Investing in history: the best specialists on the market for military aircraft restoration

I’ll look at one Spitfires. Or rather, what they tell me is one Spitfires. At the moment it is actually a collection of dilapidated, corroded and muddy metal parts. It would be one of the last Spitfire Mk XIV that crashed in Germany in 1945, and is waiting for a buyer to restore it to its former glory. The various parts are now stored in the hangars of the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, along with other vintage tools, technical manuals and powerful Rolls-Royce engines. It is one of the largest restorers of vintage aircraft in the world – with an international register of wealthy clients – and specializes in “warbirds”, historic military aircraft: 40 percent of the approximately 70 Spitfires that still fly around the world has been brought back to life here. For John Romain, CEO of ARCo (who has over a thousand hours of flying experience). Spitfires) special projects are the most exciting. «If someone owns a specific and rare aircraft, it is almost certain that they will come to us: we specialize in unique items. We have a Bristol Blenheim Mk I This is probably the only one in the world and certainly the only one that can fly.

Maintenance work on the Mercury engine of a Bristol Blenheim Mk I.

Many of ARCo’s customers demand maximum confidentiality about their aircraft, and in fact most aircraft are subject to non-disclosure agreements. On the day that ARCo’s Jack McBride takes me on a tour, there are a number of Spitfires Many of these are in the works Mk IX in the two-seater configuration, which is becoming increasingly popular because it allows those without a pilot’s license to experience the thrill of flying in a historic military aircraft from the passenger seat. Also the Dakota C-47 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a Royal Air Force (RAF) reenactment flight, here for an in-depth review, but the project that excites Romain the most is a biplane Supermarine Walrus from the “extraordinarily rare” 1930s, which you will get your hands on in nine months.

The Spitfire Mk I N3200 donated by ARCo customer Thomas Kaplan to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

ARCo’s work always begins with a project study. It can be a complete aircraft that requires a lot of maintenance or, as in the case of such Spit Mk XIV crashed to the ground, with only a nameplate and little else to begin rebuilding almost from scratch. “We call it a hopeless case,” says Romain. An intensive research and repair process then begins, using increasingly rare technical and craftsmanship skills. “It’s difficult to find good sheet metal workers and engineers who are used to working on old airplanes,” he explains. “We need people who are able to repair old-fashioned instruments, install engines and thrusters: specializations that a modern engineer hardly has.” We are the ones who have to teach them.

Above the fuselage of a Spitfire in action, in the background the cockpit.

If large parts of the aircraft are missing, they have to be rebuilt with some difficulty. “Sometimes we can’t find the original materials,” explains Romain. “That’s why we need to consult engineers who know stress analysis to tell us what material to use and how to make the missing part.” Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines simplify the process, and manufactured parts are not distinguishable from their vintage counterparts – even down to the machine’s forging marks, for those who pay attention to detail.

The wing section of a Spitfire under construction.

Depending on the customer’s wishes, the restoration work can take up to 6 years to achieve a perfect result. As for costs, they start from £20,000 for a year’s maintenance, go to hundreds of thousands for rebuilding an engine, to millions for a complete rebuild. “It all depends on how much the customer is willing to invest,” explains Romain. “And what the end result should look like. Should it return to factory condition and become a competition aircraft? Or does it need to be secure and operational? If someone shows up with one Spitfires In a desperate situation we are talking about two and a half years of work and around 2.4 million pounds (around 2.76 million euros).”

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