From the decks of World War II aircraft carriers to today's airshow circuit-the journey of a Royal Australian Navy Fairey Firefly.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, July 2003
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Significant work was done to rebuild one of the Firefly’s most distinctive features: Its huge Fairey-Youngman flaps, which made the heavy fighter docile enough to operate from a carrier. Another key feature, pneumatic brakes, is a rarity; many British warbirds flown today have been converted to use hydraulic systems. Kurdziel learned that authenticity required that he master new skills. “It was hard to get used to applying brakes from the stick during run-up instead of pushing the tops of the rudder pedals,” he says.
Kurdziel, who admits he has a Type-A personality, had trouble tolerating the restoration’s sometimes unpredictable pace. “I figured I was paying a penance for something I did in a previous life,” he says. “Maybe I wrecked one.”
Middleton, who has worked on Spitfires and other British aircraft most of his adult life, good-naturedly dressed down his impatient customer. “Ray told me, ‘The owners are just a transient thing. I’ve been maintaining these airplanes longer than you’ve been flying,’ ” Kurdziel says. Further clarity came from Kurdziel’s girlfriend, who asked him if he’d ever considered that the aircraft was more important to the restorers than it was to him. The epiphany was complete—Kurdziel gave in to the Zen of the process and threw away the timelines.
Now, while he’s on the airshow circuit and something goes amiss on the Firefly, Kurdziel knows his place: “I call Ray up and say, ‘Your airplane’s broken. What do I do?’ ”