By James Somper
The cockpit of a plane once owned by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as well as the father of Osama Bin Laden has been installed in the garden of an aircraft nut from Wales.
Dean Smith, a lifelong aviation enthusiast managed to buy the cockpit from the 1960s Dominie 125 Hawker aircraft for £5,000 from Doncaster Aviation Museum.
Weighing three-tonnes on its own, the 42-year-old health worker had to demolish a garden wall to put the aircraft cockpit into his fiancé’s garden.
“My uncle and aunty were both in the RAF,” he said.
“He took me to all the air shows. I kind grew up around aircraft and I’ve spent the majority of my life taking my children to air shows and museums.”
Dean said that the project was a dream come true.
“I knew from a young age that I always wanted to restore aircraft. I was initially going to buy a Jet Provost but this came up.”
The jet, which was built in the 1960s was the personal aircraft of Saudi billionaire Mohammed Bin Awad Bin Laden, the father of infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
It was later used by the celebrity super couple, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, to jet across the globe.
After seeing that the aircraft was for sale, Dean had to convince his other half, Rhiannon Reynolds that the jet was a good idea.
“I think she knew that I’m a man of unconventional tastes and that she knew from day one that something like this would occur. We often go camping and caravaning together and usually end up near an airfield.
“She basically said ‘yeah, go for it’.
“We both believe you should grab these opportunities when they come up and I think it was predestined.
“She’s been so supportive and has been there helping with the painting and other jobs around the aircraft.”
Along with a trusted mate, Dean embarked on an epic 460 mile round trip from Doncaster back to Port Talbot to collect the jet.
“I’ve got a friend who has a very old burger trailer. We spent three days ripping the trailer to bits. We refabricated it, put new tyres on to it and towed it up to Doncaster.”
“It took us 12 hours to get from Doncaster to South Wales.
“We managed to tow it for two-and-a-half hours before the trailer gave in. We had two Green Flag trucks to get us home.
“Traffic was building up behind. It was getting a bit dangerous with people overtaking and slowing down to take photos.”
After their mammoth journey, Dean was faced with the challenge of getting the jet into his partner’s garden
“We knocked the garden wall down.
“We begged, stole and borrowed scaffolding and planks and prayed that what we had would get the jet in the garden. We didn’t know if the decking would take its weight.”
Using a battered out Citroen and elbow grease, Dean and his mate were able to haul the jet into place.
“We were using ingenuity and old-fashioned British grit.
“It was back breaking – it nearly killed me. Since we got the aircraft I’ve lost four stone.”
Determined to make the cockpit as realistic as possible, Dean has set about restoring it to its former glory but also adding special features which will bring the old bird back to life.
“What I’m doing has never been done before,” he said.
“I didn’t want a flight simulator. I wanted an original aircraft so that kids entering the aircraft feel like they’ll be in a real aircraft.”
Dean’s modifications include motors that will make the aircraft shake, simulating the effect of taking off as well as the authentic noise of the Hawker’s engine.
He’s optimistic about the future and has already made plans for what he’ll be doing next to the aircraft including using it to raise money for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a chairty that supports the children of servicemen and woman killed in action.
“The next big thing will be spraying it into RAF colours and getting sponsorship,” he said.
“We’ve restored the aircraft to how it would have looked in 1966”.
Until then, Dean can’t contain how excited he is to have the jet in the garden.
“I can often be found with a cup of coffee pretending to fly. We can say all sorts about doing this for charity but you and I both know I just wanted to have a big boy’s toy to play with.”