation History Aviation Articles

First Post-Restoration Flight for Ultra-Rare Airco DH.9 WWI Bomber

The world's only original airworthy WWI-era bomber, Airco DH.9 E8894 took to the skies over Duxford, Cambridgeshire following a 15-year restoration effort with Retrotec Ltd. in England on May 13th, 2019. (photo by George Land)

 

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The Historic Aircraft Collection’s extraordinarily rare, WWI-era Airco DH.9 light bomber took to the skies over Duxford Aerodrome on May 13th, 2019 for its first post-restoration flight following fifteen years of dedicated conservation and restoration at Retrotec Ltd. in Westfield, East Sussex. The aircraft hadn’t flown under its own power for the best part of a century, and it is currently the only original WWI bomber flying anywhere in the world!

The DH.9, designed by the legendary Geoffrey de Havilland in 1917, was essentially a larger, modified variant of his very successful DH.4, with which it shared significant components. It was intended to fly at 15,000′ and had an internal bomb bay; a first for British designs of the day. Although it had a sound pedigree, the aircraft’s Achilles heel was its powerplant, the Siddeley-Deasey Puma, which delivered at best 230 of the promised 300 HP promised. Added to this already near-fatal shortcoming, the engine was so unreliable that many DH.9s (and often their crews) were lost to engine failure. Even so, the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Ltd. (Airco – a forerunner to de Havilland) built four thousand or so DH.9s, although a good number of the later variants, like the DH.9A, used the far more reliable and powerful Liberty V-12 or the Rolls-Royce Eagle Mk.VIII powerplants. Despite the type’s inauspicious beginnings, DH.9s and their variants served in more than twenty military air arms across the world, and a good number ended up with civilian operators as well. They soldiered on in every corner of the British Empire well into the 1930s, with the last flight believed to have taken place sometime in 1937.

Although Airco built several thousand DH.9s, only a handful still survive. Just three DH.9s were known to exist, none of them in the UK, before Guy Black confirmed the existence of a further three examples in India during the late 1990s. These three had been Imperial Gifts from the British in India to the Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh in Bikaner, Rajasthan, although it is doubtful they ever flew with their new owner. Black found that two of the DH.9s lay dismantled in the now-disused elephant stables within the maharaja’s fortress, while a third example had been crudely put back together for display. After a lengthy period of negotiation, Guy Black was able to acquire the two stored examples, which formerly served in the Royal Air Force as D5649 and E8894. Their service histories are presently unknown, other than that both of aircraft spent time at a storage depot in Biggin Hill, near London, England during early 1918; Guy Black believes that neither of them flew in combat during WWI.

Both airframes were in understandably poor condition, and without engines, but would form the basis for one airworthy and one static example for display in England. It was clear that almost all of the wood would need to be replaced in any airworthy restoration, so in order to preserve as much original material as possible for the ground-bound example, Black chose D5649 for static restoration as its woodwork was in the best condition… albeit suffering from further indignities and damage at the hands of the team in India charged with preparing them for shipment back to England. In the years subsequent to their arrival in England, the restoration team scoured the earth looking for original parts, not to mention drawings and manufacturing details. Following decade-long sympathetic conservation, Retrotec completed D5649 for display in 2015. This example was originally built in Hammersmith, London at Waring and Gillow, a furniture factory impressed into war work, and now she was complete again following decades of decay. She now sits proudly in the Imperial War Museum’s Airspace hangar at Duxford Aerodrome.

Due to the lack of any original drawings, and Guy Black’s determination to produce as authentic a restoration as possible, E8894 took more than fifteen years to restore. One stroke of luck came when Guy Black realized he had a complete set of DH.9 wing struts in his collection that he had acquired before starting the project. He also found a significant collection of DH.4 drawings in the Smithsonian’s archives in the USA, which provided useful data for the project since many DH.4 parts migrated to the DH.9 design. But the biggest problem was locating an appropriate, period engine to power the aircraft. Since the Siddeley-Deasy Puma was never used on any other production aircraft, for obvious reasons, it has become exceedingly rare, with just a handful or so rebuildable examples still in existence, and none available for acquisition. However, Guy Black was able to locate an even rarer Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) engine within the Canada Aviation & Space Museum’s collection in Ottawa, Canada. Interestingly, the BHP was used in the early examples of the DH.9 before Siddeley-Deasy took up its production as the Puma. Rushed into production, there were many design faults, but one of them seemed so egregious as to be unbelievable. The connecting rods had their part number and inspection stamp crudely whacked into them at precisely the same spot where most of the failures seemed to occur. As a result, the restored engine incorporates newly manufactured con-rods, sans the troublesome stampings, so they should be more reliable than the originals. Retrotec conducted the first engine runs with the BHP powerplant mounted in E8894 during October 2018. There is a wonderful video available below which should give our readers a good idea of what this ancient engine sounds like…

 

 

The first flight took place at Duxford on May 13th, and our very own George Land was on hand to record the details. George reports the details as follows…

“After many years of painstaking labor, the dream became reality when in October of 2018 E8894’s first engine runs occurred,  followed by ground testing and taxi runs that November.

Finally on May 13th, 2019, we were lucky to witness the first flight of an authentic DH.9 in many long years when test pilot Dodge Bailey, who is one of the most experienced vintage biplane pilots in the UK, finally felt that everything was in order for a test flight. He took E8894 into the air using an into-the-wind, cross-field take-off on the grass from the west end of RAF Duxford for the first time. 

After numerous circuits of the airfield at differing heights, Dodge Bailey took the DH.9 on a run down the field in front of the tower before bringing the historic WWI bomber around for a safe cross-field landing and a successful conclusion to her first flight following restoration.

Since then, a number of flights have taken place and it is hoped that the first public display might take place during the Flying Legends air show at Duxford on July 13th.”

 Obviously, given the nature of its engine, the DH.9 will only fly occasionally, but it is marvelous to see it flying again; a tangible link to our collective past that is all down to the perspicacity of Guy Black and the ingenuity and hard work of all those at Retrotec Ltd. and HAC. As some will know, the Historic Aircraft Collection, and their restoration arm, Retrotec, have a prodigious reputation for unusual and complex restorations. These include a unique survivor of the Hawker Fury interwar biplane fighter, perhaps the most beautiful biplane ever built… at least to your editor’s eyes… and a Hawker Nimrod Mk.II (a navalized Fury) to name a few. Currently, they are working on the resurrection of de Havilland Mosquito NF.36 RL249 for another client.

 

DH.9 E8894 sitting outside Hangar 3 at Duxford Aerodrome before another test flight on June 15th, 2019. The aircraft was scheduled to have its first public display on June 22nd, however, this had to be postponed. (photo by George Land)
 

 

Aviation Tragedy: When disaster strikes

Bruce Van Fleet and Luke Sullivan (Source: ITEC / Facebook)

Let me tell you about Luke and Bruce.

Luke Sullivan was 28 years old. By all accounts, Luke wanted to do more than just fly airplanes for the fun of it. He didn’t want to make a buck. He wanted to make a difference. So while so many pilots wind up flying to the airlines, Luke’s aviation career led him to Guatemala.

It may sound like an unlikely place for a budding young Texas aviator to end up, but Luke accepted the position of aviation director for Paradise Bound Ministries. The Michigan-based organization, according to its website, is a Christian non-profit created to “do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost and dying in Guatemala.” That includes providing clean water and medical care to people in remote villages – and Luke was a part of that.

Bruce Van Fleet, age 32, is from Florida. Another pilot, I’m told Bruce had just received his commercial license and was working on getting his A&P. Like Luke, he was interested in mission aviation, and he recently went to visit with Luke in Guatemala to learn more about the possibility of working with Paradise Bound Ministries.

Four days ago, both of them were on the same flight. According to a report by The Washington Post, the aircraft took off from Quiche department, bound for Guatemala City’s international airport, when it went down in Chimaltenango department, about 20 miles from the capital.

Luke ultimately died from his injuries. He leaves behind a wife, three children and a fourth on the way.

As of the time of this writing, Bruce is back in the states in a medically induced coma. He is fighting for his life. He has a wife and a child.

I write this not to be morbid. I don’t know either man. Originally, I planned this blog to be about a chance encounter with a Pietenpol pilot one of my instructors and I had while visiting a grass strip. But with my Facebook feed filling up with concerned prayers and condolences for the families involved, this seemed more important.

"He is one of the nicest people you could ever meet," wrote Austin Brumfield, one of my Facebook friends, about Bruce. "I don't know why God gives us days like these, and I know Bruce has got to feel so alone where he's at right now. Be praying for him."

Zack Wilkinson, another Facebook friend, had this to say:

"At its core, aviation is about relationships. In the same way, the calling of Christ is a call to establish a connection with a man who came to offer salvation to all. Regrettably, Luke lost his life in pursuit of serving the Lord through aviation largely before getting started. He was not the first, and he will not be the last. Though his part on earth is done, its impact is far from over. Luke lived for Christ each day. For some who hear his story, his impact will have just begun."

There is just something about the aviation community. Maybe it's the shared bond we have of having spent hours studying weight and balance problems and acronyms. Or trying to figure out how to track and follow VOR approaches. Or sweating out power on stalls for the first time. Maybe it's simply the closeness we all feel from a shared love of aviation. Whatever it is, when a tragedy like this strikes, aviators from all over the country seem to come together and step up to help.

You don't have to share Luke and Bruce's faith – as I do – in order to feel for their families or mourn Luke's loss.

As my Facebook friend so eloquently put it, it's not the first time the field of mission aviation has faced such tragic losses. Most famously, on Jan. 8, 1956, Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot Nate Saint, along with fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian, were slaughtered in Ecuador by members of the Huaorani tribe after making the first contact. (For more information, see the film "End of the Spear," or better yet, read "Jungle Pilot" by Nathaniel Hitt.)

Those deaths seemed senseless at the time. But something incredible happened. Some of the widows of the men who were murdered went back to live with the tribe. They ministered to them. This isolated tribe – a tribe so murderous the locals had given them the derogatory name "Auca," which means "savage" – took them in. They learned a better way. They stopped killing each other.

Years later, Nate Saint's children were baptized by the very men who murdered their father. Their families share a bond that, to outsiders, makes absolutely no sense. And yet…

After the murders on the beach, the remains of Nate's plane were washed away by a brutal storm. They weren't found until decades later in 1994. The skeletal frame is now housed in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship headquarters in Nampa, Idaho. I've seen it. I've seen the dents the natives' machetes made in the metal.

The remains of Nate Saint's airplane, located in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship. (Source: MAF.org)

Aviation is, by and large, relatively safe. Most of us know this. Most of us will never have to deal with this kind of tragedy. But when it does happen, it seems senseless. It seems like it was all for nothing.

The family of Nate Saint would disagree.

I would not dare to speak for the Sullivan or Van Fleet families. They don't need me to speak. I don't know them. They need us to listen – and to help where we can.

If anyone is interested in helping either family, there are a number of ways to step up:

Paradise Bound has set up a GoFundMe account to help both the Sullivan and Van Fleet families. For more information, CLICK HERE.

ITEC, the company that was training Bruce Van Fleet (the company that was started by Nate Saint's son), has also set up a GoFundMe account for his family. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Travis K. Kircher is a private pilot based in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

The Big Four: the aircraft that shaped private jet travel

Business jets have created a world of opportunity for businesses and high wealth individuals around the world, allowing them the ability to fly themselves or send predominant staff to places that commercial flights can’t reach. They allowed these executives to attend imperative meetings and be home for dinner. The social status of owners increased as well, showcasing to others that they were long on financial resources and short on time. 

The following are four aircraft that changed the world in regards to time efficiency, business productivity, and social status.  What is most interesting is that all four originated from military contracts with the intent of being quicker and more efficient than predecessors.

 

Lockheed JetStar – L329
Deliveries: 202 (1961-1980)

 

Lockheed created the L-329 as a private venture to meet a United States Air Force (USAF) requirement, which ultimately shaped it into the world’s first business jet design.

The JetStar was one of the largest aircraft in its class, seating ten plus two crew. It was the first corporate aircraft to allow a person to walk upright in the cabin.  It can be distinguished from other small jets by its four engines, which are mounted at the tail and the “slipper” style fuel tanks fixed to the wings to accommodate the increased fuel consumption from two extra engines. 

Although it was not the primary Air Force One aircraft, VC-140B’s did carry Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan while they were in office and used the Air Force One call sign while aboard.

Elvis Presley owned two JetStars at different times, the second being known as Hound Dog II. Reportedly he paid $899,702.60 for the aircraft on September 2, 1975.

 

North American Sabreliner 40
Deliveries: 137 (1959 – 1974)

 

The Sabreliner was developed in the mid-1950s by Los Angeles-based North American Aviation as an in-house project. North American offered a military version to the USAF in response to the Utility Trainer Experimental (UTX) program.  Because no other companies competed for the UTX, North American Aviation won the contract by default. 

This was the world’s first executive aircraft to run on a twin-jet system. It was named Sabreliner due to its similarity of supercritical and swept wings and tail to the North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter. It also included innovational slats.

Over 800 Sabreliners were produced, 200 of which were T-39s, military variants used by the USAF, United States Navy, and United States Marine Corps. Deriving itself from the F-86 Sabre, the Sabreliner is the only business jet authorized for aerobatics. The cockpit windows had topside “eyebrows” that provided a distinctive recognition feature for the aircraft.

Sabreliner was sold to Rockwell International and renamed as the Rockwell Sabreliner. In 1981, Sabreliner production came to a close.  In 1982, Rockwell sold the Sabreliner division to a private equity firm which later formed Sabreliner Corporation.

 

Learjet 23
Deliveries: 101 (1964-1966)

 

Among the first, and best known, private jets was the Lear Jet 23 (later renamed Learjet). This jet’s small size and economically fast operation made it a staple in the fleet of captains of industry, celebrities, and other wealthy members of society across the world.

The Lockheed JetStar and North American Sabreliner had been on the market before the Learjet 23 was produced, but its ability to climb higher and faster than its competitors made it the first civilian, jet-powered light aircraft.

The aircraft was beyond its time in terms of performance: 518 MPH cruising speed, 562 MPH (488 knots) maximum speed, 6,900 feet-per-minute rate of climb, 1,830-mile range, and 45,000-foot ceiling. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Model 23 could out-climb an F-100 Super Sabre to 10,000 ft.

The man behind the Learjet was William “Bill” Powell Lear, Sr., who was inspired by the Swiss P-16 fighter jet prototype. Lear established the Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC) to produce the passenger version: the SAAC-23 ExecuJet. After moving the company to Wichita, Kansas, he renamed it the Lear Jet Corporation. 

Essentially, Bill Lear wanted a small aircraft that could perform like a jet airliner and carry its five passengers and two pilots at 500 MPH for distances of 1,500 miles or more. While the aircraft performed like a fighter, it also had the accident record of one. The Model 23 was demanding to fly, even for experienced pilots. It was unrelenting of pilot errors, leading to 23 Learjet crashes in only three years with four of those resulting in fatalities.  The fleet was only made of 104 aircraft, meaning you had a 22% chance of crashing each time you flew in one.

Lear recognized the problem and introduced the Model 24 in 1966, with improved two-speed handling qualities. The accident rates improved as new models continued to be put on the market, but these rates were still much higher than other corporate jets of the time.

 

Dassault Falcon 20
Deliveries: 512 (1965-1991) including 20C, 20D, 20E and 20F

 

In December of 1961, French aircraft designer and head of Dassault Aviation, Marcel Dassault, provided the approval to work towards the production of an eight to ten seat executive jet/military liaison aircraft that could fly 500 mph+, which was initially named the Dassault-Breguet Mystère 20.

This low-wing monoplane drew upon the aerodynamics of the transonic Dassault Mystère IV fighter-bomber and was equipped with a pair of rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT12A-8 turbojet engines. Later upgrades to the airframe include Garrett TFE-731 engines.

Directly selling the aircraft wasn’t a viable option, so they settled on Pan American World Airways as the US distributor. The aircraft were distributed in America under the name Fan Jet Falcon, later becoming popularly known as the Falcon 20.  In total, Pan American placed orders for a combined total of 160 Falcon 20s. Other major orders were soon placed by several operators, both civil and military; amongst these included the French Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and Federal Express.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, aviation businessman Frederick W. Smith was seeking an ideal aircraft with which to launch his new business, Federal Express, commonly known today as FedEx. The Falcon 20 had a strong fuselage, making it the ideal aircraft for cargo operations.  The first packages to be carried by FedEx were in a Falcon 20 on April 17, 1973. Within a decade, the company was using 33 of the twinjets in its air express network.

Dassault went on to sell more than 500 Falcon series aircraft until 1991. The French company continues to be a major player in the market today with its lineup of twin- and three-engined designs.

 

These private jets began as ideas on a crumpled piece of paper in the corner of a desk. No one could have known just how impactful they would become. Across the world, they represent wealth and power to socialites and business owners alike. It is because of these aircraft that the private jet industry is stronger today than ever before.

97-year-old WWII Naval Intelligence Officer takes first flight in a B-25J Mitchell

B-25 Mitchell - Show MeWorld War II era B-25J Mitchell lands on the runways of Bowman Field (KLOU) to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. World War II veterans are being treated to honor flights during WWII Operation Gratitude.

The B-25J Mitchell, affectionately nicknamed “Show Me”, is best known for its role during the raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. This raid, led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, is often cited for boosting America’s morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor just months before.

“Show Me” flew from the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which is located in St. Charles County Smartt Airport (KSET), to Louisville’s own Bowman Field Airport (KLOU) specifically for the celebration. 

WWII era B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Twenty veterans from all branches of the military were carried five at a time in “Show Me” across the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State.

 One of those passengers, Norma Lewis, admits she spent most of the flight with her hands clenched. Not in fear, however, but exhilaration.

“The engine is like a thousand violins in my ears,” she said before pausing. “The feeling of being in the air is just… wow.” Norma smiled, recounting the flight in “Show Me”.

At 97 years-young, as she will be sure to remind you, Norma has lived an altruistic life.

In 1943, at the age of 21, she joined the Navy. She was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina as part of a mission of tracking German submarines.

After three and a half years as a Naval Intelligence Officer, Norma retired from the Navy.

She came to Louisville in the 1960s as a sign language interpreter, something she picked up around the age of 10 after having been raised by her deaf aunt and uncle in Connecticut.

In 1977, “Mass of the Air”, a televised weekly mass on local news station WHAS, began to air. Norma volunteered for the program as an interpreter and has since been with the station for 40 years. 

WWII Operation of Gratitude is presented by Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter during the week of June 3-7 to recognize the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

Jeff Thoke, chairman of the board of Honor Flight Bluegrass, said: “I am thankful to be able to put on such a truly special event for these veterans.”

From left: Norma Lewis, Jeff Thoke, and Ernie Micka pose
in front of the B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Honor Flight Bluegrass was selected as a recipient of a $75,000 grant from the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund, administered by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to fully sponsor the honor flight.

For more information, visit www.honorflightbluegrass.org

B-25J Mitchell lands at Bowman Field to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, June 2019

 

For the Love of the Mosquito Dream

A New Zealand aviator is looking for a new home for the “Wooden Wonder” -- his lovingly restored Mosquito T.43

Glyn Powell has a special talent. He has the ability to raise the dead.Glyn Powell

Not people, mind you. Aircraft.  Specifically the de Havilland Mosquito.

Introduced by the British and flown regularly by the Royal Air Force during World War II, the Mosquito had a wooden frame supporting two Merlin engines. A multi-use aircraft, the Mosquito served as a both a fighter and a bomber until it was eventually eclipsed in both design and popularity by the Supermarine Spitfire.

Though produced en masse during the war, most of the Mosquitos were eventually burned as time wore on and their wooden frames became rotten and unusable. Components were lost. Drawings were scattered. Long thought to be an unfortunate casualty of history, by the turn of the century, it was not believed that any Mosquito would ever fly again.

Until Glyn Powell took up the challenge.

An implausible ambition

Theo Botha, general manager of Mosquito Aircraft Restoration, has two words to describe Glyn Powell:  Humble and pragmatic.

“He’s exactly the kind of guy you really wouldn’t expect to want to rebuild one of the most technically complex non-jet aircraft in history in what is – what was – his garden,” Botha said.

And yet that’s exactly what happened. The New Zealand-based pilot fell in with a group of aviation enthusiasts with a shared vision: They wanted to rebuild a flyable Mosquito.

“Everyone talks about Spitfires because they’re flying,” Botha said. “You can see them. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s a Spitfire! It’s cool! It makes a loud noise!’ ‘Great! They won the war!’ ‘Oh, brilliant!’ But actually, the Mosquito played a very important role as well – extremely important – but because the airframes are made of wood, none of them are around. So they’re less in people’s minds. Glyn wanted to fix that.”

By 1989, most of the group had given up, but Powell had caught the vision and he wasn’t letting go. He purchased the remains of NZ2308 – a Mosquito T.43 – and began the work of restoring it. That work included securing 8,000 drawings on microfilm from the Smithsonian Institute, as well as traveling the world to examine, in detail, preserved Mosquitos. He also became a fervent collector of Mosquito parts.

“He’s not a CEO-type character – a bull-type character – where the only way to get him to do something is to set him a challenge,” Botha said. “He’s more someone who decides what he wants to do and is just gonna get on and do it. I supposed there’s no ego attached. It’s not a question of, ‘You say I can’t do it, so I will.’ It’s more a question of, ‘I’m gonna do it because it’s what I want to do.’”

“So what kind of guy is he?” Botha asks. “The kind of guy who just humbly shows you what he’s done, and the only thing you can think of to say is, ‘How can I help?’ He’s that kind of guy.”

Mosquito workshop

Restoring a flyable Mosquito is a task that would take Powell decades.

“I really don’t think they had any idea how hard it was to do,” Botha said of Powell and his team. “Because there’s almost a fractal level of detail with this. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make an Airfix model or something like that – those little five-minute jobs that end up taking you the best part of a week. The Mosquito is that to the Nth degree.” Glyn Powell

Powell and his team were faced with the obstacle of building a flyable Mosquito from drawings that weren’t 100 percent complete, assembled from parts – many of which were missing – in a manner that was both functional and historically accurate.

“At the time this was made, they were pumping these out like a Model T Ford,” Botha said. “But what we’re talking about is making one Model T Ford from scratch in your garage, from drawings. It’s mindboggling.”

By far, one of the most difficult aspects of the aircraft’s construction is its wooden frame. Made of a combination of plywood and balsa wood, the frame would require the construction of two moulds, composed of douglas fir and cedar wood. Botha says that wasn’t an easy task at a time when – aside from the construction of high-end furniture and musical instruments – the craft of woodworking is dying. Much thanks, he said, goes to the professionals at Avspecs Ltd., a New Zealand-based vintage aircraft restoration company, for their workmanship in forming the fuselage in a manner that reflected the original design.

That said, in some rare instances, Botha says modern materials were substituted where using the originals simply wasn’t practical for the overall longevity of the aircraft.

“There are substantive differences,” he admitted. “Some materials which were used are no longer commercially available, so some materials had to be substituted in.”

“But also, more importantly, the modern adhesives are much more resistant to moisture,” he added.

The original design called for a 1940 technology organic casein or urea formaldehyde glue. In place of this, Powell and his team used a modern epoxy.

“Moisture and humidity is a Mosquito’s worst enemy,” Botha said. “If you want it to last forever, you want to control its storage environment – the humidity. And the adhesive’s ability to be resistant to moisture is very important. So epoxies are used for the adhesive.”

Botha says Powell and his team had a much more difficult time building a handful of flying Mosquitos than the Brits of the 1930s did.

“At the time this plane was built, it was a really serious industrial job,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of people at hundreds of companies working together. So when Glyn started from scratch with just the drawings of the Mosquito, and not having the mammoth industrial supply chain – to have one organization making spars, one making ailerons, etc. – to do that with a small team is unfathomably audacious.”

Part of Powell’s success, Botha said, stems from the creativity and tenacity of the people working under him.

“They live and breathe small engineering activities,” he said. “They’re humble people, and they’re not earning a fortune from this.”

“One of the key men who works there, his hobby is making fully-functional, handheld-sized petrol engines,” he said. “So he’ll make you a V-12 you can hold in your hand. He makes those at home.”

Botha said he first visited Powell’s workshop years ago on the advice of a friend – and he immediately fell in love with the Mosquito.

“It’s hard not to,” he said. “If you pick up any part – any component or subcomponent – it’s just mind-blowing, the level of detail, within the detail, within the detail. And then the craft, which stems from figuring out how to interpret the drawings through to actually fabricating parts using the appropriate techniques and really making a job of every last piece…

“These days you could, using computer-aided design, CNC-machine all these parts and do all of it a lot easier, but they’re not doing it that way,” he added. “This is craft and advanced engineering and woodwork by hand, but up to the standards of CNC machining. It’s mind-blowing.”

The Wooden Wonder

The first fully-restored, fully-functional Mosquito, KA113, thrilled audiences when it made its post-restoration maiden flight in Sept. 2012. It went on to receive the award for Grand Champion WW2 Warbird at the 2015 EAA Oshkosh Airshow.

To date, three Mosquitos have been reconstructed and are now flyable. A fourth – Powell’s original plane, NZ2308 – is in the process of being restored, as financing permits. Botha said Powell hopes to find the financing to finish the project, and a buyer to give the aircraft a good home.

“The reason Glyn started this was not because he wanted to sell one, or because he wanted to build one. He wanted to fly one,” Botha said. “And he wanted to keep the memory of this thing alive. And when he was finished flying it, his ambition was to have it sent straight back to the UK, where it could be an important part of the flying military history over there.”

Currently, Powell is working with The Mostquito Pathfinder Trust, an organization raising funds to finish the restoration project and have the aircraft sent to the UK.

Botha said that, of the available Mosquitos, this is the prize.

“This is the one that started it all,” he said. “It is constructed from the pick of the available components by the guy who was sourcing them, as his personal aircraft.”

As time passes, Botha says the value of NZ2308 only increases, given the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to find the necessary skills and components to build another Mosquito.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “The cost of restoring a Mosquito is extraordinarily high, but if you had to make new metal parts from scratch, the cost would double. So the possibility of having authentic restored mosquitos is going away. Estimates vary, but two-to-three more will be the maximum. This is going to be the most special one.”

But the biggest advantage of this particular Mosquito, according to Botha, is the dual-control system, which means the plane can be flown from either the right or left seat.

“If I can afford it, I’d buy this, and I’d have one of a very, very, very small handful of pilots take me up in it and have some very safe fun in it.”

 “I think it’s a no-brainer,” he added wistfully.

Interested parties can review the purchase details at this link https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/Mosquito-The-Wooden-Wonder

Mosquito aircraft with crew during WWII

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