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17 March, 2022

Flying high

AFTER 10 years of dedication to rebuild to its original state, the day finally came where Mareeba’s rarest treasure, the Vought F4U-1D “Corsair” Warbird aeroplane, took its first flight since World War II.

By Ellie Fink

The restoration of the rich blue war time plane was orchestrated by the North Queensland Warbirds, a local group with a passion for all things military aircraft. 

There are currently only two “airworthy” Corsairs in the country, with one in Victoria and the other at Mareeba Airport. 

Due to the complexity of the rare aircraft, finding the right parts was a challenging mission, with owner of the Corsair and NQ Warbirds, Mike Spaulding, and his team of engineers searching the globe for the right parts.

Their end goal was to get the Corsair soaring above Mareeba, and that goal was achieved finally on 28 February, with experienced test pilot Stephen Death travelling from New South Wales to run the first ever test flight.

After testing other similar aircraft to the Corsair, Mr Death told Mr Spaulding and fellow engineers, John Lucy and Paul Knox, that he could not pick a fault during the flight, giving the team a sense of pride in the way the plane had been restored.

The Corsair during a flight above the farming lands over Mareeba. The brilliant blue Corsair is a WWII plane that was in the Battle of Okinawa during the end of the war and defeated its enemies with ease.

Mr Spaulding said he was incredibly honoured to be part of the project, describing it as a “treasure” to have in his workshop at the Mareeba Airport. 

“Our particular aeroplane has a great war time history to it – it served on the aircraft carrier called the USS Intrepid, which was in famous battles and is currently still afloat in a floating museum in New York Harbour,” he said.

“Our Corsair was in the Battle for Okinawa towards the end of the war… It was a remarkable plane as it blitzed the enemy, and the enemy did not have an answer against the Corsair. 

“After the war it was stricken, which is the USA Military word for being taken of their inventory, and a lot of aeroplanes and military weaponry at the war’s end were melted down or destroyed.” 

The Corsair escaped the smelting and found its temporary home in a museum in the USA, where the NQ Warbirds found her, taking the first steps to bring her home and restore the aircraft to its original power. 

The aeroplane was bought in a perfect condition and ready to be rebuilt. Putting thousands of hours of work into the Corsair, the team of engineers were relieved to say it was finally ready for take-off late last month. 

“(Mr Death) flew the plane for about an hour and it was magnificent to see,” Mr Spaulding said.

“These big aeroplanes like the Corsair are worth millions of dollars and it takes that kind of money to restore them."

Ultimately, after a few years, the Corsair may go up for sale, but for the time being, it will remain in the care of Mr Spaulding.

The next step for the NQ Warbirds is to give Corsair a “sister” plane, introducing a new project to the shed. 

The purchase of a similar Warbird to the Corsair, a Texan (T6) WWII aircraft, will begin its reconstruction in the coming months, with its own unique story to tell. 

“These aeroplanes were used as trainers, so they have a two-placement aeroplane, and the Corsair is just a one pilot aeroplane,” Mr Spaulding said. 

“They were used throughout WWII to train all of our western allies to fly the fighters, so they all went through a Texan before they learned to fly a Corsair or a Mustang.” 

For now, the Corsair will remain one of the greatest treasures for the NQ Warbirds.

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