At the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram, Christchurch during October, the fuselage and centre section of the museum’s Vickers Vildebeest project, serial NZ102, were test-mated and the undercarriage fitted to enable a check for overall alignment before progressing with the remainder of the centre-section build.
The project has moved up several gears since 2020, working to a five-year timeframe, having made slow but steady progress through the 1990s and early 2000s. Due to the absence of engineering drawings for the Vildebeest, the current plan is to build an ‘as complete as possible’ skeletal airframe using as much original material as is practical and, it is hoped, including all systems and instrumentation. Meanwhile, work will continue to try to source the information required to pursue a more complete rebuild. Aside from the lack of technical references, there are a number of other challenges, one being that the Bristol Pegasus engine is an ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force training aid that was sectioned.
The bulk of the structure is from NZ102, part of a batch of 12 Vildebeest torpedo bomber/army co-operation machines, purchased new by the New Zealand government and which arrived from the UK during April 1935. It saw service with No 2 GR (General Reconnaissance) Squadron at Omaka and No 8 GR Squadron at Gisborne, before finally being struck off and reduced to produce at Ohakea in 1944.
There are a number of connections with notable RNZAF individuals, probably the most interesting being the fact that it was flown a number of times by Leonard Trent VC, including as part of a five-aircraft formation that displayed at the RNZAF Pageant at Rongotai — now Wellington International Airport — in June 1938. Trent was awarded the VC for his part in the tragic No 487 Squadron Lockheed Ventura raid on a power station in Amsterdam on 3 May 1943, after which he was captured and interned in Stalag Luft III.