During our recent visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, England, we had the opportunity to see an ultra-rare variant of Chance-Vought’s mighty Corsair. This, for us, was worth the price of admission alone. Much like works of art, historic aircraft also require conservation, preservation and/or restoration too. Such efforts, of course, require dedication and significant work, not to mention financial investment, to ensure the continued vitality of the past. Commensurate with those attributes, significant expertise and a conservation culture are also required. Too often, rare or even unique aircraft have simply been restored and repainted without consideration for their historical accuracy. In most cases, such aircraft also receive a shiny new coat of paint, with the original surface finish removed entirely from the airframe – unwittingly (or not) destroying a significant aspect of the exhibit’s historical authenticity. Thankfully, this was not the case for Corsair Mk.IV KD431 – a true time capsule – and the only former Fleet Air Arm example to have survived in complete condition.
This Corsair, following a painstaking effort to remove an inauthentic, 1960s-era paint scheme, now appears in its original, factory-applied livery, dating from July 1944. It is likely the only Corsair in the world which still retains its original surface finish for all to see. For those wishing to learn more about this conservation process, we highly recommend obtaining a copy of Corsair KD431: Time Capsule Fighter, a masterful book on the project written by the man who orchestrated it, David Morris, Curator of Aircraft at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The book describes, in elegant detail, every step in the aircraft’s conservation – it is a fascinating read! That being said, we hope you enjoy the accompanying photos (and captions) along with the video clip we filmed during our visit.
To gain appreciation for the philosophy behind this Corsair’s conservation, one need only read the book’s description. It neatly explains the spark which drove the museum to embark upon this groundbreaking endeavor.
“Would you ‘restore’ an expensive piece of antique furniture by stripping it down to the bare wood, and then re-coating it in a high-gloss polyurethane varnish? If you did, then at a stroke you’ve probably wiped its value from several thousand pounds down to a few hundred and destroyed its original character. The same principle holds good for vintage aircraft restoration and preservation. At the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton is a rare Second World War Chance Vought Corsair fighter aircraft. To fully understand the aircraft and unravel the myths and truths surrounding KD431, an enormous research task lay ahead. Thousands of hours of painstaking detail work were required to achieve what initially looked like an impossible goal. The skill and patience of all those concerned were eventually rewarded, but not necessarily with the results expected or, at times, wished for. The end result was the revealing of what is probably the last truly original Corsair fighter left in existence and one of very few Second World War aircraft displayed in such original condition.”