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Tough old warbird restored to former glory

An 80-year-old warbird has landed in its new home in Masterton, after a three-year restoration project.

The former Royal New Zealand Air Force Harvard aircraft has a long history in New Zealand and was used to train New Zealand pilots in World War II and as a practice airframe for aircraft engineering students from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

Since then, it’s sat in storage in Canterbury – until 2020 when it was acquired by Bevan Dewes, who said he only found out about the plane a week out from acquiring it.

“I didn’t know it existed until an acquaintance asked if I knew anyone who might want to buy it,” Dewes recalled.

“I replied, ‘Well, maybe I do’,” and a deal was done.

Restoring the Harvard was no small mission, as the plane hadn’t flown since 1958 at Wigram Air Base in Canterbury.

Dewes said the project had been a long road, especially with the covid-19 lockdowns almost doubling the time it took.

“I put many hours into it myself – probably spent over 12 months of full-time work on it when I could get away.”

During its time as a practice aircraft for students, the Harvard fortunately wasn’t a victim of ‘airframe work’ in which instructors ‘hacked away at panels and students tried to rebuild them’ as part of the teaching process.

“Thankfully it never had that done,” Dawes said.

“It would have made the restoration job much more difficult.”

Dewes worked with engineers from Twenty24 Limited to return the Harvard to her former glory, sealing the deal with a fresh lick of paint with the help of Heli Support to bring back the same colours the plane had in the 1940s.

Lucy Newell – Dewes’ fiance and a fellow enthusiast about old military aircraft – said the entire process has been extremely rewarding.

“It was really something awesome to see the work completed by the engineers and the paint job guys. Lots of different people have put their work into it and it’s all culminated into this,” she said.

Now the aircraft is ready to fly, and fly she has, with Dewes noting the first trip went “surprisingly well”.

“There are often small things you need to either adjust or fix up on the first flight, but everything was working well,” he said.

Now, having completed several successful flights, the Harvard will be soaring in upcoming airshows – including Wings over Wairarapa, scheduled for November this year.

Tracy Dixon, Airside manager for Wings Over Wairarapa, said there was currently one other Harvard on the airfield in Masterton, but it wasn’t owned by a local.

“Having a local get into that area of aviation is always fantastic to see, especially the younger generation coming through to continue the history and keep those sorts of aeroplanes flying,” Dixon said.

“He’s done an absolutely amazing job of it.

“It’s the only one I know of to be restored to that level of detail so it certainly will stand out from the crowd.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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