A World War Two aircraft that was found 70 years after it crashed in an African desert has left historians “astonished” by its “appalling” restoration.
The crashed P40 Kittyhawk aircraft was found in May 2012 by an oil company worker, 200 miles from the nearest town.
It had remained untouched there ever since it came down, but now experts say it looks “like a rank beginner [restored] it”.
Andy Saunders, Editor of Britain at War Magazine, became embroiled in the story when he saw the first pictures, even tracking down the deceased pilot’s family.
“It was unique – it was a time capsule, everything as it was, as it would have been left. Now it’s been badly spoilt.
“Almost the Mary Rose of the Second World War.”
It was so remarkably untouched, that nearby bones were thought to be evidence that its pilot, Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, had survived the crash but later had died from exposure.
You can see the discovery in this Forces News video from 2012:
When Andy informed the surviving family of Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping they were very keen to recover the aircraft and any identifiable remains.
In 2015, the RAF Museum attempted to do just that, donating a Spitfire in what was thought by enthusiasts to be a swap for the Kittyhawk.
A statement released by the museum clarified that 'swap': "The agreement with Kennet Aviation, which was thoroughly vetted, was to ensure that the Kittyhawk was recovered to a safe environment. This was achieved.
"The Spitfire involved (Mk22 PK664) was one of a number of former ‘gate guardian’ Spitfires transferred to the Museum by the Ministry of Defence to support exchanges in order for us to acquire examples of aircraft types missing from our collection.
"Although the Kittyhawk was not acquired through the process, its future was safeguarded to the best of the Museum’s ability."
For three-years though, the Kittyhawk was missing once more with the Egyptian authorities not saying where it was.
“The thing disappeared into obscurity. There was a great deal of mystery and intrigue,” Andy said.
“There was a school of thought it was still sitting in a container somewhere in Egypt.”
Photos posted on Facebook this week have proved otherwise.
It is on display at El Alamein Military Museum, south-west of Alexandria where it will remain, complete with a new paint job.
A statement from the RAF Museum was more sympathetic than aviation experts:
“Clearly the RAF Museum would have preferred the Kittyhawk to be brought back to the UK but it is legally the property of the Egyptian Government and we welcome the fact that it is safe and on public display.”
When asked how he reacted when first seeing the restoration job, Andy said:
“I was astonished. The colours, the way it’s painted… Everyone who is involved in the historic field is shocked and alarmed at the way it was restored.
“To a specialist it kind of hurts your eyes, it’s an appalling representation of what it would have looked like.
“It should have been a memorial to the pilot who flew in it. It appears the pilot isn’t mentioned at all in the museum, the real tragedy is what happened to Copping.
“It should have been left the way it was found. It’s really lost its value as a historic object.
“RAF Hendon’s plan was probably to put it in a sort of sandpit and display it almost as it was in the desert.
“The Egyptians own it so there’s not much that can be done about it.”
The Kittyhawk on display at the El Alamein Military Museum has been described as looking like a badly made Airfix Model.
A Badly Made Airfix Model
Forces News spoke to the editor of Airfix Model World, Chris Clifford, to see if he could offer any advice.
“How not to do an aircraft restoration… I’ve been to the RAF Museums Hendon and Cosford, and Imperial War Museum Duxford and they’re a lot better,” he said.
“The colours are wrong, not by much but on a full-size aircraft, it’s obvious.
“The blue is too pale, it should be Azure Blue. The top colours look garish, as they should be Dark Earth and Middle Stone, and they’ve painted it in gloss, which is wrong, it should be matt.
“The demarcations of the camouflage too, these would be sprayed without templates in the field so the demarcations wouldn’t be sharp-edged.
“This particular aircraft also didn’t wear the shark mouth.
“It’s the same with Airfix Models, if you really do your research you can get something that looks like the real thing, or you can get close enough and make a model that looks like a rank beginner finished it.
“They should have left it as it was… it would have been much more interesting.”