Restored WWII Mosquito warplane lands in Pungo
When Jerry Yagen first saw the photographs, he was not impressed.
The heap of decayed wood and crumbling parts didn't look like much, let alone a warplane.
During World War II, the wooden, twin-engine Mosquito was known for its speed, built by the British and used as a reconnaissance plane, a fighter and a bomber.
This particular Mosquito had fallen a long way since its prime. It had been used for scrap parts to repair equipment on a farm in western Canada, sitting outside for 40 years, left to withstand the elements.
Still, from those photos, Yagen saw potential. Necessary parts such as landing gear and instrument panels were still there, and pieces of remaining wing and fuselage could be used for measurements.
Yagen asked whether there was any hope of rebuilding it. Then he bought the pile of plane.
It would take eight years to put the Mosquito together again, but it is now airworthy, making it the only Mosquito in the world capable of flight today, Yagen said.
Last week, the plane arrived at its new, permanent home: the Military Aviation Museum in Pungo. The Mosquito, which flew about 25 hours in New Zealand, where it was rebuilt, will make its first flight for the American public in May at the museum's annual Warbirds Over the Beach Air Show.
"It looks magnificent," said Yagen, president of the museum. "It's sleek, fast looking, and when it passes overhead, it sounds like a pair of Spitfires flying in formation."
Yagen, who founded Tidewater Tech - now called Centura College - and the Aviation Institute of Maintenance schools, began collecting vintage warplanes in the mid-1990s. In the early 2000s he established the museum, which has become one of the largest collections of flying warplanes in the U.S.
Plans to bring a Mosquito to Virginia Beach began after Yagen finished working on another plane with Avspecs, a warbird and vintage aircraft restoration company in New Zealand.
Yagen asked Avspecs owner Warren Denholm what he wanted to work on next.
A Mosquito, he said.
"I laughed," Yagen said.
Mosquitoes weren't exactly easy to find, Yagen said. And getting one to fly would be even more improbable.
"Nobody had ever rebuilt one. It was so difficult," Yagen said, adding that a Mosquito is like the "Holy Grail" among vintage fighter planes.
At the onset of World War II, the British de Havilland Aircraft Company pitched an idea for a wooden warplane at a time when aluminum was in short supply, Yagen said. Nearly 8,000 were built during the war in England, Australia and Canada. Called the "Wooden Wonder," the plane was lauded for its speed and versatility.
But a wooden plane had little use after the war. The company sold the planes, and over time, the stressed plywood and animal glue holding parts together began to wear, Yagen said.
The most recent Mosquito capable of flight crashed in 1996 at an air show in England.
Denholm knew of a New Zealand woodworker, Glyn Powell, who knew of a Mosquito in Canada. Yagen flew him out to see it, and Powell took pictures of the messy pile.
The Mosquito was built in 1945 in a de Havilland factory in Toronto, Yagen said. It was used as a training plane but did not see action during the war.
The plane needed completely new construction, from a wooden body, engines and radios to hydraulic and electrical systems.
It took a worldwide search to find all the parts needed. The brakes were found in England, the prop spinners from a fence post in Canada, Yagen said. One of the seats came from Australia, via eBay.
Back in New Zealand, Powell was able to bend wood into a fuselage using molds he created from partial blueprints, Yagen said. He had created the molds years prior, when he helped build a non-flying Mosquito for a museum.
As word spread, people started contacting the team to offer plane parts.
"One by one, these pieces all came out of the woodwork," Yagen said.
The plane was painted with the marking of a New Zealand squadron that flew in a prison raid during World War II.
Yagen declined to say how much the project cost, other than to say it was "well over $1 million."
"It's priceless because it's one of a kind," he said.
After several tests flights, the Mosquito flew for the first time in public at the end of September, in front of a crowd of several thousand in New Zealand.
Taken apart and boxed into three shipping containers, the plane made a one-month journey to the U.S. by ship and truck.
When the pieces arrived at the museum's maintenance hangar Thursday, a crew unloaded the tail, engines, wing, fuselage and parts bundled in bubble wrap and cardboard. Two crew members with Avspecs, the New Zealand company, will arrive in several weeks to assemble the plane, which should take three to four weeks.
The Federal Aviation Administration is working with the museum to approve the plane for flight in the U.S., Yagen said.
Yagen said he hopes the Mosquito flies for years to come, and that the image of dark green and sea gray buzzing through the sky is something that sticks with those who see it.
"I'm saving a piece of history," he said.