Pioneer Aero are making good progress on their Warbird aircraft restorations. I recently revisited them at their facilities at Ardmore Airfield near Auckland, New Zealand to review the current Warbird restoration projects underway.
The first thing that I saw was a Curtiss P40E model that was in the fuselage jig being re constructed and the restoration workmanship being carried out is superb. This aircraft was recovered from Russia and is being rebuilt for an overseas owner. The aircraft wings have not been constructed yet, however the tail assembly has already been completed for this Warbird and the fuselage is progressing very well with much of the internal structure in place and the skins being added. The fuselage jig always attracts comment as the central “spine” runs through the aircraft and components attach from the central datum point. This is quite different to most other jigs and I have only ever seen one other like it, that being at Ross Pay’s facility at Scone NSW, Australia.
The work on the Curtiss P40E whilst appearing to be very advanced, still takes time. As the old saying goes, “90% finished, 90% to go”! It will be a year or more before this aircraft restoration starts to move towards flight. It will require all the major assemblies to be completed and combined and the engine fitted (currently under rebuild in the USA). There is then the myriad of electrical and hydraulic “plumbing”, instruments and other fit-out items to be installed. Once complete the aircraft will fly an intensive test schedule prior to being sent to its new owner. Depending on timing there may well be capacity for the aircraft to display at one of New Zealand’s many iconic air displays. We certainly hope so!
Paul McSweeny, the Director of Pioneer Aero was able to enlighten me as to future Warbird restoration projects on the drawing board for the company. Following on from the current P40E there will be a second Russian recovered Curtiss P40E which is to be rebuilt for a New Zealand customer. This will no doubt please a lot of the Kiwi Kittyhawk enthusiasts. Then into the future is the prospect of an “in house” rebuild of a Curtiss P40N-1 project NZ3147, 42-104751 of New Zealand lineage. Although this rebuild is in the future it will be a very pleasant addition to the P40 Kittyhawk population at least initially in New Zealand.
Other work currently on hand consisted of the construction of a Titan T-51 scale Mustang aircraft for an Australian owner. The Titan T-51 Mustang is a three-quarter scale replica of the P-51 Mustang. The attention to detail and the professional finish of this aircraft are exceptional and it will be a real asset to the Australian aviation scene in the future.
Pioneer Aero is fast becoming almost as well known for its refurbishment and maintaince of BAC Strikemasters as it is for its stream of Curtiss P40’s. On the day of my visit, NZ6370 (70) departed the facility to take part in the Tauranga City Classics of the Sky Airshow at which it was a star performer and aggressively displayed the types great flying characteristics. Undergoing final maintenance was Strikemaster NZ6372 having brake components serviced and looking the part in its original RNZAF color scheme and it will soon to join NZ 6370 on the airshow circuit. Paul was also in the process of arranging the re-import of BAC Strikemaster NZ6362, constructed in 1971 in the UK. It was operated by the RNZAF from 1972 until 1992 when it was sold via Aermacchi to Australia and was based first in NSW and has, until recently, been operated in Busselton, WA. Strikemaster NZ6362 will be reassembled and all necessary maintenance and repair carried out prior to its first flight and join the other two “Blunties” operating out of Ardmore.
The Hawker Tempest 11 Warbird restoration project which was underway has now been put into storage pending sale and is on the open market, sadly with the death of the aircraft’s owners, Eric and Kathy Hertz. It is hoped that a new owner can be found in New Zealand and Pioneer Aero will be able to complete the restoration on this fantastic Warbird.
Another aircraft in the hanger was the Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing NC80316, which is simply a stunning aircraft and is permanently based with Pioneer. For those less familiar with this aircraft, the Beech Model 17 is an American biplane that first flew in 1932, with an atypical negative stagger (the lower wing is farther forward than the upper wing).
Paul was very positive about the future of Pioneer Aero, which stands out as a great New Zealand Warbird restoration institution. They have a steady stream of work flowing through the workshop, plus various maintenance works being undertaken such as the recent re-engining of Curtiss P40 N ZK-CAG. Pioneer Aero’s future in the Warbird restoration arena looks very positive indeed.
© John Parker 2014