Mosquito man still buzzing over project

By Denise Montgomery


Glyn Powell's head pops out from beneath a plane carcase draped in sheets and various ragged shapes of cloth. The plane sits on a perch of wooden trestles in a hangar-shaped shed in Drury, built especially to house its transformation.

Glyn fits easily under a big wooden wing, and shuffles towards us across a concrete floor that's a little sawdusty in parts.

A firm handshake, a sheepish grin. He gestures at his baby - a Mosquito T43 he's rebuilding completely. He bought it around 25 years ago, thinking he could restore it in five years, then fly it. But he soon realised the glue that held together the all-wood airframe would never pass the flying test.

That's when he also realised his pet project was going to be mammoth.

To be able to fly this Australian-built Mosquito, Glyn has had to completely rebuild its airframe, a task that in days gone by was reserved for highly specialised factories and engineers who had complex moulds, jigs and templates for the plane's fuselage and wing spars.

When Mosquito production began around 70 years ago, thousands of skilled workers put them together.

With the moulds scrapped in 1950, there was nothing for it but for Glen to start making his own templates.

The project is intricate and difficult. But the goal is still firm in his mind - to fly the plane.

"You can't look at the whole of it," Glyn explains. "If you did that you would be overwhelmed. You have to look at it in parts, and just create those parts one after another."

Walking through his purpose-built workshop, you gain a glimpse of how this Kiwi bloke's clever mind works. Everywhere are parts of this puzzle - balsa templates cut in specific shapes and hung on the walls; on a bench lie pieces of metal waiting to be reshaped or remodelled, alongside replicas that already have been; various parts are numbered or lettered. In different sections of the hangar are different parts of the plane, plus jars of nuts and bolts, all carefully labelled.

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The wood used in this construction, a project undertaken in a rural backblock of Auckland, has to be different from that used in 1940.

"The plywood used for these planes was 3-ply, but aircraft plywood today is thicker 5-ply, so there are more layers so it's not suitable," explains Glyn. It's just one of the obstacles he's overcome with Kiwi pragmatism by sourcing certified plywood from a British manufacturer. He also visited museums around the world where Mosquitoes were held, taking photos and making notes.

At the back of the workshop, looking rather like a dishevelled professor and intently working on a piece of something avionic but unidentifiable to the untrained eye, is Glyn's sidekick. His name is Mike Tunnicliffe. He's from Tuakau, and has worked with Glyn on this restoration for seven years.

You'll find them in the hangar, nine hours a day, five days a week.

"I knew what I was in for," he says calmly.

"It's far more complex than the majority of homebuilt aircraft."

Mike has already built a plane himself and that's where he learned the skills he's using today.

Glyn explains that many of their days are spent trawling through the 10,000 drawings they've obtained. They were all on rolls of microfilm sourced from around the world and have had to be printed. The huge white sheets are laid out across tables, each showing different parts of the plane. I look at a couple and feel overwhelmed. This is a job for the very patient. Many of the instructions they found had to be written out in longhand.

"I had to scan them all and get them into the computer ... I'd do that by traipsing up to Auckland University and using their microfilm reader ... but the university stopped that. Think it was something to do with costs. So now I have to work out how to get the rest."

Not that they don't have plenty to go on with. At various times up to four people work with Glyn and Mike, but the budget is tight so most days it's just the two of them. Regular blokes in sheds.

When Glyn began building the moulds, he turned to experts in the boatbuilding industry, including Chris McMullen, who helped craft the two 11m halves of the fuselage in cedar, a five-year job. Then came six months of making the wing assembly jig. It took a year for up to three people to build the fuselage. The airframe took another three years. Then there are all the other parts - the tailplane, bulkheads, wingtips and more - each required their own templates.

You can see why it's taken a while. Everything has to be accurate to within 50-thousandths of an inch across the plane, and 10-thousandths of an inch at the drill plates.

Much effort goes into gap-filling and waterproofing, using modern epoxy glues to seal the structure.

"Epoxy is a far superior glue and makes a beautiful job of it. As well as being stronger, it has excellent waterproofing qualities, which overcomes one of the problems the Mosquito gave in service - moisture ingress.

"There are lots of inquiries about when it's going to fly ... it would be sooner if we had the workforce, but we're plugging away," says Glyn.

Glyn's wife died some years back. His grandson, Matthew, in his early 20s, pops into the workshop often. He's interested in the whole project but is busy farming.

"One day he'll take over, he thinks it's great."

Other people drop in every day, and Glyn always has time for a chat. On the rare occasion he isn't working, he is flying his Piper Pawnee at the local gliding club. Despite being somewhat vintage himself, 78-year-old Glyn is determined to get his Mosquito into the air.

"I want to get this bloody thing flying ... and we will," he says, with a flash of the steely determination that's got him this far.

"Yep," says Mike.

THE 'OTHER' MOSQUITO

Glyn Powell has also been involved in the restoration of a World War II de Havilland Mosquito FB 26 KA114 for American vintage plane enthusiast Jerry Yagen. He made the wooden airframe to its original specifications for Avspecs, the Ardmore firm which rebuilds vintage and Warbirds aircraft. After an eight-year project that plane will take to the skies on Saturday, September 29 (rainday Sept 30) at Ardmore. It will be the only one of about 7800 Mosquitoes built in Britain, Canada and Australia that still fly.

AvSpecs owner, Warren Denholm, says Glyn and his staff built the complete wooden airframe for the plane over a period of 33 months and "his dedication to the job of building the moulds required for the fuselage is what defines his contribution".

"He has sunk thousands of hours and dollars into the project over many, many years creating the tooling."

WHAT Mosquito Flight

WHERE Ardmore

WHEN Saturday, September 29 (rainday the next day) 10am-4pm

HOW MUCH Adults $25, Under 15 $10, Family $50, from Ticketek or at the gate.

WEB warbirdrestoration.co.nz, facebook.com/avspecs

 

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