Kiwi Mustang business takes off
When selling his "Kiwi Mustang" to a United States enthusiast, Mike Crene was aware of some irony in packaging up the World War II P51 replica.
He had imported it five years ago as a disassembled kitset from the US, and was exporting it back, fully built. It was his first export but with two more under way and more planned, it is unlikely to be the last.
Building his first P51 Mustang was supposed to be a hobby but quickly became a business after the finished plane, complete with Royal New Zealand Air Force roundels, allowed through special permission from Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Defence, was an instant hit with New Zealand warbird enthusiasts.
"It was the first in the Southern Hemisphere so I got a lot of questions from the other guys."
His Kiwi Mustangs business has taken off, with two kitsets well under way to completion in a small hangar at Matamata Aerodrome.
Since he built his first P51, other enthusiasts have brought 30 of the kitsets into New Zealand and he often "consults" with clients around the country who are building their own but need some help. With full builds he also undertakes test flying, which helps keep his mind off the fact he has just sold his own "Kiwi Mustang" to Seattle.
"Basically I took the wing off in one piece and we slotted it into a 40-foot container," Mr Crene said. "[The plane] rolled into the container so easy ... the wing slotted in beside it."
When he began building his own World War II replica aeroplane about five years ago, Mr Crene had no idea his hobby would become a new career.
"I always wanted to own a Warbird and this was the only affordable option."
The frames cost US$55,000, with engines, propellers and other extras additional.
The Kiwi Mustang had authentic "steam-driven" gauges based on the WWII originals, but the latest in-flight instrument technology has been installed in one of Mr Crene's latest projects, a P51 for an Ardmore-based client.
While a $250,000 aeroplane might sound a lot, it was much cheaper than $2 million to $3m for a full-sized P51.
The second project is a microlight version which uses the same aircraft-grade alloy frame with a much smaller Rotax engine than the V6 from a Suzuki Vitara he used in his original plane.
Having been a mechanic and engineer in the air force for 10 years, Mr Crene had the skills to build the replicas and modify components so well that the changes have been taken on board by the aircraft's manufacturer, Ohio-based Titan Aircraft.
With Hamilton-based Neil Hintz of Autoflight, he developed a more reliable gear-driven reduction drive for the V6 engine. The drive replaced a belt drive and is now being used by Titan Aircraft following extensive flight testing by Mr Crene around the Waikato.