Saskatoon man restoring vintage German fighter plane
Don Bradshaw has completed his fair share of restoration projects.
“I sort of went through my second childhood and did collector cars, things like that,” Bradshaw said.
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A former civil aviation safety inspector for Transport Canada, he also worked on many aircraft throughout his 25-year career.
Jacked up in his Saskatoon garage, however, is his biggest project yet; a Messerschmitt Me (Bf) 109G-6 fighter plane.
“It’s a very rare aircraft,” Bradshaw said. “For me, it’s the challenge.”
“There’s only a couple of original 109s flying in the world right now and so it’s a metric airplane, lots of little pieces, hard to find.”
Backed by American, Kermit Weeks, the largest private aircraft collector in the world, Bradshaw began restoring the German World War II fighter five years ago.
He spent a lot of him time doing research and hunting down parts from all over the world.
“Majority of the wreckage came from Germany or Austria. That’s where most of them ended up,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw holding some of the original wreckage.Devin Sauer / Global News
The factories that made the plane went out of business in 1945. Bradshaw said there were a lot of parts that people just took home to use for different things.
“Some of the pieces I got were used as a roof on a barn,” he said.
Using old, damaged parts as a template, Bradshaw also replicated other pieces himself, often making extras to trade.
“It’s a very very small family,” Bradshaw said. “[The restorers] pool our resources in a lot of cases.”
Bradshaw says he spent a lot of time replicating parts.Devin Sauer / Global News
He called the project a labour of love and technically very demanding.
“For me it’s a bit of a legacy – everybody wants to leave a legacy,” he said.
The vintage fighter has a legacy of its own.
“It’s really an iconic fighter,” said Don Macpherson, with the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre. “It’s one of the aircraft that defines the air war in World War II.”
Fast, tough, heavily armed and very maneuverable, the plane was the first of a high performance class of fighter aircraft.
“Nobody had anything like it when that airplane first appeared in the Spanish Civil War in the late 30s, it just was a mind-boggler,” he said.
“Later on as World War II started, American and British aircraft were designed specifically to counter its abilities,” he added.
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The Messerschmitt in Bradshaw’s garage has a storied past. Macpherson said it was damaged in a crash landing in Italy early in the war and that likely kept it from being destroyed.
“Eventually it was sent back into action fully serviceable and it was part of the defense of Berlin at the end and was used against the Royal Air Force,” he said.
About 34,000 Me-109s were built over time, but there are few that survived after the Second World War. Bradshaw’s project puts him in rare company.
“This one is special because it’s actually going to be flyable,” Macpherson said. “I think there’s maybe two in North America that are flyable, this would be the third one.”
Inside the cockpit of Don Bradshaw’s Messerschmitt Me 109G-6 fighter plane.Devin Sauer / Global News
While the fuselage is complete, there is still more work that needs to be done. Eventually the project will outgrow Bradshaw’s garage and be moved to the museum.
“It’ll be a real attention-getter that airplane,” Macpherson said. “When you see it you wonder where it’s been, what it’s done and that’s about as far as you’re going to get with it, because the history is blurred.”
Bradshaw said the overhaul of the engine will be a big task, one that will ultimately be done in California.
As for when she’ll take to the skies once again, he thinks that will happen within a couple of years.
“I would love this aircraft to end up in a museum and shown to people so they can see it for generations to come,” he said.
“I’m certainly looking forward to the day that it flies.”