Omaka Aviation Heritage Center Receives Rare Warbirds for Display

The late John R. Smith's Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.IV NZ3220 'Gloria Lyons' in the sunshine for the first time in many years. Earlier this year the combat veteran Kittyhawk, still resplendent in her WWII camouflage, made her way to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre for conservation. She will now be joined by another prestigious aircraft in Omaka, a deHavilland DH.98 Mosquito FB.VI! (image by John Harrison via Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre)
Aircorps Art Dec 2019

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Center in Omaka, New Zealand has just announced a major deal with the heirs of the late John R. Smith, whose extraordinary collection of vintage military aircraft has long-sheltered behind closed doors in Mapua. The museum is set to become home to several of the gems in this extraordinary collection.

John Smith, like a handful of others in his generation, was prescient enough to see the historic value of vintage military aircraft during the 1950s, a time when mass-scrapping operations were smelting the Arsenal of Democracy into raw materials again. The aircraft Smith managed to save include a number of truly significant airframes such as deHavilland Mosquito FB.VI NZ2336, a brace of Curtiss Kittyhawks (NZ3220 & NZ3043), a Lockheed Hudson (NZ2049) and a P-51D Mustang (NZ2423), not to mention other airframes and numerous spare parts for a variety of aircraft. While not all of these aircraft will be moving to Omaka for display, pride of place must surely go to Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.IV NZ3220 Gloria Lyons, still resplendent in her original wartime paint, complete with several dozen mission markings. This aircraft is already at Omaka undergoing a sympathetic conservation back into static condition. The deHavilland Mosquito FB Mk.VI, built originally for Britain’s RAF as TE910, arrived too late to see service during WWII, but it is still an exceedingly rare, intact example of the breed, and will make a fine companion to Gloria Lyons when she arrives at Omaka. More details about the recent development are presented in the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre’s press release below… we look forwards to receiving more details as they arrive!

The late John R. Smith’s deHavilland Mosquito FB.VI NZ2336 nestled inside a pole barn in Mapua, New Zealand with a myriad other aviation-related stores. Just behind the Mossie’s rear fuselage, you can see P-51D Mustang NZ2423. While the Mosquito will soon be making her way to Omaka for conservation, the Mustang, albeit with torched-off wings, is an airworthy restoration candidate, and will likely be put up for sale – hopefully to someone in New Zealand. (image by Graham Orphan via Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre)


The John Smith Collection, the aviation equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave

We are excited and honoured to announce that the family of deceased aviation collector, John Smith have appointed the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre (OAHC) to work with them as guardians of his remarkable collection, to preserve and publicly display these hero aircraft to New Zealand and the world.

The John Smith collection had its beginnings in the 1950’s when as a young man he witnessed wholesale scrapping of warbirds around the world and even in his own backyard. John lived in Mapua and was aware that over the hill in Marlborough, historic warplanes such as Mustangs, Mosquitos and Hudsons were being broken up. He managed to save several key aircraft and stored them in a shed on his Mapua property, where they remained as untouched, and for the most part unseen, records of NZ aviation history.

Over the decades, word of the Kiwi recluse with his rare warbird collection reached around the world. Collectors travelled from across the planet to try to purchase his aeroplanes but left empty handed. John’s shed was the aviation equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave, fuselages lined up parallel to one another like sardines, symmetrically arranged either side of a fully assembled Mosquito. “Many of us have seen restored combat aircraft from WW2, albeit in small numbers, however these aircraft were the ‘real deal’, carrying the original paint they wore when parked under the palm trees on some Pacific atoll, being rearmed before going back to battle,” says OAHC board member Graham Orphan.

‘Gloria Lyons’ in the sunshine at the late John R. Smith’s facility in Mapua, New Zealand. As already noted, the deHavilland DH.98 Mosquito FB.VI in the background will soon be joining the Kittyhawk at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre! (image by John Harrison via Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre)

The Smith aircraft destined for display at OAHC include a complete de Havilland Mosquito, John’s own original Tiger Moth and New Zealand’s most famous P-40, Gloria Lyons. They will join the Lockheed Hudson, formerly gifted by John to Bill Reid, also on display at Omaka.

Conservation work has commenced on the P-40 and the next milestone is the disassembling of the Mosquito and transporting it from Mapua to Omaka. Given the fragility and historical significance of the fuselage it requires specialised expertise and transportation. Future fundraising efforts including any profits from the Yealands Classic Fighters Air Show will be funnelled into this significant project and any donations or offers of sponsorship in kind will be gratefully accepted

About Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
Established to provide a world-class destination for the appreciation of historic aircraft, the Omaka AHC opened in 2006 with the Knights of the Sky exhibition, featuring Sir Peter Jackson’s extensive Great War collection of aircraft and rare memorabilia. The calibre of the displays, enhanced by Weta Workshop’s mannequins and sets produced by WingNut Films, launched the Centre to international acclaim. Dangerous Skies, the WWII exhibition opened in 2016 and explores the stories of both male and female aviators. Iconic warbirds are on display including a flyable Spitfire Mk.14 and the Battle for Stalingrad comes to life in an experience which is equally informative, entertaining and heartbreaking.

Many thanks indeed to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre’s Rachael Brown for making the photographs available for this piece!


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