Behind the scenes: Preserving and restoring rare warbirds from WW2 to present

Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos: Yannis Mylonas

& Pierre Kosmidis/www.ww2wrecks.com 

Additional resources:

1/ Hellenic Air Force Museum – The wings of history (click to read the story)

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2/ The rare warbirds of the Hellenic Air Force Museum (click to read the story)

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Aviation enthusiasts all over the world are thrilled every time they see an aircraft from a bygone era resurrected.

Greece has seen a lot of action during WW2 and many aircraft wrecks of that period vividly demonstrate the fact that this rather obscure  -compared to other fronts- theatre of operations played a crucial role in the final Allied victory.

Every now and then, new information on a downed aircraft comes to light and on several occasions the thrilling stories behind their demise are also unveiled.

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Some WW2 aircraft wrecks in Greece have been salvaged, either during a meticulously planned operation, or by sheer luck, with fishing trawlers bringing to the surface an unexpected catch, instead of fish, the remains of an aircraft ditched at sea 70 years or more ago.

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But, what is the painstaking process restoring, preserving and eventually exhibiting a rare warbird, be it a WW2 aircraft wreck or a modern jet, which up until recently flew in combat missions or other air operations?

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Let’s have a peek behind the scenes.

In that respect, www.ww2wrecks.com asked Mr. Yiannis (John) Mylonas, who is working at the Hellenic Air Force Museum as exhibits maintenance Technician for the last eight years, to enlighten aviation enthusiasts on the processes, as well as the fate of some of those unique aircraft.

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Mr. Yiannis (John) Mylonas has a quite impressive aviation background, with a deep knowledge of the “flying machines”, as he also worked for the Hellenic Army Aviation Helicopters as Engines QC/TI at Engines Shop, Megara Army Air Base, for 26 years.

Here’s what Mr. Yiannis (John) Mylonas said to www.ww2wrecks.com 

First of all Mr. Mylonas, please provide us with a bit of background on your job; It certainly means you are an aviation enthusiast too?

My occupation certainly means a lot to me, but on top of that I am also researching the history of the Hellenic Air Force privately,focusing on the early years to WW2, intending to write a book regarding the Hellenic Air Force aircraft since 1912.

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Bur further to my dedication on the aircraft used by the Hellenic Air Force over those 100+ years, I do have a keen interest on Hellenic Air Force History in general, trying to find any relevant information related to it.

I am also a member of Air Britain for the last fifteen years and I must admit that it has been of great help to my research, but furthermore I am very glad that I had the chance to meet with fantastic people with great interest in Aviation.

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What is the standard process of preservation and possible restoration of an aircraft wreck?

I was transferred at the Hellenic Air Force Museum in 2009, therefore I cannot say much about the aircraft salvaged from the seabed before that date, as the dwindling resources since 2010-11 meant that the Museum has to operate on a limited budget and staff.

The Hellenic Air Force Museum though has a collection of some unique exhibits, such as the wing section and engines of a Blenheim that was salvaged from Prespa Lake in northern Greece, the Blenheim shot down in 1941 that was salvaged close to Rethymno, the Ju-52 shot down in 1943 salvaged from Leros, the Ju-87 Stuka shot down in 1943, salvaged from Rhodes and the Ar-196  fished up by a trawler between Naxos and Ikaria island. Apart from the first three, which have undergone a preservation process the last two, and especially the Arado Ar-196  are yet to be fully preserved and restored.

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I cannot express an expert opinion of the first three restoration projects, as I was not involved in their preservation, but I learned that the Blenheim of Rethymno was sandblasted, as we can see from the texture of the surfaces of the aircraft, while the Ju52 was treated with chemicals.
The HAF Museum does not have qualified staff to carry out such restoration or preservation projects and external partners were employed. It remains a “question mark” though whether the appropriate methods have been applied or not, as there was no relevant experience and expertise in Greece.

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How difficult is the preservation of an historic aircraft? 

The degree of difficulty in the maintenance of salvaged historic aircraft varies with the age of the aircraft and how it has been preserved.

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According to international experience and procedures followed, the aircraft immediately after coming to the surface and the initial washing with fresh water, must be placed in fresh water tanks, ideally in parts. This water must be changed every week for at least six months in order to control and eventually stop erosion from sea water.

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Then it is treated with chemicals in order to remove marine organisms and corrosion.

After completing the process, the aircraft is ready to be fully assessed and restoration work can then start, either as a preserved or restored static exhibit, or even, in some cases, to make it airworthy again.

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If you had to choose a single aircraft, which one would it be and why?

One aircraft that really stands out for me and was the main reason for my decision to be transferred to the Hellenic Air Force Museum is the Spitfire.

This particular aircraft always touched me and certainly the idea of seeing this amazing piece of history in its natural environment was thrilling.

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Additional resources:

1/ Hellenic Air Force Museum – The wings of history (click to read the story)

2/ The rare warbirds of the Hellenic Air Force Museum (click to read the story)

When you see a salvaged aircraft exhibited in public for the first time, after thousands of hours of work, how do you feel? 

What is important, is the proper restoration process and maintenance of exhibits, in order to enable the young generations know the means by which previous generations made History. Therefore, the greatest satisfaction is the proper restoration of the exhibit and not its “abuse”.

Having dealt so long with aircraft, which is an unforgettable incident you wish to share?

What really is unforgettable and yet incomprehensible is the recent decision of the Hellenic Air Force to remove from the Museum the first F-5A (s/n 63-8405) which flew to Greece in June 1965 and to place it on a pillar, along with with a Mirage F1 (s/ n 121), while there are certainly other similar aircraft, of not such an historic significance that would serve this purpose.

 

Additional resources:

1/ Hellenic Air Force Museum – The wings of history (click to read the story)

2/ The rare warbirds of the Hellenic Air Force Museum (click to read the story)