Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Aviation buffs to rebuild RAF plane

Malcom Deeley from the Ulster Aviation Society in the nose of the Canberra PR9

An old RAF reconnaissance plane is being rebuilt on the site of a former top security jail in Northern Ireland where it was once called in to help check for IRA escape tunnels.

Volunteers from the Ulster Aviation Society are reassembling the aircraft at the former Maze Prison at Long Kesh, near Lisburn, Co Antrim.

After nearly 50 years flying into war zones all over the world, it was dismantled at an airfield in England and shipped back across the Irish Sea.

The Canberra PR9 was one of 23 manufactured by Shorts at Queen's Island, east Belfast, where they first took to the skies heaving with surveillance equipment.

Operational flights included reconnaissance missions in Iraq, central America, central Africa, Kosovo and, as recently as three years ago, Afghanistan.

Now a Second World War hangar at the same place is being used to provide cover for reconstructing the plane which has a 70ft long fuselage weighing almost two and a half tonnes.

The project is being headed up by Ray Burrows, a former air traffic controller and vice chairman of the society, which paid £10,000 for the plane.

It will be several more months however before the restoration process, backed by vital Heritage Lottery funding, is completed.

Ernie Cromie, the society's chairman said: "It has taken months and months to get to this stage and I'd imagine it will take as long again to piece everything back together. It's a major logistical exercise and a long drawn-out process. It's been very difficult, especially getting the engine out."

The plane brought back to Northern Ireland can never fly again because of a crack in the main wing spar, but is set to become a spectacular new addition to the Ulster Aviation Collection which includes aircraft such as Wessex and Alouette helicopters, Shorts Tucano, Shorts 330, Vampire, Seahawk, Buccaneer and a Second World War Wildcat which was salvaged from Portmore Lough, near Craigavon, Co Armagh.

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