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I've said before that restoring old airplanes isn't a big job; its 5,000,000 little jobs. As Jack highlights in his report on the Mosquito this quarter, we are doing lots of those little jobs over and over and over and over again: cleaning, scraping, bead blasting, etc. The running joke among our crew is that we are in it for the glamour... That said, we never take for granted the privilege and 'cool factor' of being able to work on a Hurricane and Mosquito. And at the same time, the day to day reality is that it is often tedious, repetitive work and unless you take a moment for some perspective, it can feel like you are just doing the same thing week after week and getting almost nowhere. Keep reading to find out what we've been doing over and over again...
With Jack out of town on work duties for much of the past quarter, work on the Hurricane's Merlin was limited. We did get the oil pan and valve cover gaskets cut with the help of Rapid 3D and they fit like a charm.
As mentioned in the last quarter, our plan is to mount the engine on a test stand and ground run it before reinstalling it into the Hurricane airframe. We have a deal with our friends at the Bomber Command Museum to share the cost of a new purpose built trailer to serve as the test stand, much like the unit that they have for their running Bristol Hercules. Dick S. has worked to rough out a design looking at engine bearers and comparable units used by other Merlin operators. Karl K., curator for the Bomber Command Museum approached FalCan Industries in Ft. Macleod. While willing, they are busy and have told us that they can't get at the build until June.
With gaskets now in hand and all the big bits of the engine stuck back together, it’s time for some timing work on the magnetos and then on the valves – once we get the cams reinstalled.
The second issue to be addressed in wanting to ground run the Merlin is that we need a test club prop for it, as we cannot run it without some mass on the prop shaft which then also acts as a flywheel for the engine. The Bomber Command Museum has a number of cut down props that they inherited when Stauffer Aero folded its tents. We took them down from the walls and tested them, but sadly none fit our prop shaft. Failing that, we have spoken to a number of propeller shops about building up a unit for us to use. We have also spoken to the Hangar Museum about some spares that they may have in their storage trailers adjacent to the museum. It's in process.
In preparation for our start attempt, Dick S. has been gaining some hands on experience by working with Bomber Command's Brian T. on magneto and valve timing of their spare engine.
Roger D. 'supervises' while Dick S. checks the hub on the test club prop to see if it will fit our Hurricane's Merlin engine prop shaft. Sadly not, so the hunt continues.
Well we are through the first quarter of the year, which in the business of restoring old airplanes can often feel like we are in the movie Groundhog Day: Clean. Scrape. Bead blast. Clean, Scrape, Bead blast. Repeat ad nauseam...
We will start our report with the wing and the obvious; the upper wing skin replacement. Gary T. was graced with extra time to come in through the week, so he made a lot of progress installing the outer wing skin on the starboard side. Because the upper wing skins overlap each other at the joints and have 12:1 scarf joints, we need to start with the outermost skins and work inward to the center section of the wing. Gary had enough time to also remove the port outermost upper skin and then make use of our newly acquired plywood to cut and fit a replacement section. Before the port side can be secured, we have some damage to repair where the wing tip attaches and some decisions to make about some internal structure.
A major milestone achieved with the installation of the first new skin on the wing. The wing is secured with the leading edge to the floor, so this is the starboard side, upper surface. You can see the stringers and the inner wing skin in this view.
The Mosquito's wingtips are built separately from the main wing and are attached to two strips on the upper and lower surfaces of the wing. These strips are unusual in that they have a 3.5 mm thick phenolic core which is sandwiched between strips of plywood. Thankfully the phenolic material is available from a local vendor, though it is pricy stuff.
Test fitting the first new upper wing skin on the port side. Alan W. 'supervises' as Gary T. tacks the new skin onto the stringers for a trial fit.
When our Mosquito was converted from a bomber to a photo recon machine in 1950, they added dipole antennae to each outer wing panel. These were removed when the airplane was acquired by Spartan in 1954, but the mounting blocks are still within the wing. We will leave them in situ and mark their locations on the outer skin with small holes should they ever need to be located in the future.
Lots going on with the upper surface of the port wing. Circled in white are the internal blocks for the post war dipole antennae. In red is the wing tip attach strip which is in need of some reinforcement. You can also see that the number and length of the stringers tapers out toward the tip and that the inner top skin does not extend to the full span of the wing.
The top skin of the Mosquito is double layered with the layers separated by one inch square stringers that run the length of the wing. When we remove each top skin, it exposes the stringers and the inner skin. These surfaces are coated with an off white primer, much of which survives, but some of which has flaked off. Gary T., Alan W. and Colette P. have spent hours cleaning and scraping these very awkward and hard to reach surfaces at the cost of significant quantities of skin. And as soon as these surfaces are scraped clean what do we do with them? Why we paint them again... Thanks to both Alan and Gary for the reapplication. Alan has gratefully moved on to removing brass screws from the next inboard skins, though that work also comes with its own significant challenges as well.
Alan W. removing the remnants of the old primer from the wing stringers and inner skin and then seemingly before he's had a chance to wash his hands, along comes Gary T. with a new primer coat for all of the interior surfaces before the new upper wing skin gets attached. We're in it for the glamour...
Shifting to the underside of the wing, this brings other crew members into play. Gene F. has been busy cleaning fuel bay components, one of them being the laminated wood fuel tank straps. These hold each of the 10 wing fuel tanks in place within the wing bays and each one is lined with a half inch of felt. Gene has spent many full Saturdays cleaning a large number of these very grubby pieces so we have assigned others to chip in. Thanks to Colette P. and long time supporter, but new volunteer, Jim W., for stepping in. Thanks also to Jim for sourcing new felt for us from a local saddlery shop in Nanton.
Roger D. applying his powers of persuasion and woodworking skills to forming a new fuel tank strap. Several of the originals were BER (Aviation speak for Beyond Economical Repair).
One of the wooden tank straps was broken in half, so Roger D. has constructed a new one which is currently drying in the mold. We will forward additional straps with damaged edges, significant cracks and enlarged screw holes to Roger for repair or replacement.
Quietly working away on the port wing, rear spar area, Michael H. has worked hard to remove and clean numerous long tie rods that run through the rear spar. Most of these are corroded, with a couple having as much as 30 per cent material loss.
On the back side of the wing we have Nigel W. (top) and poking around inside the wheel well is Michael H. banging, tapping and poking to remove some of the badly corroded rods which are embedded in the wing spar.
We will have new rods manufactured, leaving the question of switching to Imperial or AN threads or staying with British thread. The British nuts had only a peened head for safety vs. more expensive self locking nuts.
Other volunteers continue to remove more of the wing hardware for cleaning and inspection, with 90 per cent of the metal being seized into the wood. Again, we will have to look at parts replacement or replication, such as eye bolts for those that are too badly corroded to be reused.
Davy D. continues his work on the engine firewall in between repairing the bead blaster, which is an amazing piece of equipment. I say that as it is in continuous use all day with a lineup of volunteers waiting to take their turn. By days' end on Saturday, the compressor can probably be used as a heat source on which to cook Kraft Dinner.
On Saturdays Don H. continues his work installing parts and systems in the aft section of the fuselage, including the camera bay and through the week he is picking up and dropping off parts at our paint shop, the powder coaters and when needed, our welders. The fuselage keeps progressing but as with many slow, but steady projects, we have to step back from it to notice the progress.
Don H.’s area of expertise: Inside the rear fuselage and the camera operator’s position. This is essentially what the Spartan camera operator would see. The red head bumper is original. The black panel at center is the shelf on which sat a spare film magazine for the Wild RC-8 camera which was mounted in the hole at the bottom of the photo.
The first undercarriage components back from Top Gun Coating look very good. The frame in which we will assemble and test the undercarriage is near completion. Jaime G. is now working on the second round of parts to head in for paint and coating and as we mentioned in our last report, he does a very detailed spreadsheet of the many parts which make up the undercarriage. His work is very much appreciated by the vendors in helping to track and account for the pieces going back and forth between us.
Effective innovation: Jaime G. bought his own interior gear leg cleaning tool to get the job done right.
At right, one main undercarriage leg worth of parts including the famous rubber pucks.
Andy W. continues his efforts in the cockpit while searching for parts around the world, such as the gyro compass system for the main instrument panel. Andy is also turning his hand to sheet metal work in building some of the panels, structures and components, with guidance from Dick S.
Some of Andy W.'s efforts on display. The recently acquired fuel panel and junction box are stripped, repaired and test fitted in the navigator's position in the cockpit and at right, a newly acquired gyro compass from the Mosquito Parts Store - otherwise known as eBay.
In the coming months we should have our first main undercarriage assembly back with reassembly well in hand.
I have been absent for much of the first quarter of the year because of the day job, but many of our volunteers have been plugging along well without me as they work on long term projects that require little supervision. As we move into the spring season, I hope you will come down to check on our progress and perhaps remind us that although it often feels like Groundhog Day to us, that you can see some material progress.
We held our Annual General Meeting on March 8th, via Zoom and had the largest attendance in some years. We presented our financial statements and a number of reports on membership and restoration progress. All current board members agreed to stand for another one year term and no new members were added to our guiding body. We capped the meeting with a traditional Power Point presentation outlining our progress over the past year.
We were invited by the Medicine Hat chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society to talk to them about the Mosquito, its history and restoration progress. We did this with a PowerPoint presentation on February 15th via Zoom to a room of their members as well as some 'at home' folks with approximately twenty two attendees in total.
Our efforts were again noticed and acknowledged with a nomination for and awarding of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Medal for our president on behalf of the organization. Thanks to Jim Wiersma for the nomination and to the Royal Canadian Legion, Nanton Branch #80 for hosting the awards ceremony in late January.
Nice to get a pat on the back from your friends, fellow museum folk and royal representatives. Yours truly with nominator Jim Wiersma and Bomber Command Museum boss, Karl Kjarsgaard. Thank you gents.
Richard de Boer, President
Apr 9, 2023