Thorny Questions of Restoration

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk ET574, which was discovered untouched in 2012 following a crash in the North African desert in 1942, has shown up at the El Alamein Museum in Egypt,  wearing some very dubious camouflage and markings after a fairly crude restoration job, as some pictures from Classic Warbirds on Facebook show.

The British press was up in arms over the affair in 2015, after it was discovered that the RAF Museum had handed over Spitfire F.22 PK664 to Kennett Aviation as payment for Kennet’s services in recovering the Kittyhawk and returning it to the UK.  The recovery part of the deal was undertaken and completed, but the Egyptian government decided they wanted to keep the aircraft and display it at the museum.  The Kittyhawk’s 2017 discovery or revelation at El Alamein has spurred the popular press anew, and a few historical websites lament the rather amateurish restoration carried out by the local museum. The aircraft is wrongly identified as a P-40B and there appears to be little or no acknowledgement that this is ET574.

ET574 At the El Alamein Museum, 2017

It is indeed unfortunate that the Kittyhawk could not have been recovered to the UK and restored or conserved sympathetically. The RAF Museum spokesperson said that almost as soon as the wreck was discovered, it was being stripped for scrap metal by the local population, so there was a necessity to remove it. This is how apparently it ended up in a shipping container at El Alamein. The uncertainty of the Arab Spring and the unsettled nature of middle eastern politics did the rest.

I personally don’t have a problem with ownership of PK664 having passed from the RAF to Kennet Aviation. There is a reasonable chance that Kennet may actually take some care of it and it’ll go into the restoration queue, although I understand that PK664 was not a complete airframe.

There are concerns concern about some remains found about 5 kilometers from the wreck of ET574. The RAF Museum and the British government say they are not those of  the pilot, Fight Sergeant Dennis Copping, and that his body has never been found. I have also read reports of conflicting stories about DNA tests, (even whether DNA testing has been carried out at all, and what the results were) which can only add to the anguish of Flight Sergeant Copping’s remaining relatives, which is regrettable to say the least.

The slightly thorny issue for trainspotters like me is the nature of the restoration of ET574. Certainly  the opportunity to conserve the wreck as a time capsule has been lost.  Yes, the paint job and markings are pretty amateurish, including the awful national markings and the 112 squadron “sharkmouth” which ET574 never wore during her service life with 260 Squadron. It’s an amateurish job, but cries that the machine has been “ruined” smacks of people in glass houses throwing stones.

Let’s look, for example, at the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The NMUSAF has in its collection Bristol Beaufighter Mk 1c A19-43 which was flown in combat in the south-west Pacific by 31 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.  It was something of a basket case when recovered from Australia, although it had a known RAAF identity.  A19-43 is however painted as USAAF T5049 of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

Bristol Beaufighter Ic

Bristol Beaufighter Ic originally A19-43 in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863

Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force,  Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Also at Dayton is Spitfire Vc Trop MA863.  This aircraft also served with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was acquired in a swap with the Imperial War Museum in March 2000 which resulted in a B-24 going to the UK.   MA863 is painted as a machine of the 308th Fighter Squadron,  31st Fighter Group,  USAAF in the Mediterranean theatre, where many “reverse lend-lease” Spitfires served.  However as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) A58-246, the Spitfire served with 54 Squadron (RAF) in early 1944 as the personal mount of Squadron Leader E M Gibbs (wearing the codes DL-A) and later served with 452 Squadron (RAAF) coded QY-F. When I saw the machine in 2002 it was wearing the markings of 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF  and was situated in a Battle of Britain diorama looking very odd indeed with its tropical filter sticking out. My companions at the time were wondering what I was gibbering about.

I suppose here I could mention B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” (that’s her behind MA863 in the picture above) resplendent in an Olive Green and Neutral gray paint scheme she never wore during her service with the 91st Bomb Group. The reason given was that so much remedial sheet metal work was carried out on the Fortress during its restoration that they felt obliged to paint her to hide it.

Also very close by is Spitfire PR XI PA908 which was handed over by 681 Squadron RAF to the Royal Indian Air Force in 1947 and which eventually found its way to the NMUSAF where it now wears the scheme of a USAAF PR XI with the serial MB950.

The restoration “proposal” which horrified me a few years back was the Brewster F2A-1 BW-372, a combat veteran of the Finnish Air Force. Flown by Lt. Lauri Pekuri it was damaged by a Soviet Hawker Hurricane and crashed in 1942 on Lake Big Kolejärvi, about 30 miles from Segezha, Russia. BW-372 was rediscovered in 1998.

Brewster B-239 BW-372

Brewster B-239 BW-372 in the Aviation Museum of Central Finland. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft was transported to the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida in 2004.  In 2008 it was displayed at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland for the 90th anniversary of the Finnish Air Force. Fortunately,  apart from conservation work,  it doesn’t appear to have been touched.  A few years ago I read an article (which I sincerely hope was a piece of inaccurate reporting at the time), that the NNAM was proposing to restore and display the F2A-1 as a US Navy Buffalo, which generated shrieks of puritanical horror from me, at least.

I don’t want to imply that the restorations carried out by the NMUSAF or NNAF are not of a high standard. They do have resources far in excess of a small military museum in Egypt.  Even top-level museums are prepared to make exceptions  or reserve the right to display their collection in whatever way  they consider best according to their polices or other exigencies.  If the museum owns the exhibits, it can paint them any way they choose.  People like me can (and will) complain about the loss or originality,  but that’s just unfortunate.

One could go on. I do remember a quotation of Spencer Flack on the subject of his bright red Spitfire XIV NH904 / G-FIRE (now resident in Palm Springs and itself painted in a lurid approximation of a Korean War Spitfire 24). Flack said something on the lines of “If they give the the money they can have it any color they want” Most of his house fleet at the time was bright red, and having seen G-FIRE at displayed in the 1980s it didn’t look any the worse. What was more important was that it was there, it had been restored and in that particular case it was flying.

The RAF Museum spokesperson said that a quick recovery  of the Kittyhawk was necessary to stop it being destroyed.  We’ve seen pictures of the extent to which the ill-fated B-24 41-24301 Lady Be Good was systematically stripped between its discovery in 1958 and its removal from the Libyan desert in 1994. Bearing this in mind,  we can at least say that most of ET574 has been preserved even if the restoration fell well below the standards we expect in western museums.  Some people have pointed out that a lot of restoration expertise would have been available had the Egyptians asked, but that this doesn’t seem to be their process with regard to museum exhibits.

The social media comments on the various newspaper articles have ranged from the near sensible to the shockingly insensitive. I was going to make some comment on Facebook earlier when Susan shared the article about ET574 from Archaeology News but I thought I should probably just keep my thoughts in a quiet place on the deep web. Here they are, and here they will probably stay well hidden except from my dozen or so readers. Until of course I share this blog post on Facebook.


More Pictures from Tulsa – Spartan Aircraft.

I wrote about the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium) last time, and only one of the four photos in the blog article came from my July 2017 visit. So here is another post, with some pictures from TASM,   concentrating on the products of the Spartan Aircraft Company.

It seems that Tulsa had its answer to Wichita’s Jake Moellendick, in the shape of William Grove Skelly (1878 – 1957).  Skelly was an oilman who had possibly been in El Dorado, Kansas at the same time as Jake Moellendick, but moved his headquarters to Tulsa in 1919.  Some years later, in 1928, he bought a struggling aircraft company, renamed it  the Spartan Aircraft Company, reorganized it financially,  and started a line that would make Oklahoma well known in aviation circles.  Skelly also began the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa. Despite his support through the Great Depression, Skelly was forced to sell a controlling interest in the business  to J. Paul Getty in 1935.   It was Getty who started the branches of the Spartan School in Miami, Muskogee, and Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Spartan NP-1 and C-2

Spartan NP-1 and C-2 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, July 2017. (Robert Smith)

Entering the museum in July,  I had absolutely no idea that the yellow biplane in the corner was anything except a Boeing or Stearman. How wrong could I be.   It’s a Spartan NP-1 trainer,  of which this is the only survivor of the 201 built for the U.S. Navy.  The NP-1 was,  in spite of its antique appearance,  the last Spartan type to be put into production.   The display panels in front of the aircraft talk about its history and the fact that a certain naval aviator called George H.W Bush learned to fly on one of these.  This particular aircraft (BuNo 3691, N28700) was stored in the Pacific Northwest for many years and came to Tulsa in 2008 after restoration.   It’s powered by a Lycoming R680 engine, not a Pratt and Whitney Wasp, as you might think.  Those are Wasps on wither side of the aircraft. One is a reduction-geared Wasp (on the right) and a direct drive Wasp on the left.

Above the NP-1 is an example of a Spartan C2 monoplane. This is Spartan C2-60 (NC11908) with a Jacobs L3 engine of 55hp.  The C2 first flew in 1931,  and this one, the 15th of 16 examples built and one of three survivors worldwide has been on display since 2009.   Apparently Spartan tried a 165-hp version which they pitched to the US government of the day, but they weren’t interested. The C2-165s were retained by the School of Aeronautics.


Spartan Model 12 Executive

Spartan Model 12 Executive at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.   (Robert Smith)

Nestling in front of some of the surviving Art Deco frontage of the old Tulsa Municipal Airport is the only example of a Spartan Model 12W Executive. This is a tricycle-undercarriage version of the Spartan 7W Executive (produced 1936-1940 – this is why it’s hard to believe the NP-1 came afterwards).  The 7W was the corporate cruiser of its day and was allegedly the realization and embodiment of William Skelly’s aeronautical desire.   It was designed for speed and comfort. The Wikipedia article for the 7W talks of 18 inches of sliding leg room for front-seat passengers, dome lighting, deep cushions, cabin heaters, ventilators, soundproofing, large windows, and interior access to the  luggage compartment.  The 12W was a high-speed version originally featuring wingtip tanks for longer range and a magnesium alloy skin, which was replaced with aluminum.   In the mid – late 40s,  Getty changed the direction of the Spartan company to produce trailers rather than luxury aircraft, fearing the surplus boom post-war would drive the bottom out of the market.  The 12W was restored in the mid sixties and was donated to the Museum in 2012.


Fairey Delta 2

When I was very young, and even at that age fairly air-minded,  there were two or three almost contemporary aeroplanes which inspired and enthused me, and seized the imagination of another childhood friend.  These were the English Electric / BAC Lightning,  The Bristol 188,  and the Fairey Delta 2.   All of these machines were highly angular, aggressive looking but sleekly beautiful silver birds which we could imagine ripping though the sky at enormous speeds no matter what the defence white papers of the late 50s and early 60s might have said.

Only two Fairey Delta 2s were built and, it transpires, I must have seen both of them, long after they were relegated to museums.  The first to fly, WG774  was extensively modified (and renamed as the BAC.221) as part of the aerodynamic research into the Concorde’s ogival delta (ogee) wing.  (Ogee BTW is trotted out by me in Words with Friends much too often!).   It is now preserved in the Fleet Air Arm museum in Yeovilton, Somerset and looks a lot different from the picture below.     WG777 is apparently preserved in the RAF Museum at Cosford near Wolverhampton. I have visited Cosford and looked at the research collection and have no memory, sadly.

Fairey Delta 2 WG774

Fairey Delta 2 WG774 in its original polished-metal finish. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The first Fairey Delta 2 WG774 - 1956

The first Fairey Delta 2 WG774 in original form landing at the 1956 Farnborough Air Show using its ‘droop snoot’. (RuthAS [Own work] CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

My reasons for blogging the FD2 today are partly because I was reading about the anniversary of the Bell X-1 and its supersonic flight.   I thought about saying something about the Miles M.52,  whose technology was offered to the United States and which went in part into the X-1,  – a proposed exchange which, it is alleged, the American side did not reciprocate.   This is all too well written, and I don’t particularly want to keep blogging about anniversaries when Bryan Swopes does more frequently than me and much better.

No, let me reminisce of the days when my childhood friend Martin let me play with his second shiny metal Bristol 188 model (he’d been given two by mistake, a nice problem at age 6) and we talked of the FD2 and the Lightning.  Martin’s dad Michael, who was a Free-Flight model builder and Radio Ham in his spare time, made a lovely simple balsa wood glider using the Lightning  shape. I thought it was the best thing I’d seen for ages.

if you’re out there, Martin  (I think you are)  – all the best to you.

Nebraska Scavenger Hunt

Last week my wife was up at a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. Having the afternoon off I decided to see if I could find any old aircraft worth visiting in the area, given that we knew we’d be visiting the Strategic Air and Space Museum the following day. What followed was a slightly delightful odyssey across South-East Nebraska taking in four small municipal airports which had old military aircraft in varying states of preservation on their land.

This is what the drive looked like most of the time – it wasn’t what you’d call crowded. 🙂

2015-05-29 10.19.27

First up was York Municipal Airport, which had this rather nice RF-84F on display – this is Republic RF-84F-10-RE Thunderflash 51-1935  which according to Joe Baugher probably didn’t serve in the USAF or Nebraska ANG but was supplied to a NATO country (others in the production line went to Turkey, West Germany and the Netherlands) before being returned to MASDC for disposal.

2015-05-29 13.21.03


After a long drive and a brief excursion up a dirt road I came to the Municipal Airport at Fairbury,  where I saw this rather sad looking T-33  – Lockheed T-33A-1-LO  51-9111.   It was, as you can see,  in a pretty sorry state. The cockpit canopy has gone, and a section of the vertical stabilizer.   My 10-year old guide book implied there was an F-100 somewhere in Fairbury but I didn’t see it at the airport.
2015-05-29 14.54.17


A little way further on I came to Beatrice (not pronounced the way I say it!) and saw another T-33 in a slightly less sorry state. Lockheed T-33A-1-LO 51-8880, which seems to have had some lights added to the wingtips for signage illumination purposes.

2015-05-29 15.53.08


As things were starting to get late, it was time to head to my last stop at Crete, where I found an interesting F-86D  at the Municipal Airport.  North American F-86D-40-NA Sabre 52-3735.   I couldn’t help noticing the badge of the Seabees on the concrete plinth.

2015-05-29 16.43.50


This was the formal ending of the afternoon’s activity but I had a couple more examples to show over the following days before we came back to Kansas.

I didn’t want to contend with the Lincoln traffic on a Friday afternoon,  but after we saw a KC-135 land at the ANG base adjacent to the airport we had a poke around on Saturday morning and found  57-1495 parked on the fence line. Joe Baugher says it’s a KC-135E which started life as a Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker.  I’m not absolutely sure if this is an active aircraft since the other KC-135s in the background look like KC-135R  models with the re-engine mod done.   No doubt someone can set me straight.  🙂   There is supposed to be an F-86L, a T-33, an F-4 and something erlse at the ANG base but I only caught a faint glimpse and couldn’t work out where to go to get closer.

2015-05-30 10.56.52

Up at Ashland, and at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. A few Aircraft are now being displayed outside.

2015-05-30 11.46.12Chief among them is Rockwell International B-1A Lancer 76-0174, which was previously on display at Wright-Patt and  moved to Nebraska at the end of  2003.  I don’t think the paint scheme is exactly accurate for this specific aircraft, or how much it’s faded, but it looks impressive for now.

Inside the atrium,  I understand actually the Atrium was built around it, is a certain Blackbird. Lockheed SR-71A, AF Serial 61-7964 (c/n 2015).

2015-05-30 11.53.36

And hidden around the back, while the airframes are being reshuffled, is one of my personal favourites,   Avro 698 Vulcan B.2 XM573.  It looks a little folorn, but not as folorn as the wingless EC-135 sitting next to it (just off the left edge of my picture here).   ‘573 sat at Offutt AFB gathering moisture and rust from 1982 until 1998 or thereabouts, (look at the jet pipes if you want your own proof)  and looks likely to gather a little more before they bring it inside again.

2015-05-30 14.00.45

And finally, up a pole on I-80 advertising the Strategic Air and Space Museum we find Republic F-105D-15-RE Thunderchief 61-0069.    As I’ve said in a few places before this machine is a documented Vietnam war combat veteran, having shot down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with an AIM-7 missile on June 3, 1967.   0069 was held by a museum in San Bernadino, CA until the Strategic Air and Space Museum bought it and hoisted it up its pylon on the Interstate.   It seems rather an unsuitable end for such a veteran.


All in all it was a very enjoyable weekend even if I do differ with the  Strategic Air and Space Museum on a few of their approaches to preservation and conservation. However they are the ones on the ground doing the work in difficult circumstances, so I’ll save my armchair quarterbacking for some other place.