Conserver Emily Constantine shows a Spitfire aircraft tail wheel component to RAAF Museum Director David Gardner.

The process of restoration aims to take an artefact from its current state to represent an earlier, known state.

This can be as simple as repainting the aircraft to a scheme from a significant historical period.

Or it can be a complete rebuild of an airframe to an 'as new' condition.

Some of the aircraft in our collection weren't always the pristine examples that you now see on display. Many are a collection of parts and wreckage that has been salvaged by Air Force personnel and enthusiasts. It's then up to Museum staff and volunteers to return these to their original state.

The most important part of this work is the conservation of original materials and manufacturing processes.

Here, we walk through the process of restoration from start to finish.

Planning

RAAF Museum Technical and Curatorial staff consult to decide on what we want to achieve with the restoration.

This includes determining the period the aircraft represents and its colour scheme. This decision can have a considerable effect on the physical configuration of the aircraft.

In the planning stage, human and financial resources are allocated. We also plan out the physical space where the restoration project will take place.

Assessment

The next phase is to start our assessment of the project and what work will be required. 

It's important to catalogue all publications and drawings held for the aircraft, which will help with its restoration.

These are then used to create lists of all the parts held, and to identify any gaps or missing parts that will need to be sourced to complete the restoration.

After this, the restoration team can assess the sequence of the restoration and begin hands-on work.

Restoration, preservation, and conservation

These three terms sound similar, but refer to a range of activities carried out on aircraft.

Our main priority is to preserve existing structures and finishes where appropriate. Conservation processes aim to prolong the lifespan of original items.

However, sometimes keeping the original parts is impossible. This can be due to strength, corrosion, or general deterioration.

If this is the case, then technicians can replace sections or entire parts with new structures. The new structures often use the same materials and construction techniques as the originals.

These reproductions are then documented and clearly identified. This way, anyone studying the aircraft and its structure in the future will be able to accurately identify the new and old areas.

The finished product

At the end of a major restoration project, we aim to have an asset that can show the rich history of our Air Force.

Our aircraft have an important story to tell. And when we combine these with personal artefacts and memorabilia, we can use aircraft to tell a much larger story in an exhibition.

An important part of this process is putting the aircraft in its correct context. This is why the initial planning phase of a restoration is critical.

Aircraft with relatively undistinguished operational careers, such as the airworthy Mustang fighter, can carry the identity of a better-known role for the type. This allows us to better use these valuable exhibits in the Museum.