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The Escadrill Lafayette – The forgotten Harvards of Wonderboom

Phillip Fardis ,the owner of six North American T-6 Harvards, love for aviation started as early as 1968 when he saw an Article in the magazine section of a Sunday newspaper. The article spoke of a person by the name of Larry Barnett who was restoring a WWII Spitfire in his garage in Orange Grove. Philip investigated and got in touch with Mr Barnett only to find out that the restoration crew were battling to find an engine for the Spitfire, which later became known as “Evelyn”.

Philip came to hear of a local doctor that had a Rolls Royce Merlin motor at his home, the doctor was approached and they restoration team acquired the motor for the build and promised to return the motor once the build was complete and another motor was acquired. Sadly the motor was never returned.

Philip heard of a scrap yard owner that had two Merlin Mk IV motors the premises where the motors were kept was very close to the home of the late Chris Hani. The owner of the motors had no intention of selling them and wouldn’t even let Phillip near them. After the assassination of Chris Hani the owner seemed to have a change of heart Phillip managed to acquire one of the motors for R17000.00 this included all documentation including the all-important logbooks. Phillip later acquired the second Merlin for R15000.00.

Someone at the SAAF heard that Philip had managed to acquire the motors and offered to swop two complete Harvards for one of the motors , this was the start of the love affair between Phillip and the iconic T-6 Harvard.

Philip rebuilds every Harvard that he adds to his collection from spinner to tail wheel and keeps meticulous records of all work done on every one of the glorious machines.Each rebuild takes him approximately 8200 hours to complete.

In his collection he has one T-6A which happens to be the eleventh Harvard ever built this out of the Twenty odd thousand that were that rumbled off the assembly line.

He opted to paint this one in USAF livery, she is completely airworthy but the motor has been inhibited to prevent degradation.

Phillip owns four ex-SAAF T-6 C’s one of which has been painted in the RAF camo used in Palestine, this aircraft is also 100% airworthy but has also been drained of all fluids and inhibited.

Currently three of the Harvards in Philips hangar have 0 hours on the motors and the air-frame since they were rebuilt. Phillip is also sticking to the tradition, started during the War, of placing a penny in the bolt head on the front of the motor and wire locking it in place. All the penny’s that Phillip puts in the motors is from the year when the motor was originally built.

Currently Philip and his “Right hand Man” Dirk are restoring a Canadian T-6G which was built in 1953 and is now registered as ZS-WLL. This particular Harvard has many modifications; it has been fitted with a P-51 Mustang instrument panel in both the front and back cockpit.

The tailwheel is lockable, which is not at all common on Harvards, the tail wheel also seems to be from a P-51 as it has a square tread surface and not rounded like all other Harvards.

The T-6G was fitted with a lengthened exhaust with hot air bleed capability which was used to warm the cockpit in the freezing cold Canadian climate.

Phillip opted to name his collection after a U.S. unit constituted in 1916 under French command, made up of volunteers came forward to fight for France during World War I.

The escadrille of the Aéronautique Militaire, was composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters. It was named in honour of the Marquis de La Fayette, French hero of the American Revolutionary War. All the Harvards that have been completed proudly carry the Escadrille La Fayette Indian head logo on the nose.

Walking around Phillips hangar in at Wonderboom is an amazing experience, seeing these machines being restored to pristine condition, probably better than they were originally when they left the factory all those years ago.

Phillip would not be drawn on what he plans to do with these magnificent machines but for now we know they are in good hands and are being well looked after.

Aircraft of the Escadrille La Fayette

  1. ZU-CBC Ex-SAAF (7686)

  2. ZU- CBD EX SAAF (7203)

  3. ZU-BLT Ex-SAAF (7343)

  4. ZU-BSX EX-SAAF (7688)

  5. ZS-VAI Ex SAAF (7082)

  6. ZS-WLL Ex-Candian T-6G


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