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Medway Aircraft Preservation Society brings Battle of Britain Spitfires and Hurricanes back to life

For nearly half a century a group of highly-skilled engineers and mechanics have met in a dilapidated pre-war RAF hut to restored iconic aircraft such as Spitfires and Hurricane to their former glory.

Countless planes destined to the scrapyard have been brought back to life or transformed into museum pieces on show across the country.

Volunteers manoeuvre a historic Merlin engine into position
Volunteers manoeuvre a historic Merlin engine into position

Despite the cramped conditions, no heating and leaking roof, volunteers of the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society (MAPS) have carried on with dogged commitment to preserve the fabric of the nation's aviation history.

Now, as part of the upgrading of Rochester Airport, they are about to move into a purpose-built workshop and hangar, hopefully by the end of this month.

The relocation on the other side of the airfield near the new air ambulance base means they will be able to take on more ambitious projects and have room for extra aircraft.

Publicity officer Robin Brooks says the new building is "10 times" the size of the rickety old shack which has been their home since 1975.

He said: "It will raise our profile with the public and be more visitor-friendly.

Fitting out MAPS' new workshop
Fitting out MAPS' new workshop

"At the moment visitors and workers alike have to cross an active runway with its traffic-light system.

"The hangar is situated on what is called the 'dead side' of the airport.

"We plan to hold open days and encourage younger people to take up such valuable skills.

"Aviation started in Kent – on the Isle of Sheppey.

"It's extremely important we preserve our heritage and keep it alive, not just by making planes fly again but as museum pieces."

Shorts craft arriving at Rochester Airport
Shorts craft arriving at Rochester Airport
Fuselage of Shorts float plane
Fuselage of Shorts float plane

Managing director Phil Cole said: "Although we suffered two lockdowns and two harsh winters in the old buildings, we completed all our commitments including the restoration of a Mark 16 Spitfire, RW388, for the City of Stoke-on-Trent Museum.

"It was no easy task but I have praise for all the volunteers who came to work regardless."

Meanwhile, the long-term project to restore a rare Short Brothers' Scion aircraft – from a world-famous factory based in Rochester – continues in the old buildings.

When completed, it is hoped it will become the symbol for the airport, on display at the new premises.

The team have spent more than three years restoring the float craft, including the painstaking task of building new wings.

Inside the spacious new hangar
Inside the spacious new hangar

Mr Brooks says the tribute to the Short business was a "a long-time coming".

He said: "She was just half a plane, just a fuselage. Surely this must be the ultimate tribute to a Medway company that today has little recognition?"

The Short brothers – Eustace, Horace and Oswald – built their first factory and constructed their first aircraft in 1909 in Leysdown.

Since 1975 volunteers have fully restored 25 aircraft, including Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Gloster Meteor jet fighter used in the Second World War.

There are currently 30 members, most of whom have expertise in engineering and mechanics.

Among them is a former employee of Shorts Brothers which was based on the Esplanade, Rochester.

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