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Kiwi pilot relives wartime heroics in restored Tempest

Thursday 16 Aug 2012 4:40 p.m.

By Amanda Gillies

A Hawker Tempest which hasn't flown since 1946 is in the process of getting its wings again.

The plane was found in a shed in the south of France and bought by an anonymous New Zealand businessman for restoration.

It's still in bits, but there was enough to impress former war pilots at a veterans' day.

The last time Flt Lt Jack Stafford was in the cockpit of a Hawker Tempest was over Denmark, just after the Germans surrendered. Sixty-six years later, the smile says it all.

"It seems smaller somehow," he says. "I loved it. I loved it more than anything."

It took him right back.

"I've got a [Messerschmitt] 109 up my arse, better turn her," he says. "You just sort of swing around get your bloody head back, watching them coming in, have a look at him."

But there were sobering memories too. He recalled an attack in which his wingman was killed during a fierce battle.

This Tempest was found in a shed in the South of France. It was bought by a New Zealand businessman and arrived in Auckland last month in bits in three containers. It will be restored to its full glory, which should take about two years. By then it'll be worth about US$2.5 million dollars.

Through skill and bravery, Mr Stafford ran away safely many times. Tempest pilots had their own love song for their planes they flew.

"And if per chance this song should be a prelude to eternity, I ask for a moment's grace that I may think of thee before I die," sings Mr Stafford.

He turns 90 on Sunday. The Tempest is a gift he will cherish.

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