Historic Islander is still taking shape

A group of enthusiasts are continuing their painstaking quest to restore a genuine piece of Island history, writes Peter White.

The project they have undertaken is to re-build one of the first Islander aircrafts ever to be constructed on the Isle of Wight. The ultimate goal is to have the historic Britten-Norman aircraft G-AVCN ready for the “Islander 50” celebrations in June, 2015.

The event will mark the importance of the first flight of the prototype B-N Islander on June 13, 1965 as a highly successful example of Island enterprise. The aim is that the restored Islander will be displayed in its original Aurigny Air Services colours as worn on March 1, 1968, nearly three years after the prototype test, when it flew the airline’s inaugural flight.

Although the restored Islander will never actually be able to take to the air again, it will act as a lasting tribute to John Britten, Desmond Norman and all who contributed to the success of their venture, despite many setbacks along the way.

Britten-Norman Aircraft Preservation Society (BNAPS) was set up to restore the aircraft, which was the third Islander ever to be built, and the oldest in existence. It was initially found abandoned in Puerto Rico, and after lengthy negotiations a group of experts went to the Caribbean, took the aircraft apart, put it into a freight container and transported it back to the UK in early 2000, with the support of various organisations.

At the time the plan was that it would be restored to flying condition. Alas that never materialised and the shell of the aircraft was left to rot under a tarpaulin in Bembridge until the project was resurrected in 2009.

The following year the remains of the dilapidated shell were surveyed to see if they could be moved without further damage, and in July 2010 it was carefully taken to a workshop in the Bembridge area. The workshop also had to be renovated before work on the aircraft could begin in earnest towards the end of 2011. Since then positive steps have been taken in the restoration programme, even though it remains a race against time to have it fully completed by the summer of 2015.

As far as possible all the original components from the aircraft are being used, but if any are missing then the equivalents are being sourced. The floor of the plane will be in shortly, and the fuselage structure should be completed by the end of the year. The next task will be to fully restore the wing, which has a 50ft span, and will mean rearranging the Bembridge workshop just to accommodate it.

BNAPS has a 60-strong supporters’ club who pay a subscription to help fund the project, with a team of eight actively involved in the restoration. Work on the project is also ongoing elsewhere, including private workshops and garages on the Island and even on the mainland.

BNAPS are being aided by leading aircraft parts supplier, Worthing based Saywell International, and has also received valuable non-flight spares from Isles of Scilly Skybus and B-N Group together with support from the Portsmouth based company Proptech, for a pair of cosmetically refurbished propellers. The latest company to offer assistance is Norvic Aero Engines for construction of a pair of ‘non-functional’ engines from its works at St Neots, Cambridgeshire.

Bob Wealthy, chairman of the BNAPS said: “The idea is that all the parts will be ready so that by the end of 2014 we will be able to assemble the Islander, and we can roll it out on time in June, 2015.

“The key issue will then be to find somewhere suitable on the Island to have a home for it. We are looking at about a dozen possibilities at the moment, but ideally we would like to come to an arrangement to use the original hanger where it was built in Bembridge. If that proves too expensive then maybe we can lease some space at the airport to put up a building to display the aircraft for a period of time, subject to funding.

“Ideally we want a permanent home for it, and naturally we would like to keep it on the Island, so that people here can go and view it for themselves.”