Sometime back we noted the sale of the Birla Dakota VT-AUM at Nagda in Madhyapradesh through a public auction. The aircraft was sold off to pay off some of the debts of the Bharat Commerce and Industry which was in bankruptcy. The aircraft was actually auctioned off in July 2013, and it waited for nearly an year and a half for the new owners to come pick it up. At that time the aircraft was rumoured to be headed to an industrial factory in Gulbarga District in Karnataka. For what purpose it remained a mystery.
The photos of the rather sad looking Dakota, being dismantled didn't inspire much confidence about the aircraft’s fate. Where was it headed? Was it for a role as a Training airframe? will it be scrapped? What would one do with such an aircraft in such a dilapidated state anyway?
|The Nagda Dakota VT-AUM in its derelict state at the time of its auction. In the lower right image, the Dakota is undergoing dismantling. These photos were taken in the last week of January.|
Imagine our surprise to find that the Dakota VT-AUM has found a new home in a industrial complex at Sedam, about three hours drive from Hyderabad across the border in Karnataka state. And the Dakota was on display in a fully restored condition - and by “fully restored”, we mean “fully restored by international standards!”
Yes, the Dak was carefully dismantled, transported by truck from Nagda to Sedam, a distance of nearly 1000km. It was then painstakingly restored to display status, by repairing all the damaged components and missing parts, then professionally painted and erected on site. How did this happen?
|British Supervision, Indian Brawn with local equipment - ensured that the aircraft was transported on four large truck trailers 1000 km away.|
The industrial house that bought the Dakota engaged a professional aircraft restoration team from the United Kingdom led by Mark Masters. Mark has over 30 years of experience in restoring classic aircraft in UK, and his portfolio includes dozens of classics biplanes and WW2 era aircraft. He has also worked on recovering aircraft and shipping them across the world.. some of his previous work includes recovering Piper Pawnee aircraft from India and exporting them to UK. One can say that the hiring of an experienced western restoration team is a landmark event as will be explained later.
Mark and his team first dismantled the Dakota at Nagda towards end of January. The photographs show that the aircraft was missing several window glass panels. Corrosion had set in all over. Many of the flying control surfaces - the Rudder, elevators, ailerons were missing.
The aircraft was carefully dismantled and it took four truck trailers to carry the Dakota from the location. One with the main fuselage. two with the wingsections, and a fourth to carry the engines. The journey wasn't without its fair share of incidents. One of the trucks had an accident, struck by another damaging one of the engine firewalls - This had to be rebuilt later on. On another occasion, despite being told not to do so, one of the truck crew decided to use chains to hold down the wings and that caused severe damage when the chains ripped through the aluminium skins. These had to be repaired as well later on.
Arrival at Sedam
After the 1000km journey was done, the restoration commenced on site at Sedam in the factory complex. Many of the aircraft's components had to be taken apart to clean and fix the damaged internal structures.A temporary hangar/tent was erected for painting and other purposes. A lot of re-skinning and riveting work was accomplished on site during this time.
The restoration team even procured a set of the missing surfaces in UK, refurbished and had them shipped to Sedam for fitment to the Dakota.>
Painting the Aircraft
After the metal work was completed, the entire aircraft was spray painted on site carefully. The original markings of VT-AUM were replicated in meticulous detail. The civilian registration was painted on the underside of the wings as well.
Additional work included refurbishing all the interior parts of the engine mounts, undercarraige. Repaiting of doors and hatches with the correct stencils and markings.
Final Assembly and Display
It was finally in November 2015, that the “Jig Saw” of pieces were beginning to get assembled. The aircraft was fully erected and assembled. and a formal ‘inauguration’ took place on November 17th. The results of this restoration effort is there for all to see.
It should be noted that this is the first ever time that a private organisation has strived to restore a vintage aircraft. And it was also the first time that an international team undertook a restoration on site in India. The owners are to be commended and thanked for their vision in procuring this Dakota, and also for taking the right decision to engage the UK team in the restoration. while there may still be individual knowledge available among aircraft engineers in India, the exposure to specialist restoration techniques is still missing. It is here that Mark Master’s and his team have made an important difference.
We cant but sign off by hoping that this Dakota will act as model for future restoration efforts, with private entities willing to spend the funds in bringing back old aircraft displayed in their rightful glory. Another moral of the story is that no aircraft is beyond redemption. The before and after pictures of VT-AUM are testimony to the fact.
|VT-AUM after its post restoration unveiling at Sedam. The restoration hopefully works as an standard to emulate in future projects|