Plans to preserve, restore historic airfield hangar

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Plans are afoot to preserve and restore a key piece of Ashburton World War 2 aviation history – the Kittyhawk hangar near Ashburton airfield.

The first job for the Kittyhawk Hangar Restoration Group, led by aviator Ian Begbie, is to get iron back on the hangar roof to stop it deteriorating.

Mr Begbie said the aim was to restore a section of the hangar in the style it was built, with nails and wire, but other areas would be restored in a more modern way – glued and screwed.

The hangar is on land owned by the Ashburton council, and the restoration group has been working with the council on the project.

When the work is done, it will be dedicated to the late Jim Chivers, an Ashburton aviation stalwart, and who, with the late Ian Royds, did a lot of background work on the project.

Mr Begbie said it had got to the stage that if nothing was done, it could be too late.

The hangar, on Seafield Road, is believed to be a local version of the steel-framed Over Blister hangar used by the RAF in Britain.

It is unique in construction with light-weight box girder wooden trusses – four- together with a lifting beam used to remove engines from planes.

Ashburton has a strong aviation history, with the airfield the former home of the World War 2 Royal New Zealand Elementary Flying Training School station and a war-time training base.

Some 1100 pilots were trained there in World War 2, and at one time 50 Tiger Moth training planes were based there.

The hangar is in bad repair, with interior woodwork open to the elements and tarpaper all but missing.

“Our initial thought is to get iron back on the roof to make sure it (the building) doesn’t get any worse.

“Once we have it covered, we can work from there on the rebuild,” Mr Begbie said.

He hopes that people will come forward to volunteer skills – and money – to help with the work.

“I will kick some money in to get it started,” Mr Begbie said.

“I have a vision that if we can get a tree (rimu), there is a mill at the Plains (museum) we might be able to get it milled, and that we might get some low-cost cartage.

“The hope is that with the right people on board, we might be able to get something happening.”

Mr Begbie said it should not take long to get the roof covered, but restoration work would take longer.

Because it has a heritage listing, he is hopeful an application for heritage grant money might be successful.

Heritage adviser Jim Espie, in an early letter to Mr Chivers, said he had been asked to comment on the possibility of restoring the hangar.

“My comment is definitely yes. There is muck work to be done, but the result will be a conserved historic building.”

Kittyhawk 4A hangars were built as a framework-only structure to be covered with camouflage netting.

Hangars were built opposite the southern corner of the airfield, on the corner of Hoattens and Milton roads, and another on the north side of Morris Road.

It is thought they may have been built as dummy targets for Japanese bombers and there may have been one dummy aircraft.