Quite an important week in our journey restoring P51D Mustang NZ2423. With the wiring of the fuel pumps completed and the tanks installed, the stress panels covering the fuel tanks under the wing could be fitted. These are essential to provide full wing strength. We have reused the original wooden packing pieces around the tanks and inside the stress panels.
The main wheels have now been fitted and the undercarriage legs pressurized although the weight is still being taken by the jacks. On Monday we will lower the aircraft on its wheels and take it outside in the sunshine for some photos.
Quite an interesting week for our project. On Monday we pushed NZ2423 outside into the sunshine - down on its own wheels for the first time since we started the restoration and likely the first time as a substantially complete aircraft since 1958. A couple of hours outside and it was back inside and onto the jacks to allow work to continue.
The intake ducting assembly has now been fitted and this in turn allows the fitting of the cowling fastening sections. The process of rigging the undercarriage uplock position has started and today we filled the hydraulic system with fluid for the first time.
Great work today by the team from Central House Movers and our Biggin Hill team for the move from our hangar to the paint shop at Ohakea. The 1km journey was somewhat shorter than the 21kms the Spitfire travelled 14 years ago on the same rig.
I thought it would be timely to look back at where our project started. In late June 2020, Brian Harris and I travelled down to Mapua out of Nelson at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, to look at John Smith’s ex RNZAF P51D Mustang he had kept in his shed since the early 1960’s. I had first sighted the P51 probably in the 1980s but as time went on and the shed became fuller and fuller, it was harder to view it.
It is often referred to as a “barn find” but in fact many people knew what was in John’s shed and had seen the aircraft at different times, especially locals and a few lucky “outsiders”. A great achievement for any visitor to his property at Mapua was the invitation to sit in the Mosquito, an absolute time capsule of this famous aircraft (and now beautifully statically restored and on display in the Aviation Heritage Centre at Omaka alongside another of his treasures, the P40 “Gloria Lyons”)
By the time we arrived Bill Reid, John Saunders and Mike Nichols had led the way with the hard yards in clearing a lot of aircraft stuff out of the shed. The two P40s were gone as were the Harvard and Tiger Moth, so it was much easier to get around and inspect the Mustang and the associated spares and scrap items (he had the remnants of several other RNZAF Mustangs).
Brian examined the aircraft for most of that day assessing the condition and any damage to the aircraft. Obvious corrosion was where you would expect it in extrusions and some of highly visible holes in the fuselage were just that and the damage didn’t extend beyond the skin. The most obviously serious damage was the wings having been gas axed off just outboard of the undercarriage to facilitate the moving of the scrapped Mustangs to Nelson from Woodbourne back in 1958. A set of intact outer wings (from NZ2417) were located in the shed and these have now been incorporated into the rebuilt wings.
By the end of the day we had determined most of the aircraft was present in different parts of the shed. Even the Harrison radiator was hiding behind the outer wing panels in the shed. Essentially it was the same aircraft that had been disposed of in 1958 with just 260 flying hours plus sixty plus years of storage after rescue from the scrappers, although it needed a bit of work to “fix it up”.
Our ex RNZAF P51D Mustang has begun its metamorphosis back in time to carry its original 2 TAF Squadron markings from RNZAF Ohakea in the 1950's. NZ2423 was based at Ohakea for its entire (if brief) RNZAF operational career with first 2 TAF (Territorial Air Force) Squadron and then 42 Squadron.
Although 2 SQN is no longer an active RNZAF Squadron since the retirement of the Skyhawks in 2001, 42 SQN is still active at Ohakea flying the Beechcraft King Air 350.
NZ2423's time with 42 Squadron was spent towing targets for the Vampire pilots to practice on (Grumman Avengers were used for the same purpose at Ohakea as well). In 1954, another Mustang NZ2408, was hit by cannon fire from a Vampire pilot who missed the drogue target. A cannon shell struck the Mustang at the starboard wing root and pierced the main spar. The Mustang returned safely to Ohakea but was grounded and never flew again.
Hi Zac, I have prepared a long article on the rebuild of NZ2423 after visiting Brendon and the team at Ohakea in March. It is to be published in KIWIFLYER following Gavin's series on the mosquito at Omaka. Hopefully it will appear in one of the next issues. Will have to update it now with these latest photos