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Despite the challenges, we are closing out the year in strong fashion, having invested almost 2000 volunteer hours in just the past 3 months. When I sit down to do these quarterly reports I am constantly amazed at how much we get done in a relatively short period of time. This past quarter is no exception: We're productive! Details here:
When last we left our intrepid Hurricane/Merlin crew, they were patiently awaiting the production of a new engine stand. It turned out that neither the Bomber Command boys, nor the Hangar Museum had a spare, so until we had a place to put it, we couldn't yank the engine. Andy W. whipped up a new stand design to accommodate our various needs to move it and perhaps to tilt it if we need to pull heads and banks. After catching up on their backlog of work, Sureway Metal finally completed the stand in late October. After some final adjustments we were able to move it up to the Hangar and tackle the business of removing the Hurricane's prop and engine on November 17th.
Our newly designed and built Merlin engine stand was picked up at Sureway by stalwart volunteer Davy D. who delivered it to Jack’s hangar where we are tearing down the engine to see why it won’t turn over.
The propeller and engine removal was a two day affair that went very well with the help of a custom built engine harness and a hefty forklift provided by Eagle Helicopters.
Thanks to Andy W., Dick S., Davy D., Michael H., Ken P., and new members Seina M., and Chris Z. for the assist.
It took us two days to remove the cowlings and disconnect all the lines before we could remove the propeller and lift the engine from the airframe. It is of course a very tight fit and between the forklift and the chain lift, we separated the engine from the airframe a fraction of an inch at a time until it was fully free and clear.
Hats off to our Hurricane crew as well for accommodating the Hangar Museum in replacing all of the Hurricane's cowlings so that the airplane could serve once again as a backdrop to the provincially televised Remembrance Day service held in the museum. Only those who have been 'hands on' can truly appreciate what a knuckle busting job it is to reinstall those ill-fitting panels. Thx gents.
Though the Hangar Museum offered to let us use their shop space to work on the Merlin, we decided to move it across the field to where VP Jack McWilliam works, and where we have unlimited access to the building and necessary tools. Once there, we began the business of looking for the cause of the seizure. We stripped off all the accessories and had a good look at her guts with a boroscope. No missing wrenches were located, nor was there an obvious cause for the lack of internal movement. We put in another day removing the oil pan to check the bottom end, but still no sign of the seizure gremlins.
Many hands may make light work, but so far many hands have not made engine work. The engine crew sets to work stripping the valve covers and all the accessories, looking for the problem.
One of our Hurricane engine posts on Facebook caught the attention of Mike Nixon, one of the great gurus of big old warbird engines. Mike founded Vintage V-12s and built just about every Merlin racing engine for a couple of decades before turning the business over to Jose Flores. Mike now heads up Vintage Radials in the same complex, where he specializes in big round engines and WWII German aircraft powerplants. Mike weighed in with his +40 years experience on the type and we are grateful for his interest and expertise. Without seeing the patient, and knowing that it was virtually a 'pickled engine,' when we got it, Mike leans strongly to an issue with the crankshaft bearings. So far, several days work has not led us to a cause. We will continue to turn a whole engine into a shelf full of parts until we know what the problem is.
Having removed the oil pan, this is the view of the engine looking from the bottom up. It is a fascinating blend of art, science, engineering and history all in one oil soaked view.
It's worth noting as well that we have a large number of volunteers, more in fact than we can keep busy, and some of whom are not even members of our group, coming out to lend a hand. These mythical machines attract a lot of interest and a desire to grab a wrench and chip in. We do our best to accommodate everyone's interest and willingness.
Several years ago we engaged Harwood Custom Composites to manufacture a set of new canopy panels for us. Harwood had previously made a set for Bob Jens's Mosquito in Vancouver and thus they had a complete set of moulds. After years of challenges, we are pleased to report that the final panels were delivered in November and that the quality and fit are outstanding. Our thanks again to donors Douglas Robertson and Alison Pidskalny for their generous funding of this project.
Looking satisfied, if somewhat comical, our favourite wooden bird sports the last of the new canopy panels. These ‘eyebrow’ windows are remarkably complex as they are double layered with metal and rubber vent lines and silica gel pouches to prevent moisture intrusion and freezing. (The blue is just a peel off protective coating).
Also in November, we were visited by Rob Sekersky, a member of the Windsor Mosquito Bomber group who has been working on a video documentary of their project for several years now. Rob spent a weekend with us recording the history of our bird and catching up on some background about Spartan Air Services. In the past we have shared with Windsor some still photos and some great colour film footage of Spartan Mosquitoes in action during the late 1950s, for use in their documentary.
Well I will start this by saying it feels like I am in the movie Groundhog Day with a revolving door of 'on again, off again' rules and an abundance of never before seen supply chain issues. As an example of the latter, I picked up a can of paint for the horizontal stabilizer that turned out to be the last of its kind in the city.
Despite these issues, we did make progress in several areas, so let's get on with it. We'll start with the main project, namely the wing. In mid November, Andy W. and crew installed the new steel jig components and repositioned the wing to the full vertical position. Between that and having the front spar jack posted to the concrete floor, the wing is now held in a fixed and rigid position which allows us to start working on the upper wing skins without fear of any shifts in the wing structure. Prior to the re-jigging, we could flex the wing with one hand and watch the other end move, 54 feet away.
A big thanks and congrats to Andy W. for redesigning the wing holding structure into a proper jig to firmly hold the spars as we begin the restoration and wood repair process. It took months of planning, but just a single day to make it all happen, and happily, without a single hitch. Proper planning prevents poor performance (to steal Dick's words of wisdom).
With the new jig structure in place it was time to pull the trailing edge into the full vertical position. The complication was that the center of gravity is actually outside the wing, forward of the top skin. (Ask us how we learned that little lesson).
Colette P. and Alan W. continue the tedious job of cleaning the fuel tank and wheel well bays by scraping away layers of paint, oil, dirt and other residues. The undercarriage bays are the worst and they remind us that Merlin engines don't need oil changes, as they just keep pumping it out. While it does make for an effective lubricating system for the undercarriage, it also makes for one giant mess. Our thanks to Alan and Colette for their weekly devotion to this less than glamorous part of the project.
Colette displays the product of a days’ labour; a dustpan full of paint chips from a fuel tank bay. It’s been suggested that there might be a market for these tiny bits of genuine Mosquito. Any takers?
A large number of the crew have been busy over the past few months removing all of the mechanical parts from both the top and the inside of the wing. We have placed all of the center section electrical and structural components into a number of crates. These parts are now being repaired, cleaned and readied for reinstallation. Roger D. and new volunteer Gene F. have been working at rebuilding much of the wood structure in this area, cutting out and scarfing in new pieces, as well as sanding out old sealant and oil.
Davy D. has finished removing the main attach points for the radiators, much to the relief of everyone else's ears. This was a particularly difficult job as the eyelet bolts are about 4 inches long and were severely rusted in place through the front spar. Removing them has required a rivet gun, hammers and punches, with each one taking days to remove. The eyelet bolts were rusted, peened and damaged by impact. We now have to see if stock exists anywhere in the world, or if we will have to manufacture new replacements.
The little volcano of rust is what you get when you pound out a 4" eyelet bolt that has been in situ for 75 years.
Going back to the upper wing skin, I have elected to attack the right (starboard) side upper first. This side is the most structurally compromised with rot all over the inboard portion. For discussion purposes, I would like to refer to the scarf joint on the wing skins as positive (top) or negative (bottom). The port and starboard upper wing skins are slightly different and we aren't sure why. The center skin is positive on both ends making it the master skin and therefore the last to go on. The left wing skins are positive/negative from center to tip as would be expected, but the right wing skin is positive/negative, positive /negative and then positive to positive, finishing with a negative on the tip.
So, were the upper skins made at different plants or was the skin damaged then repaired? Or is it a structural design because of some issue we are not yet aware of? We will be putting the question to our friends at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum in the UK to see if they have any answers. Thanks to Covid restrictions, travelling overseas to see Bob Glasby and our other friends there to catch up on some of these issues, is not practical or advisable.
Chris D. and Michael H. have tackled the tedious task of taking out all the wood screws from the right wing skin, including the ones that refuse to move. The stubborn ones were removed with the help of some jewelry tools, coring around the outside of the screws.
It was more than a little nerve wracking to see smoke coming from the wing as Michael used the coring tool to help remove stubborn screws.
With the screws now gone, we pulled half of the positive/positive skin looking for damage between the layers of the upper wing skin and to our great relief, found none. Only about half the skin panel has been removed so far. We are looking for an effective method to remove the upper wing skin panels that will do minimal or no damage to the stringers underneath.
Michael and Chris removing a section of upper starboard wing skin. Glue adhesion between the upper skin and the wing stringers was incredibly strong, stripping the top of the stringers rather than letting go. In other areas the glue has crystallized to hard lumps that wouldn’t hold two pieces of paper together.
Finally on the wing front, Gary T. is tackling the complex job of rebuilding the wing's trailing edge. The majority of the trailing edge is missing and what remains with us is in poor condition. We are again indebted to our friends in the Windsor Mosquito group for providing some much needed guidance, as well as a very comprehensive set of photographs courtesy of their documentarian, Rob Sekersky.
Now that the wing is secured with its leading edge to the floor, we employed Roger D. to apply his usual artistry in building us some new tall work stands so that Gary and others can gain access to the rear spar.
At top, the rather sparse and shabby remains of our wing trailing edge. Below, what it should look like, courtesy of Rob Sekersky and the Windsor Bomber group.
Dick S. is hiding in the engine shop these days, quietly hammering out a crushed tail wheel skirt. It still requires more TLC, including reinstalling the reinforcing wire around the outer edge, then welding up some minor cracks. Dick has invested many, many hours in gently hammering out the crunchy, foldy bits.
After many hours of patient tappity tapping on the tail wheel fender, it is finally returning to its original shape. RS700 looks on approvingly at Dick’s work.
Shifting over to the horizontal stab, the structural work nears completion with Gary and Cam B. putting the trail edge stringers back in place now that all skins have been replaced.
The final two skins presented some unusual problems for us. As we removed the puck board strips, the staples, which normally come off with the strips, decided this time to break rather than pull free from the skins. This left us with a forest of sharp nasty staple bits securely glued into the structure. Dick and Gary discovered that heating each broken staple with a soldering iron transmitted enough heat into the T-88 epoxy to soften it, thus allowing us to remove each staple. It took a crew of 4 most of a day to remove all of the broken staples. We have used the puck board and staple process before and have never had this issue. The speculation is that a different batch of staples may have had a different coating or adhesive holding them together in their long strips.
At top, a forest of nasty, pokey broken staples in the horizontal stabilizer, and below, the crew at work heating each one with a soldering iron to soften the glue so that they can be pulled out of the structure.
Several small tasks remain on the stab, such as painting hinges and installing hardware, but for the most part the difficult tasks are behind us. By spring, people will be walking past a stab sitting on its strongback, waiting to be installed on the fuselage.
Switching from the stab to the vertical fin, we reinstalled it on the fuselage just prior to Christmas. Our hosts at the Bomber Command Museum needed the floor space, so mounting it on the fuselage was a good solution, and a much better option than storing it off site. As Andy and I learned some years ago, while digging Hurricane bits out of our storage trailers, this is a job best avoided at this time of year. (-31C at the time of writing).
Putting things back where they belong. Don, Davy, Michael and Jack reinstall the vertical stabilizer and rudder, which are all still sporting their original 1959 Spartan Air Services colours and markings.
Andy continues to pursue missing parts and to reassemble the cockpit, including its challenging copper grounding wires.
Last August we were visited by Reg Kirby who is with the Windsor Mosquito group. Andy made good use of the meeting to discuss missing and surplus parts, which eventually ended with us acquiring their spare rudder balance arm in exchange for us lending them two parts for duplication.
A rudder balance arm, acquired in a trade from the Windsor Mosquito group. Lots of traffic between us and them, to the benefit of both groups. Nice work Andy, and our thanks to Reg Kirby.
Christmas goodies arrived from New Zealand thanks to months of back and forth parts info sharing and negotiations by Andy W.
Andy continued in his role as parts sorcerer and 'horse trader', initiating a deal with the Ferrymead Aeronautical Society in Christchurch, NZ, who are busy restoring a FB.VI Mosquito, HR339. We shipped them a spare landing light and four control cables for a sanitary tank and the upright to the main cockpit instrument panel.
Don H. is nearing completion on the fuselage/bomb bay side panels, after which they can be returned to their storage crates before spring. Our hosts at the Bomber Command Museum seem to have noticed that our project has a tendency to 'creep', slowly taking up more and more floor space in their shop...
In general we continue to chase after missing parts, hardware, information and materials in these challenging times. In the near future we will be placing an order for additional birch plywood for the upper wing skins (I am afraid to ask the price. Our first batch of ply for the fuselage and stabilizer, custom ordered from a mill in Austria, ran $650 per sheet -and that was eight years ago).
In the new year, I am shooting to have the stab done, further progress on the wing skins, more of the small parts restored, and some good luck for all of us.
We start off with a quick word for thanks to member Dean Fleming for his donation of over sixty books and videos. On open house and event days, we set up a couple of tables and use donations like this to raise a bit of money for our favourite cause. Thank you Dean!
The December issue of AEROPLANE magazine out of the UK featured a full page update on our efforts, reminding us that a lot of interested parties around the world are keen to follow our progress. Thanks to News Editor Tony Harmsworth for the coverage.
Some nice coverage from our friends across the pond at AEROPLANE. The magazine has a great circulation and provenance. As they say about themselves, "Aeroplane Monthly traces its lineage back to the weekly The Aeroplane launched in June 1911, and is still providing the best aviation coverage around."
And just to wrap things up for 2021, a short tale of smartassery. We are very diligent about identifying and tagging every part that we remove from the airframe during the restoration process in order to keep track of what it is and where it comes from. (Standard industry practice and not done just because we are old and have failing memories). This information has been impressed on all of our volunteers, although some seem to take it more seriously (or not) than others. For each of the eight fuel tank bays in the wing, we have a crate which holds all the parts removed from that particular bay. While searching through one of these crates, we came across the following: A small plastic bag holding a number of very small, round, brown items and a parts identification tag letting us know what they are and where they were found. Not sure we will be reinstalling them as part of the restoration process.
The parts identification tag is signed by "Minnie Mouse" and the contents have been given Part Numbers MP1, MP2, and MP3 for Mouse Poo 1, 2 and 3. The party responsible has not yet been identified , but suspicions lean toward one of our younger volunteers. Investigations are ongoing...
Richard de Boer, President
Jan 10, 2022