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Martham's link to world's richest men

PUBLISHED: 17:25 28 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:28 30 June 2010

Globe-trotting aviation adventurer Jeremy Moore is spreading his wings and leaving behind his aircraft restoration work turning decaying remains into sleek, swooping machines for some of the world's richest men - but not before he tells Liz Coates about his wreck-hunting scrapes, billionaire clients and why he feels most grounded in his home village of Martham.

Globe-trotting aviation adventurer Jeremy Moore is spreading his wings and leaving behind his aircraft restoration work turning decaying remains into sleek, swooping machines for some of the world's richest men - but not before he tells Liz Coates about his wreck-hunting scrapes, billionaire clients and why he feels most grounded in his home village of Martham.

On a bleak winter's day the wind snapping at our heels it is hard to imagine that Martham's Cess Road is at the heart of aviation history, visited by billionaire businessmen and with links to glamorous movie moguls and stars of the silver screen.

For in the midst of the Broad's busy boating hub Jeremy Moore is finally ready to lift the lid on one of Norfolk's best kept secrets.

For years he and his team have been working without fanfare to restore the shattered remains of vintage fighter planes for some of the world's richest men.

The demands of his clients have seen him trace and retrieve crashed and trashed aircraft, mostly German from the second world war, from the world's deserts and forests, and taken him on enough Boys Own-style adventures to fill a comic-strip book.

Among regular visitors to the modest hangar and workshops of JME Aviation was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen travelling in Harrods' boss Mohammed Al Faed's helicopter which would land at Ludham airfield.

Mr Moore's expertise allowed Mr Allen to indulge in his dream of owning a real-life version of every toy plane he had as a child - a project that required virtually unlimited and immediately available cash, most projects taking around seven years and costing at least £2.5m.

For Martham born-and-bred Mr Moore the logistics of keeping a low profile on such large projects has not always been easy - Blitz bombers sticking out like a sore thumb in boatland.

But for the sake of his clients and to keep the plane-spotters at bay he chose to avoid publicity, always turning away more work than he could take on and never having his own website.

Now he has just one plane left to deliver - the last of around 10 complete rebuilds, although he has worked on bits of hundreds, even having to make the machines that make the nuts and bolts for now defunct planes.

And it's a good one. After a 10 year on/off restoration project for a wealthy British client the gleaming Travel Air Mystery Ship, recovered from the desert near Los Angeles, is ready to fly again, dressed in its original black and red racing livery.

One of only five ever built, it was the most famous plane in its day helping the pioneer aviator Florence “Pancho” Barnes to break the women's speed record in 1930 when she reached 225mph.

Her colourful life is well-documented and her flying skill earned her a stunt role with suave movie mogul Howard Hughes, himself a legendary pilot but who crashed the plane and had to rebuild it, along side Clark Gable who also took it for a spin.

Now Mr Moore, 42, a former retained fireman for 15 years, is moving into architectural services and is busy converting barns for himself in Martham. But his earliest memories are to do with planes - his father thrusting his head out of the window to watch the Battle of Britain fly past when he was around four years old.

Even as we chat, he leaps forward, thrilled that some long-tailed tits have finally taken him up on his bird-table offerings: “Birds, planes anything that flies… I'm just fascinated,” he says.

Mr Moore's first foray into flight was with gliders, going solo at 16. A metal worker by trade the two came together with work on a Spitfire for someone else at Ludham airfield. It lead to him setting up his own business at 21, making parts for planes.

“The business was very organic. There are lots of people out there who want bits and pieces for planes but slowly we found we were being brought bigger and bigger stuff to whole aircraft and it grew to employing up to 14 people. It is a world where everybody knows everyone else, it was entirely word of mouth. My biggest customer was Paul Allen.”

The recovery part of the business - locating and retrieving remains - saw him turn treasure-hunter in a race against other people who were seeking the same thing, crossing continents and cutting through bureaucracy - not always successfully. He always had a client in mind - generally one who could access huge amounts of money very quickly to fund projects where the sky's the limit in all senses.

Of the ones that got away he is still smarting about Serbia from where he was deported - the plane having been brought to just within his grasp at great expense.

One of his best memories is flying a Storch German armed reconnaissance aircraft across America that no-one else would, suffering three “mind-focussing” engine failures in two days, having to land every hour and a quarter, and with nothing but a map and a compass, the machine gun flapping about behind him.

He is reckoned one of only six rebuilders in Britain and the only one specialising in German fighter planes. A huge Blitz bomber currently languishes in his hangar alongside an entirely wooden De Havilland Mosquito.

“War planes is where the money is and what people want to see at air shows. There is a big anorak scene and there is a lot of social history to document. They were largely slave built and we have found signatures and even a poem in French about the dreadful conditions they were working in. Almost certainly the people would not have survived and may have been taken out and shot when the work was done. They are just machines designed to kill.

“In history everybody celebrates the victors but the German aircraft had been left behind but they were much more sophisticated.”

One of his biggest projects was to rebuild to fly an FW190 for the first time ever - its cutting edge all-electric systems way ahead of their time helping it to edge to the top of his favourites list.

“The Mustang is the easiest to work on. The FW190 was just so advanced but I am not great fan of Spitfires because I have lost most of my knuckles working on them.

“Sometimes it is immensely enjoyable, sometimes it is just work. At the start it is very exciting because you have a ruin and that is incredibly evocative, and at the end you have a plane which is so incredible.

“Paul is ill and a major customer. I could have carried on doing smaller work but I feel like a change. I feel like I have gone right through it, and it has been a great trip.

“I feel incredibly rooted in Martham. The first time I see the marshes at Acle Bridge I always know I am home.”

Mr Moore has many more hobby and business projects up his sleeve and is aiming to take part in cross-Asia rally in October as well as achieve his sea-farers skippers ticket - opening the way for new adventures.

The premises are now being taken on by local manufacturer Thermtec, established in Martham for 17 years. It is the company's fifth move within the area and one that is said to suit its expansion plans.


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