Vickers Vildebeest Mk.III
RNZAF Serial NZ102
(supplemented with parts from other aircraft)
The Vickers Vildebeest was a very large 2-3 seat all-metal biplane, typical of those produced in Britain during the inter-war period. The RNZAF operated 39 Vildbeests between 1935-44, of which NZ102 is the most complete remaining airframe. For more history on NZ102, click here.
The remains of Vildebeest NZ102 have been part of the collection at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand since 1986, along with minor components from several other RNZAF Vildebeests and Vincents (a general purpose variant of the Vildebeest). What makes this so special is not only that it represents the only significant remains of any ex-RNZAF Vildebeest, but that they are the only significant remains of a Vickers Vildebeest to be found anywhere in the world.
Restoring an aircraft of such complexity and scale is difficult enough when you have a complete airframe and all the necessary engineering drawings, but to attempt it when all you have is wreckage, a few minor technical references and whatever information you can glean from period photographs, is harder still. Some progress has been achieved in the past using the principle of reverse engineering, where the original structure is painstakingly disassembled and examined in order to learn how to re-construct it and this has been successful in helping to rebuild an almost complete fuselage frame.
To a degree, the outcome of such a difficult project is unpredictable, but it is hoped that a full skeletal airframe can be assembled using as much original structure as possible, which would make an impressive addition to our collection of exhibited aircraft. As the project progresses, we will gain a clearer picture of what might be achieved beyond that. The rarity and historical significance of the Vildebeest means that it is one of the most important military aircraft held in a museum collection anywhere in New Zealand, and we are thrilled to be able to make this challenging project a priority focus.
NZ102 can be viewed in the Conservation Workshop on our daily, free Behind the Scenes tours.
What is currently happening?
Update 2 December 2020
Now that the major structural parts that will be used on the build have been identified, we have been able to try offering up some parts for comparison. With no engineering drawings to guide us and many of the part numbers that were stamped on components illegible due to corrosion, we've done a ‘dry fitting’ of the wing centre sections to the fuselage to help us identify the exact locations of components like the diagonal centre-section struts. While they look very similar, they have subtle differences. With the lower main planes in position, the 15m wingspan helps you appreciate the size of this aircraft, especially when you factor in that the upper centre section will sit at almost 4.5m high when the aircraft is completed.
Meanwhile, our Research Team is making great strides in uncovering information about NZ102's operational life, including details of the pilots who flew it. Read more about what has been uncovered, in our blog, here.
Update 24 July 2020
Currently, the team is in the midst of the initial project scoping and research phase. An inventory and inspection is being undertaken of the spares and structure currently in the collection, to determine the extent that can be reused or restored, and gaps identified. Meanwhile, our Archives team is conducting in-depth research into the service history of NZ102, so that we may be better placed to share the story of this unique aircraft.
Can you help?
If you believe that you may have parts or information that would be useful to the restoration of Vildebeest NZ102, our Technical Conservation team would love to hear from you. Please get in touch via the link below.