Flying high again

EMMA WHITTAKER
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012
Aermacchi
Jason Oxenham

CAREFUL WORK: The unique former air force Aermacchi aircraft is on show at MOTAT’s Aviation Display Hall. Head engineer of the project Hank Hancock begins assembly.

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Piece by piece the final parts of an unwanted airforce aircraft are being put back together so it can go on display at Western Springs.

Royal New Zealand Airforce engineers have spent this week reconstructing the Aermacchi MB339CB in view of the public at Motat, where it arrived in parts.

It is set to be on show in the museum's aviation display hall.

Just 18 of the jets were ever produced and all were purchased by the airforce in the early 1990s.

They were used as training aircraft because they have dual controls, but they can also be used for a "light ground attack" says Hank Hancock, an airforce aircraft engineer and reconstruction project team leader flight sergeant.

In 1994 one was destroyed when it crashed into the Kaipara Harbour but the others stayed in service until they were decommissioned eleven years ago along with the airforce's fleet of skyhawks.

Motat's Aermacchi is one of eight that have been given to museums across the country since they were put out of service.

A spokesman for Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman says the planes were made available because they are becoming obsolete and could be hard to sell.

"The theory is if the government is having difficulty selling the whole fleet it might as well protect a piece of aviation history by donating them to museums," he says.

The future of the remaining nine Aermacchis is still unclear, but an announcement on this is expected soon.

Most aircraft that arrive at Motat come in parts and it's taken the team of five engineers about four days to reconstruct it, Mr Hancock says.

"It virtually comes apart into five main modules. The wings come off and the engine comes out and then we split the fuselage in half," he says.

Moving the Aermacchi to its new home at Motat's Aviation Display Hall did require a bit of ingenuity on the part of the engineers.

Because of the plane's size the team was initially told that it would be almost impossible to transport the aircraft in a container and it is too heavy to be lifted on a forklift.

They found a way around it by designing a purpose built container system with a series of trolleys, different sized wheels and a false floor.

Mr Hancock says some brainstorming and model-making went in to come up with the idea.

"When someone says you can't do it it's always a challenge to prove them wrong," he says.

Motat marketing manager Deanna Wharton says the museum is "thrilled" to receive the unique Aermacchi.

"Our Aviation Display Hall already contains many notable aircraft including an airforce Skyhawk and Lancaster Bomber, so the Aermacchi is a fantastic addition to the collection,”she says.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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