PROCRAFT : Project Protection and Conservation of Heritage Aircraft - 2020-2023

Lockheed P38 'Arkansas Traveler' at Clastres Airfield, France in October 1944
Lockheed P38 'Arkansas Traveler' at Clastres Airfield, France in October 1944

The Second World War (WWII) is often considered the golden age of military aviation, but this air war has left a large number of remains in the European soil and in the sea: this massive commitment has caused considerable human and material losses.

Even if WWII aircraft heritage has an undeniable historical and emotional value for Europeans, only recently these remains have officially entered the field of archaeology and cultural heritage conservation. Their presence in national museums is limited. They are often cared by numerous volunteers and associations.

However, the discovery of an airplane wreck is challenging from several points of view:

  • its composition and materials,
  • its history,
  • its legal statutes,
  • its size and condition.

Main partners

PROCRAFT project aims to address the range of challenges related to the conservation of aircraft wrecks by connecting multiple players in the operational chain, from excavation to exhibition. This European project (JPI- Cultural Heritage) is coordinated by the Arc’Antique laboratory (GPLA, Nantes), with 4 main partners: the CEMES laboratory (Toulouse), the Universities of Bologna (UNIBO) and Ferrara (UNIFE) (Italy) and the Technical University of Prague (CTU) (Czech Republic).

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Third parties

Scientists and 19 Third parties (museums, associations, conservator-restorers, state representatives, mediators) from Italy, the Czech Republic and France representing all players in the heritage chain, will work together to share and mutually benefit from their respective skills and capacities over the 3-year period of the project.

Objectives & expected results

Our objectives are to create innovative procedures and solutions for each key step in aircraft conservation:

  • tailored conservation-restoration techniques,
  • innovative coatings for exterior protection respecting relevant criteria for the safeguard of cultural heritage,
  • new solutions for preventive conservation in confined or semi-confined environments,
  • guidelines for the restoration and conservation of Aluminium alloys for non-professionals.

The results of the project are expected:

  • to improve and share knowledge about World War II aircraft
  • to contribute to preservation by focusing particularly on the conservation of aluminium alloy (Al) components,
  • to promote the dissemination and presentation of the project to the public.

Planning & work packages

planning-v2

Our working method is based on applied interdisciplinary research. Each working group will conduct its activity with specific, closely interlinked, objectives.

The first research activity (WP2, led by CEMES) concerns the identification and classification of reference aircraft wrecks, provided by stakeholders and associations of volunteers. CEMES (Toulouse) will make use of their specific skills to study materials using a range of characterisation techniques from macro- to micro-scale.

Based on the information gathered (composition of alloys, state of conservation of aircraft parts, nature of the residual protective coatings), representative materials to be used in subsequent WPs will be identified. These studies will pinpoint which modern Al alloys can be used as reference substrates in WP4 for the study of protective coatings. The results of WP2 will serve as a starting point for the development of cleaning and stabilisation treatments to be carried out in WP3 (led by Arc'Antique) by pooling the know-how of Arc 'Antique and UniBO. These procedures, which will be shared with conservator-restorers and associations of volunteers, will be used to prepare the original painted substrates and test the coatings in WP4 and WP5.

Innovative protective coatings will be developed in accordance with the requirements of European health and safety regulations in terms of environmental compatibility (WP4, led by UniFE) and will be adapted to the condition of surfaces while at the same time ensuring respect of heritage requirements regarding material compatibility and the preservation of the original surface appearance. Under WP5 (led by UniBO), the most promising coatings will be fully characterized by UniBO, CEMES, Arc’Antique and UNIFE. Their protective effectiveness will be assessed by means of accelerated ageing tests reproducing the natural conditions of outdoor exposure.

The preventive conservation of restored and stabilized objects in sheltered conditions (museums and open / closed hangars) will be developed in WP6 (led by CTU). Based on representative real-life exhibition conditions, CTU will assess possible approaches for preventive conservation in hangars and design active climate control systems that ensure adequate preservation of aluminium alloys under semi-confined exhibition conditions. Associate contributors (museums) will participate in this phase by providing environmental benchmarks derived from specific laboratory tests (WP5) and bibliographical data, such as the results of earlier EU research programmes.

These research activities (from WP2 to WP6) will be supplemented by management, dissemination and valorisation protocols for the project led by the Arc’Antique team, as project coordinator.

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