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Air Show Report : Mosquito Launch Spectacular

Mosquito Launch Spectacular - Ardmore Airport, New Zealand

On September 29, 2012, Ardmore Airport near Auckland hosted a special airshow for the return to flight of the restored Mosquito FB.26 KA114.
Chris Gee contributed his photo report and article on the restoration process co-authored by Gavin Conroy.

Return of the Wooden Wonder

by Chris Gee and Gavin Conroy

One of the few successful WWII combat aircraft constructed almost entirely from wood, the de Havilland Mosquito earned the nickname "Wooden Wonder". With the bombing of England's heavy industry by the Germans, the Mosquito's wooden construction meant that the aircraft parts could be constructed without needing heavy equipment and be spread over various disperse locations, such as furniture companies. Initially developed in some secrecy, the existence of the Mosquito was announced on the BBC Home Service radio after the controversial Oslo Mosquito Raid of 25 September 1942, an attack on Gestapo HQ in Norway that left 80 civilians dead and one Mosquito destroyed.

The Mosquito was extremely light for a fighter-bomber, could sustain battle damage, and have repairs carried out at forward operating bases. The aircraft was fast, manoeuvrable and could deliver a punishing blow, commonly armed with four 20mm Hispano cannons, four .303 Browning machine guns and a payload of up to 2000 pounds of ordnance. The Mosquito was a major contributor to the Allies' victory in Europe with multiple variants carrying out numerous roles, including that of night fighter. The Mosquito's last official war mission in Europe was on 21 May 1945.

With the last flyable Mosquito destroyed in a fatal accident at an airshow in the UK in 1996 the return to flight of Mosquito KA114 was a major event for the warbird scene.

Restoration of the Mosquito

Built at the de Havilland factory in Toronto, Canada, this Mosquito FB.26 flew first flew in early 1945, too late to see active service, and was delivered straight into reserve storage. It then spent three months with the Royal Canadian Air Force's 7 OTU (Operational Training Unit) in Nova Scotia before entering storage after WWII in Alberta. KA114 was fortunate to avoid being scrapped. Purchased by a Canadian farmer in 1948, it stayed on a farm in Alberta, where it deteriorated until 1978 when it was transferred to the Canadian Museum of Flight and Transport. Unfortunately the aircraft suffered more damage, literally falling into two pieces while being loaded onto a trailer for the trip to the museum in Vancouver.

Although using wood in the airframe had been brilliant idea during wartime, these aircraft were not built for longevity, with deterioration of the wood and break down of the glues and fabric taking its toll on the remaining airframes. Re-producing the wooden airframe would be the most uniquely challenging aspect of restoring a Mosquito.

Inspired by Glyn Powell's attempt on restoring a Mosquito T.43 with fresh wood using modern glues and fabric, Warren Denholm, managing director of AvSpecs, and Jerry Yagen, the founder of the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, saw a great opportunity to take up the challenge of returning a Mosquito to the skies. Glyn knew of the incomplete KA114 airframe in Canada, Jerry Yagen purchased KA114 in 2004 and had it shipped over to AvSpecs in New Zealand. Unfortunately its wings needed to be trimmed with a chainsaw to fit it into the container.

Although the woodwork was in terrible condition, most of the metal parts could be used again or be used as patterns to produce new ones. This was easier than starting from scratch considering the plans are extremely hard to come by. The project was slow to get going initially due to the wood that was required to build an airworthy machine being very hard to source. After a worldwide search a suitable supplier was eventually found and the project picked up pace.

It took Glyn just under three years to build the wooden airframe and once completed it was transported to AvSpecs' facility at Ardmore. The team there had been restoring hydraulic and electric systems, and constructing parts from scratch. The Mosquito has a complex hydraulic system, making all the new piping was a huge challenge and time-consuming project. Many new parts were needed, as the aircraft had no engines or undercarriage, along with many other items that were extremely difficult to locate. Two Merlin 25 engines were found in Australia, and sent to California to be restored. Rebuilding the cowlings was particularly challenging, with hundreds of hours spent building the complete set for both engines. Much of the cockpit parts came directly from KA114; the throttle quadrant, control column, radio trays. A brand new pilot seat was found on an auction website.

Over the next years the AvSpecs team worked tirelessly through each of the aircrafts systems, and by the beginning of 2012 things had progressed impressively. Warren's friend Peter Fahey came up with the idea of having an airshow at Ardmore to celebrate the Mosquito's return to the sky before it would be shipped to join Jerry Yagen's collection in Virginia Beach, and eventually the date of 29th September was set.

The team started working longer hours and sometimes seven days a week to ensure they would have the aircraft completed and flying on time. On August 8, 2012, the aircraft was towed across Ardmore Airfield for the painting to begin, a colour scheme of RNZAF 487 Squadron was selected. RNZAF 487 Sqn flew Mosquito FB.VI's in the European theatre under RAF command, and played a big part in the daring raid on Amiens Prison (see Operation Jericho).

Once the aeroplane was towed back to the hangar the team finished off a huge amount of smaller jobs. These included the fitting of the machine guns and the cannons with original ammo boxes. The propellers were fitted, after having been overhauled by Safe Air near Blenheim. This had been yet another challenge as KA114 only had one original Mosquito propeller blade, the other five being cut down Lancaster propeller blades. A company named Replicore delivered new radiators, having spent hundreds of hours to research and make these as none had been produced since Mosquito production ended.

On September 19, 2012, a major milestone was passed with the first engine start. On September 23 both engines were run and the aircraft made its first taxi run. The following days were very busy for the team installing and checking the radios and freshly painted doors while completing the cowlings. Meanwhile, the CAA spent two full days to do all of the inspections. Following sign off and the issue of a Certificate of Airworthiness the only thing left to do was fly it!

Flight Testing Mosquito KA114

Warren Denholm enlisted two legendary New Zealand test pilots, Dave Phillips and Keith Skilling, for the flight tests. Between them they have an extensive amount of flying experience.
Dave Phillips flew RNZAF A-4K Skyhawks before becoming a senior captain with Cathay Pacific. Missing the fast jet experience, Dave bought a Hawker Hunter and is well known for his spectacular displays at New Zealand airshows. He has become legendary for his display in the Tiger Moth, which is a fantastic demonstration of energy management and aircraft handling. Dave also test flew Bill and Robyn Reid's Anson Mk.I (see below).
Keith Skilling flew Bristol and Hercules transports with the RNZAF, and has also test flown many of the classic aircraft that have been restored by AvSpecs over the years. He is best known for his time spent with the Breitling Fighters display team flying the Corsair, which he still regularly flies.

On September 27, 2012, the Mosquito took off from Ardmore Airport under the command of Dave, with Warren as the other crew member, accompanied by a T-28 Trojan chase plane flown by Rob Silich with photographer Gavin Conroy on-board. The Mosquito roared into the sky accompanied by cheers and clapping from the large crowd of onlookers. Rob flew the Trojan directly under the Mosquito to check the doors had closed properly as well as checking for any fluid leaks, but all was well. The aircraft was flown at different speeds and different configurations and all systems were checked. The aircraft landed at Auckland International airport 45 minutes later and apart from an issue with the airspeed indicator the flight was a total success. Whilst at Auckland airport there was a crew changeover and Keith Skilling got his turn in the cockpit, flying it for 30 minutes before returning to Auckland International. Dave Phillips and Warren then flew it back to Ardmore. The test flight had brought a couple of small issues to attention, these were easily rectified. The next day saw another successful day of flying and now Mosquito KA114 was ready for its public launch on September 29.

Full article has been published in KiwiFlyer magazine, issue 25.

Mosquito KA114 Launch Air Show

The 29th of September 2012 saw Ardmore Airport host a spectacular airshow to celebrate the return to flight of Mosquito KA114. This was the first public display of this de Havilland Mosquito FB.26, the only flying Mosquito in the world today. On 27 September 2012, KA114 had taken to the air for the first time since 1945 after thousands of hours of restoration work over the last eight years by AvSpecs, lead by restoration experts Warren Denholm and Glyn Powell. Queues of traffic stretched for miles as many thousands of people crammed into the usually calm Ardmore Airport to witness the event, because the aircraft was planned to soon be shipped back to owner Jerry Yagen of the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, USA. Many owners and pilots brought their aircraft to display alongside the Mosquito. New Zealand's classic aircraft and warbirds scene is world renown and vibrant, and if ever there was a good excuse to get together and display their aircraft, this was it.

Mosquito KA114 First Public Display

With only a few hours flying this aircraft under their belts, New Zealand test pilots Dave Phillips and Keith Skilling performed three exhilarating displays at the airshow with this incredible machine, much to the delight of the crowd, and especially the restoration team, who put so much hard work into returning the aircraft to the air. After the airshow, Keith exclaimed "That is the best restored aircraft I have ever seen and had the honour to fly. The aircraft handles well, much like a DH Devon, it is indeed a pleasure to fly and nice to have on one's logbook".

Mosquito FB.26 KA114 perfectly restored
Starting up the powerful Merlin 25 engines
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 taking off from Ardmore Airport
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 first public display
Close-up of the Mosquito's four .303 machine guns and four 20mm cannons
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 on the ground

The sound of those twin Merlin engines tearing up the sky as she passed overhead was exhilarating, initially leaving both the crowd and commentators in a stunned silence until cheers and clapping burst forth. There were several Veteran Mosquito pilots in attendance at the show, many of them were visibly in tears as the thundering flybys of the aircraft brought back long distant memories. Most had not seen a Mosquito since WW2 and with the last flyable Mosquito destroyed in a fatal accident at an airshow in the UK in 1996, this was a day that many thought they would never see, let alone here in New Zealand.

Mosquito FB.26 KA114 exhilarating display
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 tearing up the sky
The pilots meet the  Mosquito Veterans
Dramatic shot of the Mosquito FB.26 KA114
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 looked stunning
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 in-flight close-up
Mosquito FB.26 KA114 against a grey sky

Mosquito Friends

The Mosquito was in the company of a trio of fellow allied classic fighters, which have been a part of New Zealand's warbirds scene for a number of years. Doug Broker's Spitfire TR.9, flown here by Gavin Trethewey, treated the crowd to a short solo routine. Grahame Bethels flew his legendary fast and low-level passes with the beautiful P-51D Mustang while Liz Needham flew the P-40E Kittyhawk in its solo display. For many it was when these aircraft formed up with the Mosquito for a series of formation fly-pasts that was the highlight of the show.

The Mosquito's friends: Spitfire, Mustang, and the Trojan chase plane of its first flights
The P-51D Mustang warming up for the display
Mosquito FB.26 in formation with the P-40E Kittyhawk, Spitfire TR.9 and P-51D Mustang
Kittyhawk, Spitfire, Mustang and Mosquito formation
Mosquito FB.26 KA114
T-28 Trojan solo display
P-51D Mustang flown by Grahame Bethels
The Spitfire TR.9 was flown by Gavin Trethewey
Doug Broker's Spitfire TR.9

The T-28 Trojan pictured above had played a big part in the Mosquito's first flight as the chase plane, flown by Rob Silich. This ex US Navy trainer may look ungainly on the ground, but as soon as she is airborne she becomes a graceful, and noisy, performer.

It's de Havilland Day!

If only Geoffrey de Havilland could have been around to witness his legacy still very much alive 47 years after his death. Ardmore Airport became a magnet for de Havilland aircraft over this weekend, as though they were there to root for their cousin the Mosquito as she took to the air again, and cheer her on as she wowed the crowd.

DH.82 Tiger Moths

De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moths were there in abundance, performing an 8-ship formation fly-past, as well as Dave Phillips's magical solo Tiger Moth display in ZK-BEN. The Tiger Moth was at the center of New Zealand's pioneering aviation days, and is still greatly loved by all those that own and fly them.
Harking back to the barnstorming days of old, Susan Scott's wing-walking display, flown by Graham Woods, was extremely popular. Miss Scott comes from a family with a history of aviation, and is in fact a fourth generation wing-walker. Her great grandmother, Hilda Alexander, was a record-breaking wing walker who wing-walked across cook straight in 1971, at the age of 72, and set a record as the oldest wing-walker at 78. Susan has been flying since she was 16, and wing-walking since she was 18.

De Havilland Tiger Moths
De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth trio
De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth ZK-ALK
DH.82 Tiger Moth ZK-BAH 'Spirit of a Nation'
De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth ZK-BEN
Wing walker Susan Scott
DH.82 Tiger Moth display flown by Dave Phillips
Susan Scott's wing-walking display

More de Havilland Classics

Other de Havilland types from the Moth series were a DH.83 Fox Moth and a DH.94 Moth Minor. Following the success with the Moth series of trainer/sports aircraft, de Havilland designed the DH.84 Dragon two-engine airliner. It was followed up by the more powerful and refined DH.89 Dragon Rapide that was also present on this day.

DH.83 Fox Moth
DH.94 Moth Minor
DH.89 Dragon Rapide

De Havilland Canada

The DHC-1 Chipmunk's solo display was expertly flown by Gavin Trethewey. The aircraft also flew in formation with other Chipmunks and de Havilland aircraft that were in attendance, including the DH.89 Rapide and DH.83 Fox Moth. Hallett Griffin put on an excellent handling display in the DHC-2 Beaver, one of the last Beavers still operational for agricultural work.

DHC-1 Chipmunk displayed by Gavin Trethewey
De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
DHC-2 Beaver displayed by Hallett Griffin
DH.115 Vampire flown by Brett Emeny
Mosquito and Vampire formation
The Vampire replaced the Mosquito in the fighter-bomber role
DH.112 Venom owned by Jerry Gaston

De Havilland Jets

Fittingly, the aircraft that would come to replace the Mosquito in service were also in attendance, the DH.115 Vampire and DH.112 Venom. The Vampire, flown by Brett Emeny, flew a solo display, as well as a stunning formation fly-past with the Mosquito, a sight not seen on earth for many years. The Venom, brought back to life by Jerry Gaston, taxied over to the static display area under its own power, making a great impression when it arrived.

New Zealand Air Show

The Mosquito KA114 was the star performer, the one everybody had come to see, and its launch event would not have been complete without its family of de Havilland aircraft and allied WWII fighters. But Ardmore Airport's Mosquito Launch Spectacular had much more to offer, providing Aucklanders and guests with a proper New Zealand Air Show.

Avro Anson

One of the highlights for many at the show was the arrival from Nelson of the gorgeous Avro Anson Mk.I. Lovingly restored by Bill and Robyn Reid, this 1936 vintage aircraft first flew again after a 10-year restoration in May this year. More than 11000 Ansons were produced between 1935 and 1952, but this is the only one flying in the world today. It was displayed at Ardmore by RNZAF Historic Flight pilot Sean Perrett.

The beautifully restored Avro Anson Mk.I
The Avro Anson Mk.I came from Nelson
Avro Anson Mk.I view from behind
Avro Anson Mk.I taking off
Avro Anson Mk.I display
Colourful shot of the Avro Anson Mk.I

Harvards

It would hardly be a New Zealand airshow without the participation of a gaggle of Harvard trainers, and they were out in force at Ardmore this day. Along with thrilling formation aerobatic displays by the 'Roaring Forties' display team, there was also a solo display, with Gavin Trethewey's display in No.92 really getting the crowds attention.

No.92 presents a SNJ, the US Navy's the T-6 Texan / Harvard
Gavin Trethewey's solo display in No.92
Close-up of the SNJ
Harvard No.65 taking off
Yellow Harvard No.78
'Roaring Forties' display team
Harvard No.53 of the 'Roaring Forties' display
'Roaring Forties' Harvards

Miles Messenger

The Miles M.38 Messenger is unique on the New Zealand register, and has been displaying here for many years. It has its own ram-air generator, and also has no electric starting motor, its propeller must be hand cranked for it to start.

Miles M.38 Messenger
Miles M.38 Messenger D-Day markings
Miles M.38 Messenger head-on

More Jets

Two L-39 jets were in attendance at the airshow, along with the much loved 'Blunty' BAC 167 Strikemaster. They flew together with the Vampire in what was a very impressive, and noisy, dissimilar formation.

2x L-39, Strikemaster and Vampire jets
Another shot of the small jets in formation
'Blunty' BAC 167 Strikemaster

Aerobatics

The crowd was treated to some sensational aerobatics routines between the classic aircraft displays. Dave Cranna's routine in his Zlin Z-50LS was impressive, as was Richard Hood's stomach churning display in the Giles 202. The RNZAF's CT-4E also showed off its maneuverability to good effect, reminding us just how good these Hamilton built Airtrainers really are. Arthur Gotland's gliding display was a real eye-opener for many in the crowd, with a masterful routine displaying superb energy management, the kind of maneuvers that you usually never see a glider perform. Eventually he came low that it was surely time to land, but no, there would be another loop, and then another, until finally he landed gracefully onto the grass, seemingly with seconds to spare.

Dave Cranna's routine in his Zlin Z-50LS
Zlin Z-50LS aerobatic aircraft
Arthur Gotland's glider display
Richard Hood taking off in the Giles 202
CT-4E Airtrainer with RNZAF 75th Anniversary markings

Statics

Historic re-enactors go hand in hand with warbird displays in New Zealand, reminding us of a time, place and situation that should never be forgotten. They carried out an entertaining mock battle in-front of the audience, and through the attention to detail and historic realism by people like Robbie Lane and Susie Ford, added a timely atmosphere to the static displays.

The re-enactors fighting their battle for Armore airfield
Re-enactors of the Axis side posing in front of the Mosquito
Re-enactors Robbie Lane and Susie Ford

The RNZAF sent one of its new Agusta Westland A109LUH Light Utility Helicopters to the show, with its aircrew taking the opportunity to get photographs of themselves with the Mosquito and veterans. Though it did not perform a display, this sleek and immaculate looking helicopter drew much attention in the static display.

The Douglas A-4K Skyhawk and Aermacchi MB-339 were towed over to the static display from their new home at the Warbirds Visitor Centre. The former RNZAF jets proved very popular with the crowd and were the center of attention for much discussion.

Arrival of the RNZAF A109 Light Utility Helicopter
One of the preserved Douglas A-4K Skyhawks, the last fighter that served the RNZAF
RNZAF former jet trainer, the Aermacchi MB-339CB
The ex-RNZAF A-4 and MB-339 came from the Warbirds Visitor Centre

Success

The event was a huge success, and was greatly enjoyed by all who made the effort. The weather was superb, although a crosswind rose up early in the day that altered the displays of a few aircraft. The crowd numbered in the tens of thousands and descended on Ardmore Airport from across the country. People came from as far as Europe to see the Mosquito in the air. The infrastructure of the event held up surprisingly well to the greater than expected number of people wishing to enter. There were the usual traffic woes, with many complaining they could not get onsite until after midday, but who in their right mind doesn't leave a few hours early for an event like this? The airport's proximity to Auckland meant there were many at the airshow who are unable or unwilling to make it to the other great New Zealand airshows at Wanaka, Wairarapa, Tauranga and Omaka. Having gotten a taste of just how good these airshows are, hopefully we will see more Aucklanders making the effort to attend these other airshows in the future!

Ardmore Airport Panorama


Report and photos by Chris Gee ( view portfolio )