'Treasure hunt' for parts drives Saskatoon man's WW II aircraft rebuild
Don Bradshaw says his fighter plane will be first of its kind built in Canada
The Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 fighter plane is regarded by aviation history buffs as one of the fastest, most efficient killing machines of the Second World War.
Don Bradshaw has one in his Saskatoon home's detached garage.
Bradshaw is building the plane all by himself for an American collector named Kermit Weeks. Weeks wants it in flying condition by the time it's done in a few years, Bradshaw said.
"It's not something I could ever fly because it would end badly. It's a very high-performance airplane. It would be like driving an Indy car to work," he said.
Flying it isn't the point for Bradshaw. For him, the fun is the thrill of chasing down parts.
"In a way it's a little like being a treasure hunter," he said. "It's kinda like the ultimate challenge."
Some of the parts had been abandoned in German fields, where farmers would later pick them up and repurpose them for farm use. Other parts are being sold online by descendants of people who hung onto the parts for decades and whose original use have long been forgotten.
Bradshaw has found German Ebay-style sites and a core group of parts collectors from around the world to be the best sources.
It's fascinating for Bradshaw, a history buff who can easily spout off the plane's specifications, or anecdotes about how it hit -35 C in the cramped airplane cabin, so pilots had to wear heated suits.
Each part of the plane has a story, and there are thousands of pieces. Some are as small as nuts and bolts, while others arrive in full crates that weigh more than 2,000 lbs.
Many pieces are wreckage from a 1943 model, and since they're unusable Bradshaw has had to make replicas. He uses a machine shop for much of that work and brings the pieces back to his garage.
Bradshaw has spent the past five years finding the pieces and figuring out how to fit them all together. As a former Transport Canada safety inspector and is a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer, he's well-equipped for the challenge.
He's now hit a critical mass with his parts collecting to start assembling the plane in his garage.
The Nazi connection
The Bf 109G-6 is best known for being flown by the Germans during World War II. Bradshaw said he never really hesitated about building a plane that people associate with Nazis.
"I think if you talk to any veteran, their biggest concern is that the suffering and the loss that they endured would be forgotten by future generations. And so if we don't have things like this aircraft then I think there is a risk that in fact those things can be forgotten," he said.
One of the books Bradshaw uses for his research shows swastikas painted on different models of the plane.
Bradshaw wants an "era correct" appearance, and is currently researching whether a swastika would have typically been on his model. The final paint scheme has not yet been decided on.
War drove the technological advancements and efficiency that make Bradshaw's model so impressive, but also lethal.
"Things that advance technology the quickest is war and racing because you want to beat the other side. That's the entire point of the game. And to inflict as much damage as you can while you're doing it," Bradshaw said.
The Bf 109 did that with multiple machine guns and cannons. Bradshaw won't be reproducing those in his model since Canadian law prohibits making replicas of weapons. Once it's in the states with Weeks, it's a different story since reproductions are allowed there.
So what does he think about the fact that his work will someday be flown in the United States?
"It's great, because of course at the end of the day I want to see the aircraft fly," he said.
Bradshaw said he would love to see the plane preserved to provide a history lesson for future generations.
For now, he's not in a rush to finish the build, since, he says, it's his greatest project yet.