John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Volunteers give wartime bomber new lease of life

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Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen
Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen

A former World War II torpedo bomber that spent 10 years in a children's playground is close to finishing a year-long restoration by Tauranga's Classic Flyers.

The 1943 Grumman Avenger is on loan from the Gisborne Aircraft Preservation Society after it became clear the society did not have the manpower for a restoration.

"It is looking more like an aeroplane, as opposed to the wreck that arrived here," Classic Flyers spokesman Garry Bentley said. The Avenger was the first of its type to arrive in New Zealand and operated as part of the New Zealand Royal Air Force's training wing until the aircraft was retired in 1959.

Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen
Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen

Mr Bentley said the Avenger sat in a children's playground in the Taranaki town of Opunake for 10 years until it was shifted to the Silverstream Transport Museum in 1972.

The RNZAF purchased the aircraft a year later to use as parts for another Avenger it was restoring, ending up in Gisborne in 1998. A lot of the heavy restoration work by the museum's dedicated band of 15 to 20 volunteers has now been completed, including a complete rebuild of the 14-cylinder 1900hp motor.

Mr Bentley said the restoration included stripping down all the badly corroded aluminium panels. Much of the work was to rectify the corrosion - fixing holes and re-manufacturing parts.

Volunteers were looking forward to the day very soon when the motor was running again, leaving work on the canopy, some detailing and the final paint job to complete the restoration. "It will look magnificent," he said.

However, the aircraft would not be taking to the skies above the Bay Plenty. Making the Avenger airworthy would have cost a couple of million dollars extra, money that Classic Flyers simply did not have.

Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen
Tauranga's Classic Flyer volunteers have turned a pile of corroded aircraft parts into nearly the real thing, together with folding wings. Photo/Bent Jansen

Once the motor was running, the hydraulics that operated the Avenger's folding wings would allow this aircraft's special feature to be shown off. Folded wings allowed more of them to be stowed on aircraft carriers.

The Leroy Grumman-designed torpedo bomber can currently be viewed from the main doors of the restoration hanger just up from the main museum hangar.

The thousands of dollars of restoration costs, including buying second-hand parts from America, have been shared 50/50 by Classic Flyers and the aircraft's Gisborne owners.

Classic Flyers was always looking for people to help out, including restoring old aircraft. Although the restoration crew included retired engineers, Mr Bentley said it was not necessary for volunteers to have an aviation background.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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