Joyride for dad drives restoration project

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2012
Southland Times photo
TERRI RUSSELL/Fairfax NZ

Rebuilding history: Waikoikoi pilot and sheep farmer Craig Dowden is set to rebuild a rare aircraft that his father once flew.

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A sheep farmer near Gore is rebuilding a 1960s plane to take his father, now in his 70s and the world's most experienced pilot for that type of aircraft, on a joyride.

Buying a pile of derelict plane parts was the last thing on Craig Dowden's mind when he visited the Old Mandeville Airfield, near Gore, earlier this year.

"I came to see it out of old times' sake - my father flew it.

"Now, the big dream for me is to build it and fly it, and give Dad a fly as well," he said.

The Yeoman Cropmaster CTX is a rare agricultural craft once used to drop fertiliser on to paddocks.

Twentyone were made, six of which were imported to New Zealand. Only one remains airworthy.

A recreational pilot, Craig said he had a soft spot for vintage planes and aviation history.

Some pieces of his plane were probably more than 80 years old, he said. The original aircraft was made of parts from World War II fighter pilot training aircraft.

When the staff at Mandeville decided they no longer had space for it, Mr Dowden said he would store it in his shed. A few months later, he bought it.

"I couldn't stand to see it rotting away," he said.

The project is expected to take up to 10 years and almost $100,000 but Mr Dowden said he was determined to get the plane off the ground as soon as possible.

About four months ago the craft was taken on a trailer to Dunedin, where it underwent its first makeover, and returned this week.

By chance, the plane was taken to SouthAir, where the engineer was the same man who assembled the original parts as an apprentice in the mid-1960s.

"It was a bit of a surprise, because last time I saw it was in a shed in Gore in pieces," SouthAir engineer David Patrick said.

Mr Dowden said the plane flew for only four years before it was dismantled and put into storage, but it was a "real mystery" why. "It's just a blink in aircraft years."

Some parts were missing and it was likely they were in someone's shed, he said.

Mr Dowden's father, Bill, who is believed to be the most experienced Cropmaster pilot in the world, said it would be fun to get back in the cockpit. "I would consider it but my wife wouldn't."

It was good his son was fitting another seat where the fertiliser used to go, he said.

Mr Dowden senior spent nearly 4000 hours flying this type of aircraft in Gore, including the one his son was restoring.

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- The Southland Times

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