Home-InternationalThe NDN-6 Fieldmaster - Part II

The NDN-6 Fieldmaster – Part II

The NDN-6 Fieldmaster – Part II

By 1995, the Fieldmaster program was essentially over. Owner Andrew MacKinnon and the current company he headed, EPA Aircraft, found themselves with a product they could not produce nor sell. Andrew had also run out of working contracts for the aircraft, so they were parked, and all the valuable parts were stripped and sold in an attempt to recoup some of the losses he had incurred.

But in a strange twist of fate, the Fieldmaster was about to get a second chance at life from an extremely unlikely source.  Turk Hava Kurumu (THK), based at Etimesgut Airfield in Ankara, Turkey, was the apparent savior of the abandoned Fieldmasters. They had an extremely long and proud history within Turkish aviation and had wanted to get back into aircraft production in 1992. The Turkish government desperately needed newer and more capable firefighting aircraft, so it was decided that THK would take up the reins and build its own aircraft. THK was also the agency that did the aerial firefighting, so it kept everything centralized at one location.

It is unclear how THK and EPA Aircraft managed to meet, but a deal was made for THK to acquire the liquid assets and a production licensing agreement from Andrew Mackinnon and his EPA Aircraft Company in 1996. This procurement included all five production aircraft, the unfinished airframes from Utva Aviation in Yugoslavia, all the manufacturing, production, and assembly jigs, and all the paper documents from engineering plans to blueprints. However, none of the aircraft were in complete condition, so they were disassembled, crated, and trucked from the UK to Turkey in the summer of 1997. NACM, NACN, and NACO left from Bournemouth, and only NACP from Sandown. NACL was left behind until it suddenly disappeared late in 1999. According to Utva, the trucks showed up at their factory in Pancevo, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). All the materials were hastily loaded, and very quickly, they were off, as stated in an email in 2023 from Utva.

The story of Turkey can be quite confusing, depending on what documentation you read and choose to believe. It is clear that THK paid between 5 and 6 million British pounds for what they received, but there appears to be some confusion about whether they had purchased all the rights to the aircraft or just a licensing agreement. The issue did make it into a London court, but no results of the hearings were released publicly. It was also rumored that THK was seeking 1.5 million pounds from NDN aircraft, but again, no public records have been released about this demand. The entire purchase and subsequent issues plagued this program from the start. THK’s president at the time was Atilla Tacoy, and he had decided to buy the Fieldmasters unilaterally, which annoyed many of his THK employees, not to mention his government superiors. A production plan was proposed that would see TAI Aviation partner with THK, which would help spread the cost among both agencies, but Tacoy would not budge, insisting that THK would carry out the production on its own.

A team of engineers was assembled, but when they arrived at an old hangar at the Etimesgut Airfield, they expected to find the beginnings of a production line, but sadly, this was not the case. They were met with hundreds of molds, parts, and thousands of technical drawings. There were crates containing fuselages and parts, and they concluded that this entire project had been rushed and nothing had been organized. The engineers got to work and decided that they would start by building 2 -65 Taysu aircraft, which they would be known as moving forward. Some reports suggest that THK built these two aircraft from scratch, but in reality, they were NACM and NACN originally built in Cardiff, Wales, then converted to -65s at Sandown by Vic Osborne.

THK acquired 2 Pratt -65’s and 2 Hartzell 5-blade propellers on October 29, 1988…NACM (now TC-ZBC) flew again for the Republic Day Ceremonies at the Etimesgut Airfield. There was much fanfare around this first flight, and it was announced that THK would be making its own crop dusting and firefighting aircraft, which, at the time, was the main source of revenue for THK. TC-ZBD (NACN) would fly in 1999, but the THK was under increasing pressure to produce aircraft quickly. There were plans in the works for the initial nine airframes to be made flight-worthy, the five from the UK and the airframes from Yugoslavia, and future plans saw the fleet grow to close to 30 aircraft over the next two years, giving THK the means to fight fires for years to come.

But things started to unravel quickly. Atilla Tacoy could not shake his critics and was forced to resign due to the slander he was facing. The Minister of the Interior was forced to act, and a lawsuit was filed against Tacoy for acquiring a failed company’s aircraft and damaging THK’s business and reputation. Tacoy passed away from cancer in 2001, but his court case continued for three years after his death, which resulted in his acquittal.

The government desperately needed firefighting aircraft and decided to buy a fleet of 12 M18B Dromaders from PZL in Poland. Turkey had also decided to ban aerial spraying due to environmental concerns, which was THK’s number one source of income, followed by aerial firefighting. This government ban dealt the final blow to the Fieldmaster, and the entire project was completely eliminated. The program was irreversibly thrown away, and the Minister of the Interior stated that “the resources of our country were saved.” Behind the scenes were cost overruns, unorganized factory space, accusations of corruption, lawsuits, and severe mismanagement, with much of this remaining quiet and kept behind closed doors to avoid further embarrassment to THK and the Turkish government.

Once again, the two -65s were stripped of all their useful parts, and the four aircraft were placed in the boneyard behind a hangar on the south end of the airfield at Etimesgut. NACM, NACN, NACO, and NACP were once again destined to be discarded and forgotten. But after sitting for a few years, it was decided that these aircraft should be celebrated as an accomplishment and should, therefore, be displayed. For some, though, these wonderful aircraft were destroyed for nothing, and to quote Turkish reporter Sedat Halac, “they were placed in front of the THK museum as an exemplary lesson for those who try to do useful work for this country.”

The Fieldmaster Resurrection Project was started in July 2023 from a chance online meeting between Vic Osborne of Wales, UK, and Ryan Varjassy from Saskatchewan, Canada. The two were a world apart but quickly realized they both had a passion for the lost Fieldmaster. Vic had worked on the aircraft personally, and Ryan saw one in a magazine in the mid-1980s and had a fascination with the aircraft ever since. Ryan’s dad, Joe Varjassy, was a well-known crop duster for over 30 years, and Ryan worked with him in the ag industry for many years, starting as a young boy. This time spent around ag flying made Ryan develop a love for ag aircraft, which he still carries today at age 50. Vic, at 75, has a few years on his younger cohort but shares the same enthusiasm for the elusive Fieldmaster.

The two men quickly developed a plan to save one of the airframes to be displayed in the United Kingdom, where it was originally born. The search began for any information they could find. After countless hours of scouring the internet, sending letters and emails, and starting a FaceBook page dedicated to the cause, began to show results. Vic still had contacts from his days as an engineer on the Fieldmaster, and after the Facebook launch, more people came out of the woodwork. Former employees, aviation enthusiasts, some Fieldmaster experts, and Desmond’s son, Roddy Norman, are all involved with the project.

For a few months, the research seemed to raise more questions than it answered, but the more interaction with the online contacts, the more the pieces began to fall into place. The tracking of the production, engine conversions, foreign spraying, and firefighting all came from the online searches and contacts that were made. Information came in from all over the UK, Europe, and even Australia.

One of the most important tasks was tracking down all 6 of the air-frames. Much speculation and false information needed to be proved or disproved, and after much reading and consulting, they believed that they had accounted for all of the minus one…NACL…the first production Fieldmaster and the first of the fleet to be converted from a -34 to a -65. The sale of all the assets to THK was supposed to include all five production aircraft, but NACL remained at Sandown till late 1999, some two years after the other four aircraft had been shipped to Turkey and the THK production program was canceled. So where was it?

The four aircraft in Turkey were accounted for, but NACL seemed to have vanished. One of our group experts, Martin Forster, said he had spoken directly to someone who helped load NACL onto a truck bound for Ankara, Turkey. There was no reason to doubt Martin, but there was no evidence that NACL was there. The project group has acquired almost every published photograph of the aircraft and a massive amount of photos from private collections. They searched Google Earth Historical Images and found satellite images of all the Fieldmasters in various locations they were known to be.

However, Ryan came across some photos he had not seen before, dated Sept 12, 2023. It was NACL, still in the France Aviation livery she had when she was last seen at Sandown some 24 years ago…and she was at the THK Etimesgut Airfield. Ryan contacted the publisher of the small article that featured the photos, and he did confirm that NACL is still at the Etimesgut Airfield and was sadly going to be sent for scrap at some point in the future.  But this has now raised another question. It is now a fact that all five production aircraft made it to Etimesgut, but only four are accounted for, with the missing aircraft now being NACM (TC-ZBC). It was assumed that the last aircraft seen in the satellite photos at Etimesgut was NACN, but it turns out that it was NACL, meaning that NACN is still there. The current theory is that it is inside an old hangar at the airfield with all of Yugoslavia’s parts, fuselages, jigs, and papers, but only time will tell if this suspicion is true.

The Fieldmaster Resurrection Project is currently trying to acquire NACL from THK to have it shipped back to the UK, but this is proving difficult. Our proposal to obtain NACL has finally reached the desk of the correct people at THK after months of emails, letters, and phone calls asking for any information on who could help us. Our request will need to go before the Board of Trustees for THK, but we currently have no information regarding that timeline.

Additionally, Martin Forster has also obtained the location of the original prototype NRDC, which never left the UK and was abandoned at Sandown for the better part of 21 years. After moving through a few locations, NRDC ended up near Wainfleet along the eastern coast of the UK. She was supposed to become part of a crop dusting museum collection, but those plans never materialized due to the poor health of the owner. Martin is handling the negotiations on the possibility of acquiring NRDC for display.

The group discussed with the Wight Aviation Museum at the Sandown Airfield the possibility of displaying a Fieldmaster airframe at their facility. Sandown is the obvious choice for NRDC to display, as she was born there and was laid to rest in the same spot. Unfortunately, the Wight Aviation Museum has since reversed its interest in the aircraft, so the search is on for a new location. The South Wales Aviation Museum seems like a good fit as it is only 6 miles from the production factory in Cardiff, but nothing has been discussed with them.

The Fieldmaster’s ultimate demise resulted from many issues and failures, not just one singular problem. Firstly, the program suffered from mismanagement from its inception, resulting in financial constraints throughout its existence. Second, the cost of the Fieldmaster was wildly expensive for the time. The cost of purchase of a production line aircraft was rumored to be between $450,000 to $500,000 in the mid to late 1980, which for the time was a huge financial commitment for an unproven aircraft that was so different from the airplanes of the day. Thirdly, it would be difficult to convince established operators to switch to an unknown platform from their traditional tail-draggers because it was so different. Drawings and design concepts had been developed for a tail-dragger version of the Fieldmaster, but they had never been developed beyond that stage. Fourth, it would have been almost impossible for the Fieldmaster to break into the American market, which at the time was arguably the largest ag plane market in the world.

Turboprop conversions were already in use in America, and factory production of turboprop ag planes had begun. Also, operators had many options:  Air Tractor, Thrush, Ag-Cat, PZL Dromader, Cessna, Piper, and Weatherly. The American market already had a full plate of aircraft to choose from. The world market would have provided more opportunities for sales as an aerial firefighter with the ability to do pest control, with the main target areas being Australia and New Zealand. Still, they were also set in their aircraft choices, just as the Americans were. Lastly, the Fieldmaster was conceived when aerial spraying was banned throughout Europe, which undoubtedly hurt the possibility of sales. Even in the UK, where she was built, aerial spraying and aerial firefighting were already being phased out when the Fieldmaster was in production. So it was a combination of timing, changing laws, and poor corporate decisions stopped the Fieldmaster from being a commercial success.

The Fieldmaster Resurrection Project has come a long way in its short eight months of existence. It has amassed the world’s largest collection of data, photos, videos, and an overall clear picture of the Fieldmaster’s existence. The project has now reached its most difficult phase so far: acquiring these airframes before they are lost again or destroyed. The project group has begun registering as a non-profit with the British government, and Vic, Martin, and Ryan will be the Trustee Board Members.

The Fieldmaster Resurrection Project is seeking donations to help fund this project to save these aircraft from destruction and being erased. The Fieldmaster aircraft were an important part of aviation history, albeit a failed story that deserved a better outcome than it had. We now have the chance to rescue two airframes and, depending on the success of the fundraising, will determine the extent of the restorations. Private donations and corporate sponsors are welcome and required to progress with the project.

The Fieldmaster Resurrection Project can be contacted by the following outlets:

Email: fieldmasterresurrectionproject@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1483419635727874

or search for NDN/NAC Fieldmaster Resurrection





Loading RSS Feed

Most Popular