Bomber wears wartime wings

By Zac Yates

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The big, noisy Grumman Avenger that wowed the crowds at the RNZAF Base Ohakea airshow this year is getting a facelift.

The 1940s torpedo bomber, owned by Marton businessman Brendon Deere, is undergoing a repaint to wear the colours of "Plonky", an RNZAF Avenger which was flown in the Pacific Islands during World War II. The aircraft was shot down by flak over New Britain in June 1944 on a bombing mission and both crew members were killed.

Mr Deere's Avenger, the only one flying in New Zealand, wore these colours when it was part of Sir Tim Wallis' Alpine Fighter Collection in Wanaka in the 1990s.

The RNZAF operated 48 Avengers from 1943 to 1959 and 12 survived wartime service. Of these four remain today either in museums or with private collectors around New Zealand.

Mr Deere, who also owns a Spitfire and a Harvard trainer based at Ohakea, said he had hoped to have the former US Navy aeroplane repainted in time to appear at an event in Gisborne.

"The wartime Avengers were worked up at Gisborne before going overseas, so they have a real link there.

We were hoping to have it done so we could get there but things are looking a bit tighter now as we're behind schedule for various reasons," he said.

The repaint job is being used as a training exercise for RNZAF personnel at Ohakea, while Mr Deere's own staff work on preparing the aircraft for paint. It will be bead-blasted before being repainted in the RNZAF's new paint shop.

The Avenger's first appearance in its new-old colours will probably be Wings Over Wairarapa at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, over Wellington Anniversary weekend next year. The next big job for Mr Deere after the aircraft is repainted is a 300sq m extension to his Biggin Hill Hangar at Ohakea, which he hoped would be complete by the end of February.

Wanganui's Neil Manssen, who flew Corsairs in the last months of the war in the Pacific, was at the hangar reminiscing when the Wanganui Chronicle visited.

"I did a couple of months on Kittyhawks here during the war and it certainly looks a lot different now to how it did then."

Mr Manssen said he spent most of his flying career in the RNZAF as an instructor on Tiger Moths, an example of which is still flown by the air force at Ohakea.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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