Rukuhia - The Aircraft Graveyard

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Rukuhia - The Aircraft Graveyard.



In 1947 a scrap metal merchant from Palmerston North called Tom Larsen (Pic 1) brought hundreds of American planes which had been used to fight the Japanese in the Pacific Islands. He parked them out at Rukuhia, a place commonly known as the Graveyard (Pic 2). The aircraft were to be dismantled, the aluminium boiled down for ingots (Pic 4). The ingots were used to make pots, pans and kettles. In those days no one else made aluminium. Hydraulic parts were sold to farmers to make farm machinery, Tom even started a shop in Greenwood Street in town and sold all the nuts and bolts etc. there.

It was easy to get jobs in those days so a young lad called Jack Bailey walked in one day and asked if he could work dismantling these planes (Pics 7&8). Tom hired Jack and allowed him to park his old caravan on site. There were about six blokes altogether dismantling hundreds and hundreds of planes. Corsairs, Kittyhawks, Ventuaras, Grumman Avengers, all sorts. All the easy bits such as the tail fins, cowlings (the part that covered the engine), engines, and wings came off first. (Pic 8) Some planes still had petrol in them. When the sparks from the welder hit the petrol, the planes would catch on fire. (see the bomber alight in Pics 5 & 6).

A trolley that looked like something out of a Mad Max movie, was made out of aeroplane parts (Pic 7) to cart the aircraft parts to the melting down shed. Note the aircraft seat at the front used for a drivers seat (or having a rest!). The big round radial engines in photo 3 were dropped off for melting. Quite often the planes would have bullet holes in them and the pilots had painted the number of bombs they dropped on the outside of their doors together with their favourite film star, Mae West.

Corsairs were specifically designed for aircraft carriers. They had a massive hook underneath them. When they landed on the aircraft carrier the hook would catch on a steel wire which would slow the plane down to a halt and stop it from going into the sea. The planes were fitted with a bigger propeller than normal planes which made them faster than other comparable aircraft. The drop down wings could also fold upwards for storage.

The Grummans were torpedo bombers. These had straight wings.

Jack describes the Kittyhawks as being all engine. They had to take out these big thick steel plates behind the drivers seats.

It took 12 years to dismantle them all.

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Rukuhia - The Aircraft Graveyard

Photographer:Jack Bailey
Date range:1951-01-01