Recently Warbirds Online visited the workshop of Historic Aircraft Restorations Limited, located within the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society’s (HARS) modern complex at Albion Park, NSW. This was a great opportunity to have a look at all the current projects under way and discuss with Robert Grienert, workshop manager, where the work is going in the future and what the plans are for the collection.
The workshop is a huge structure, housed within one part of the HARS Complex, which is in itself the largest collection of historic aircraft in the southern hemisphere. Robert was one of the founders of HARS in 1979 and has been highly active ever since both within HARS and in the general Warbird movement. Many aircraft projects and parts have moved through the company at one time or another and Robert is very well known in the Warbird community both here in Australia and globally.
The current operation at the workshop is focused around the addition of 4 WW11 aircraft types onto the HARS fleet of flying aircraft, these being the Republic P47 Thunderbolt, the Lockheed P38 Lightning, the Bristol Beaufighter and Japanese Ki61 Tony.
As an example, at the time of our visit there was a project underway to construct 3 Lockheed P38 Lightning’s, one retained by HARS, one being constructed for the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government and a third for the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson Arizona. The Lightning parts required for these rebuilds have been sourced over many years of Roberts’s global travels including the recovery of several wrecks from the Pacific Islands, PNG and even further afield. In addition, Robert has sourced many P38 parts from the USA, including his purchase of the large holding previously owned by Bruce Pruitt in California and many other sources.
The workshop where the rebuilds are being carried out is a very large and modern facility in its own right, with a huge rubber press for the construction of pressed metal panels and parts. There is also very large water cutting machine which dwarfs any other one I have seen previously and all manner of other heavy duty fabricating presses, cutters and folding machines. There is a staff of approximately 20, four full time professional tradesmen and 16 volunteers who work on the various projects on hand and who possess all the requisite skills to construct and complete the aircraft being worked on.
Generally, the aircraft such as the P47 (2 of which are being constructed) require most of the structure to be scratch built, utilizing original parts as patterns or where possible refurbished and incorporated into the finished aircraft. The P47 projects have been under way for some time, but the work is quite advanced on the first of the aircraft, with the second in its jig progressing well and a third in the wings as the others are completed. It was very interesting on the day to inspect the aircraft and understand the huge complexity and massive nature of the P47 construction. They are very substantial aircraft and require a big commitment to rebuild compared to some of the smaller allied and axis WW11 fighters. In addition, given the comparative rarity of the P47 it is difficult to obtain parts and information when compared with a P51 for instance, so the task is larger and more difficult.
One of the first types of aircraft recovered by HARS and Robert, in the early years, was the DAP/Bristol Beaufighter and over the years a number of these have passed through the organization. On the day of my visit the enormous fuselage jig held the fuselage of the aircraft destined to join the HARS fleet an Australian built Mk 21 whilst elsewhere in the workshop there were 3 Beaufighter nose assemblies being constructed, one for the HARS flying project, one for the Darwin Aviation Museum and one for a UK based museum.
The workmanship on all of these projects is an excellent standard. Robert would probably have most of the available global spares and project materials for the Beaufighter aircraft and has already completed the Beaufighter in the USAF Museum at Dayton Ohio. A fairly recent acquisition was the substantial remains of the Beaufighter from Skysport Engineering in the UK, which is currently in storage but will substantially aid in the HARS project. Beaufighter restoration is not for the faint hearted and despite the type being a potent aircraft and hugely attractive to enthusiasts across the world not a single one has yet flown. Again, this is in part due to the size and complexity of the type, but it is also due to a couple of unique hurdles particular to the “Beau”. Most restorers have come up against one particular problem which is the shortage of engines and appropriate propellers.
Robert has not let this seemingly insurmountable problem daunt him and has acquired a collection of early Bristol Hercules engines and as detailed in a previous article DAP Beaufighter engine restoration has invested in the acquisition of a Queensland based engine rebuilding company, Historical Aircraft Engines, to accomplish the task of rebuilding sufficient engines for the project. On the subject of propellers, Robert has a solution in train involving the manufacture of new units for the Beau. So although the Beaufighter is yet to be completed, there seems to be no boundary too high to accomplish this much anticipated project being completed.
Lastly, there is the matter of the Japanese Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (飛燕, “flying swallow”) Warbird restoration project, which was an excellent aircraft powered by a derivative of the German DB-601 (not a copy as is widely quoted). Robert has several of these fantastic aircraft displayed and awaiting their turn in the restoration chain. One fuselage is already structurally completed and on display in the HARS foyer in company with a wreck recovered example, while there are several engines in the collection for rebuilding to power the completed aircraft. These aircraft are extremely rare and to have a flying example in the HARS fleet will be a major achievement.
Located about the workshop were many other aircraft and components undergoing work on contract or in house. Aircraft included a Boeing Stearman, a T6 Harvard and a structurally complete P40, whilst substantial aircraft assemblies and components adorn the walls and storage racks of the complex.
Warbirds Online was extremely grateful to Robert Grienert and his team for taking the time to show me around his world class facility and to talk through the future aspirations. Robert is genuinely a “Warbird enthusiast” who has a master plan to see the Australian Warbird fleet grow and prosper while professionally maintaining his business to facilitate the realization of that plan.
Robert and the company can be contacted at any time to discuss opportunities at email@example.com. At present the entire HARS facility is closed to the public whilst some safety upgrades are being performed, but there are monthly open days which offer access to some aircraft – details can be accessed at the HARS website.
© John Parker 2015
Watch the documentary on “How to Fly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Aircraft” on our video page.