Restoration is being carried out by the Solent Preservation Society Inc. under the auspices of MOTAT. The Society grew out of the Friends of the Flying Boat, a group of ex-TEAL employees which flowed on from the '20 Year' Club who were interested in maintaining contact with former co-workers. The Solent provided a focus for their activities. Because of the need to raise money to begin serious restoration, a meeting was held in 1983 at Ellerslie to create a registered Incorporated Society. This enabled the group to apply for funding from 'official' sources, such as the lottery board. The first President of the Society was Joe Shephard, and following his death in 1987, Ray Gasparich (the first vice-President) has been President. The Society has two official meetings a year - an annual general meeting, and a more social meeting with a guest speaker (generally associated with the aviation industry).
The activities of the 'Friends of the Flying Boat' started around 1982 with corrosion control and repairs. The restoration began with slow improvements to the aircraft's interior - the relining and repainting of the passenger cabins, and the refurbishment of seating. Various small groups worked on projects in different parts of the aircraft. In 1989 the Solent was moved into MOTAT's new purpose built display hangar, and a more serious phase in the restoration began. The exterior of the aircraft has been cleaned and painted in TEAL plumage. Inside the refurbishment is nearly complete, and apart from fine details the restoration is nearly done on an aircraft now serves as a fine memorial to its part in aviation history. Ray tells me that funds in the order of NZ$80,000 have been spent, and this struck me as a remarkably small cost. However, he also explained that the Society had 'not expected anything for nothing' but that many items had been supplied at cost price or less. Many of the sponsors are listed on boards displayed with the aircraft.
Working sessions are held on Wednesday morning at the Solent, in MOTAT's Aviation Section. The Society utilises a cooperative working setup - with the committee leading from the front. Work required is identified, and those who wish to participate do so. Although the restoration is nearly done, an aircraft like this requires ongoing maintenance. The society membership which once reached nearly 200 has been reduced by attrition to about160, but the group is positive and attendance is strong. Some new aviation minded members have appeared, but the Society would welcome new members with an interest in aviation, and a willingness to assist in the continued existence of the Solent."
The Solent is clearly used now as the centerpiece for many events. I remember when it was used for a Schweppes advertisement with Hugh Laurie, later of TV's "Doctor House" fame.
Hugh Laurie himself was a great humble friendly guy and I actually sat and ate lunch with him sitting on a desk chair looking out at the Belfast hanger. My other strong memories of the day were the amount of time it took to get that 30 seconds of commercial, and helping peeling the labels off the commercial bottles and seeing them glue new ones one so there weren't any air bubbles for the lights to pick up.
For further information and images from Kiwi Aircraft Images see:
While the MOTAT example is the only Mk V aircraft left in the world, there is another Mk III Solent flying boat preserved in the USA.
- aircraft on display in the main hanger 2007 (Richard Wesley)
- Solent on the grass awaiting its move into the new hanger 1989 (Richard Wesley)
- new hanger building, note the missed frame to allow the tail of the Solent to enter, 1989 (Richard Wesley)
- Solent flying boat taking off (web)