Our elevator was rather well received but along the way we discovered that unbending crashed scrap is not a typical way of recreating an aeroplane. Strange, is that, because it’s quite a bit easier than making a new one. For some inexplicable reason, even when the thing doesn’t have to fly (and that is obviously a different kettle of Barracuda fillets) what aeroplane menders seem to do is take a bent piece – now, consider that they already hold in their hand the thing they aspire to own – and use it to make a new one from new material that they have to buy, often using tooling that they have to create for the one-off task of making the part they already have, albeit in a slightly crumpled state. Seemed the long way round to us.

More often than not, the original, complete with its history and provenance, can be mended in a fraction of the time with half the effort and at zero cost.

Bearing in mind that we know nothing at all about aeroplanes we were learning fast and decided that we wanted a big piece next – we weren’t falling for the elevator trick a second time.

‘Send us a tail,’ we declared boldly.

No sooner said than done – more knackered scrap!



By this time we’d also cleared out the unit next door and prepped it for Barracuda building. First we had the local brick doctors bash a hole through the wall.



Then we splashed a coat of paint on the walls to brighten the place up.



Next, some pictures on the walls for that homely look.



No doubt the H&S wombles would insult Mike’s intelligence at this point by telling him he’s incapable of standing on a cable drum on a bench without instantly rendering himself tetraplegic but we’d run out of scaffold, crash-mats, parachutes and cotton wool that day…

And, finally, for a touch of theatrical interest, we made parts of our workshop resemble an aircraft carrier so our forlorn little Barra’ would feel at home.



Then, with the decorating complete, our tail arrived. In actual fact we ended up with about six tails in various states of crashedness. We got two vertical, sticky-up fins. One of which looked mint but on turning it over we discovered that one side had been burned out. It did, however, have an almost immaculate leading edge – we snaffled that straight away.

The other fin had a totally mashed leading edge but the solid bit aft of that had both sides intact and only a smattering of dents. That’d do as a basis for the rest of it if we grafted on the good leading edge.

The horizontal surface, on the other hand, was another matter. What we actually had was one complete example except that it was a long way from complete. What appeared to have happened was that the fin, with the horizontal piece securely bolted atop of it, hit a mountain whereupon the middle stopped dead and the two sticky-out bits either side just carried on thus reducing our horizontal piece to three pieces – both ends up a hill with the middle still bolted to the fin.

Three young men died when this happened – we know and respect that – and we’re no strangers to dealing with vehicles in which such things have happened. So, oftentimes we’re assured that the correct way is to be reverent and quietly respectful. But… though we never knew those brave lads, do you think they’d want us to be all morose? Or would they rather have a laugh and a banter with us?



That’s that settled then, so the sort of diamond-shaped chunk is the middle of our horizontal piece and the crumply bit to the right is the leading edge of the fin. The broken off pieces were equally squished. Here are the broken ends – the diamond-shaped piece should be in the middle joining them together.



Thanks to Will at the FAAM for these pics, by the way. Now we had to work out how to glue it back together.

It actually turned out to be of very straightforward construction once we got a look inside. OK, so it’s made of way more fiddly bits than is reasonable but essentially the whole structure is built between and around two flat spars. The museum also told us that the horizontal thing is called a ‘stabilator’ but that sounds like something to stop your granny falling down the stairs so we call it a tailplane.

We decided to mine out the aft-most spar and have a look at mending that first.

It’s a very simple thing; basically a flat sheet of 16-gauge 2014A aluminium (back on familiar territory now) with a similar, J-shaped extrusion riveted top and bottom for stiffness. 2014A was designated L3 or DTD390 back in the day and is a copper/aluminium alloy that was usually clad in pure aluminium for corrosion resistance. Due to its high copper content it age-hardens into something as easy to bend as a digestive biscuit when left up a mountain and isn’t easy to weld at the best of times. Oh joy!

Nothing daunted, however, Aerospace Rob sallied forth once more.



Notice the bird’s nest on the floor… skylark, we think. Rob dug out the rear spar in several pieces.



This is the middle. Notice how the ends are bent forwards as its extremities carried on and ripped free.

For all the metal was torn and severely bent, as material goes it was generally in excellent condition and that’s all that’s needed to effect a good repair.



The extrusions were the awkward thing to mend. The flat sheet in the centre soon gave in to a few tricks with silicon-filled welding rods but the extrusions were another matter.



Kinks like this took quite some shifting without the material snapping like a carrot but, after a few snapping like a carrot incidents, we found a way to straighten them and shrink the unwanted, stretched material back from whence it came.



From there the job became a case of, repeat as necessary, until we had a pair of 12-foot-long extrusions and a long, flat sheet comprising a middle and two ends.

Then another problem arose to vex us. The spar was way bigger than ever we’d expected and it was going to have to be straight as a straight thing if it was to be of any use. We’d have to build an assembly fixture to build it on. In went a request for some budget to build a jig and, with retrospect, asking for a hundred quid probably suggested our tooling wasn’t going to be to full aerospace standards, but here we went into full Bluebird Project mode where the problems are massive and the budget quite the opposite.

Some random bloke got fifteen quid for the old trestles from his allotment via ebay and we got the foundation of our fixture. The local wood-yard took care of the rest of our budget for some perfectly straight lengths of top quality ply and soon our tooling was built, securely bolted to the floor and ready for setting up – with a laser, of course.



I mean, how could we possibly resist being able to say we built the only Barra’ in history set up using lasers? Apart from that we’re just not used to building long, skinny items and we wanted everything nice and straight and level. The tool is good for about +/- 1.0mm over twelve feet and, yes, you’ll need to be able to think in real-time in both imperial and metric units to keep up with us.



In the interests of turning out a quality product we brought all the parts within a 32nd of an inch of one another then upsized the rivets to from 1/8” to 5/32” to eliminate any residual stress in the finished job.


Now all the crew had to do was put said rivets into our spar.

This was easily achieved by cutting ports into the deck of the tool to give access to both sides then sending an apprentice underneath to have his head rattled in the confined space by Aerospace Rob’s expertly wielded rivet gun.



Many-plenty rivets later and with the apprentice (whom we call ‘Nugget’, by the way) rendered stone-deaf, we released our first ever Barracuda rear tailplane spar from the tool to see if it was any good.



Turned out rather well, it did. We even impressed ourselves, considering that it might’ve come off the tool like Zebedee’s backside. If you look carefully in the above pic you can see one of the mended extrusions for the front spar hanging on the trestles because, of course, in mending the rear spar we were only halfway there and that’s not all. They couldn’t make the front spar a nice, flat thing like the other one, could they. Oh no, it’s all sorts of clever shapes so we had to think a little harder on that one. But for the time being we have a splendid piece of mended tail.