Now for the aircraft. A rare Porterfield 35W high-wing two-seater dates from 1938. The type was designed in 1933 by pupils at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City as a class project. This survivor reached Ashburton in RNZAF colours and was formally donated by the Willmott family on the hangar's opening day in 1990. Philip Burns and his family contributed a de Havilland Vampire T11; a Percival Proctor; an EoN Olympia, which at over half a century is one of New Zealand's oldest gliders; and a de Havilland Devon received by the RNZAF in 1954 and put into storage as an attritional reserve, having accumulated a total flight time of just 17½ hours.
An expert team of aircraft restorers has developed over the years, even though none of its members has an aviation mechanical background. But it does include engineers, electricians and back shed tinkerers and, as Jim pragmatically puts it, "planes are only mechanical things that fly". Purists may wince, but with a collection of old aircraft maintenance manuals and a can-do attitude, it's amazing what you can achieve. Streamlined forms and gleaming paintwork pay tribute to hundreds of hours of painstaking work that have repaired years of neglect.
The Devon had spent a decade sitting in a North Canterbury paddock. A Bergfalke glider was saved from a rubbish fire on the West Coast. A de Havilland FB5 Vampire had done years of service as a deteriorating public spectacle and children's jungle gym, and was sitting disconsolately outside the Cave Tavern when it became the subject of another group's aborted restoration project. It finally reached the museum compliments of Ashburton Transport which delivered the fuselage from Kaiapoi and the wings from Tai Tapu, free of charge. An English visitor to the museum was sure he'd flown the Vampire in Germany with 118 Squadron RAF before it went to the RNZAF in 1956.
Peter Mac thought it would be good for Ashburton to acquire a cockpit, both to contribute to Wanaka and give its own exhibits more "Wow factor". He did some research and came across GJD Services, a UK specialist in parting-out redundant aircraft. With sponsorship from Ron Cameron of Cameron Air and Sea Freight, the museum acquired a Canberra B2 cockpit in late 2005. Canberra WH134 was a Royal Aircraft Establishment example which made history when it was used in the first UK jet air-to-air refuelling trials, successfully topping up an English Electric Lightning. It was in pristine, near-concours condition when it was cut up.
However, for the general public the star exhibit is probably the Hawker Harrier. Yes, that is the VTOL "jump - jet" Harrier. As with many of the exhibits, its presence is due to luck and enterprise. Some of the museum members formed the Harrier Acquisition Group and held a meeting at which everyone put up a grand. They then placed a bid for the grand figure of ₤5525. It was almost embarrassing. "We were incredibly naïve." The group still doesn't know how they won the tender. Their success owed a lot to the goodwill of Gary Spoors, who seemed to take a shine to the Kiwis — "we didn't dick him around" — and perhaps he liked the idea of being able to say he sold internationally.
Whatever his motives, he successfully brokered them the Harrier at cost, despite their humble bid, looked after the disassembly and packing and even paid the VAT. Certainly it remains the only Harrier in Australasia and continues to attract awed remarks along the lines of "how the hell did you get that?". The Ashburton Harrier, RAF serial number XZ129, is a GR3 model that first flew in 1976. When made surplus by the MoD it was serving as an instructional airframe at a Royal Navy engineers' school at Yeovilton.
The Museum has also come across a "surprising number" of Kiwi pilots who have flown Harriers. In fact, after examining his logbook, Sqn Ldr Sean Perrett, CO of the RNZAF Historic Aircraft Flight, announced that he had actually flown this very Harrier while serving with the RAF.
With a GR3 Harrier, F8 Meteor, two Vampires, an A4 Skyhawk, an Aermacchi and a Canberra cockpit, Ashburton is developing some presence as a collector of Jet Warplanes and in fact is only short of a Strikemaster to give us a representation of every jet aircraft that the RNZAF has ever flown. And we are hopeful on that score!.
A recent job undertaken by the members involved assembling and painting the museum's newly acquired de Havilland Meteor F8. This example of the first jet warplane to see service outside the Luftwaffe served with the RAF before being taken on charge by the RAAF in August 1952. That was in Japan, where it became a reserve machine for RAAF units operating in the Korean War, being released to 77 Squadron in December 1954 just before the unit returned to Australia. By the following May it was parked up at 78 Wing, unserviceable, then a year later was passed to 22 Squadron. An in-flight oil pressure failure in April 1957 resulted in its being relegated to an instructional airframe at RAAF Point Cook Fire School. Condemned in November 1970, the Meteor was rescued from a dump and towed to its first civilian home at the Moorabin Air Museum near Melbourne. It was later purchased by Adelaide restorer Bob Jarrett, who searched worldwide to find cockpit fittings and a pair of Derwent engines for it, and it became the foundation airframe of the Classic Jets Fighter Museum in Adelaide. However, as the museum's focus turned more piston -engined, the Meteor was first shunted outdoors to create space for new arrivals, then put up for tender. The Ashburton team has painted it in RAAF livery as a mark of respect for its history.
A Stanton powered Glider. This glider was built by the same Stanton Brothers who built the Stanton Corvette Race Car with a 6.1 Litre Gypsy Major Aeroplane engine in 1953.
After many months of planning, finally on 20th September 2011 the 3 big trucks that had travelled down from Woodbourne via the Lewis Pass rolled onto the hardstand outside our hangar carrying our Skyhawk NZ6204 in bits. Over the next few days the RNZAF Team under the leadership of Team Leader Hank Hancock, assembled her into the display we have now. Much scraping of the rubber protective covering over the next week and a quick tidy up with the spray gun had NZ6204 looking resplendent in her new home.
Some interesting stats on our Skyhawk NZ6204:-
- She is 42 years old
- First flight from Douglas factory at Long Beach California on 11 March 1970.
- Arrived at Auckland aboard the helicopter carrier USS Okinawa on 17 May 1970 and towed by road to Whenuapai.
- Test flown at Whenuapai on 27 May 1970 before being ferried to No.75 Squadron, Ohakea.
- Flown from Ohakea to storage at Woodbourne on 17 October 2001.
- On arrival at Woodbourne it had completed 7486.1 airframe hours.
- 15 Sept 2011 dismantling started at Woodbourne and was loaded onto trucks.
- 20 September arrived Ashburton Airfield.
Since then we have been lucky to be allocated an Aermacchi NZ6464 from RNZAF Defence Disposals and this has recently been assembled by a team of enthusiasts from the museum. . This plane is an Italian plane and only has 1700 hours on the clock.
One of our members Mr Pat Scotter has loaned us a Spartan for display and this plane is currently still in flying condition. Other Planes in our museum include the Tiger Moth which was purchased with help from the Mid Canterbury Community, Zlin Agri-Plane Topdressing Plane, Transavia Pl12u Airtruck topdressing plane, a Beechcraft B77 Skipper, Piper Cherokee PA-28 painted up as new to celebrate 50 years of the Cherokee, a replica of a 1930's Flying Flea and of course we are the home for the Southern DC3 Trust's DC3 ZK -AMY. It can regularly be seen flying around the Canterbury skies when the weather warms up but spends most of its winter months in our superhangar.
Ashburton Airfield was a training school for Tiger Moth Pilots and our excellent model of the airfield shows how it was laid out during this time. We have a good collection of Gliders and also have a collection of Helicopters.
Brendon Deere has also generously given the museum his Hunting Percival P.56 Provost which had recently arrived in its container from Feilding. The prototype Piston Provost first flew on 24-02-1950 with something like just under 400 eventually being built. 40 of these went out to Burma. The Museums aircraft is fuselage number PAC/F/451 and left the factory in late August of 1959 and was flown out to Burma in 46 hours and 10 minutes. It was allocated the Burmese serial of UB-232; later as 2232; and was withdrawn from use sometime around 1981 with a total flying time of 2832 hours.
The museum has just finished restoring a 1952 OLB Bedford truck that was originally owned by the RNZAF and was used extensively on airfields in the North Island.