Where the hell did November go? I sat down to write this month’s diary and it’s not this month, if you know what I mean. Someone said, ‘when are you going to update your blog?’
Can we just get something straight here; ‘blog’ is no more a word than ‘crimbo’ or ‘chillax’. We civilised folk refer to ongoing notes of one’s life and times as a ‘diary’.
And why is the world of aviation enthusiasts home to so many joyless individuals? Fair enough, the Bluebird fraternity is peppered with armchair politicians, the occasional fruitcake and mild to severe obsessives but at least they all manage to smile most of the time. Yet it seems that to qualify properly to mess with bits of old Baddacooda (BOOB for short) we must be more serious and stop laughing so much.
Go read a different website then, I say. Preferably one with a ‘blog’.
But never mind all that, November slipped through our fingers in a heartbeat and, worse still, there’s no big ‘wow’ factor this month with which to redeem ourselves. It’s all been little odds and ends of late. All equally important in the grand scheme but not good when it comes to visual progress.
One such example is the little turnbuckly jobs that strap the front tailplane spar to the monkey bars down where the tailwheel lives. They come down at about forty-five degrees but they have an adjuster at the top. I queried what this was all about with the experts at the museum and was told that if your plane didn’t fly straight you told a fitter who put a few turns on the adjuster to bend the tailplane a little. I was horrified! I remember once visiting the build hall for the Eurofighter and looking at a pile of bits about to be fastened together. The pointy end was built in the UK, Germany made the hot part at the back and Spain and Italy made a wing each but none of them had any holes to put the rivets in. The answer, I would soon discover, was that the holes were drilled later once everything was jigged together so as not to leave any residual stresses when trying to line up the holes.
Now back to the Baddacooda – you do what? Spanner a twist into the tailplane so it flies in a straight line. Aeroplanes just get worse!
And the turnbuckly things were plenty rusty too.
There’s nothing more difficult to strip than steel on steel that’s been abandoned to the weather for a decade or six. Everything takes an ungodly hold on everything else and even the application of white heat often results in more harm than good so I was most interested when, Richie, one of our Bluebird sponsoneers, said he could make them like new and undo them with his fingers if only he could take them home and soak them in his bath of molasses.
Richie, you see, likes armoured vehicles and is building a Bren gun carrier that lay in the weather for a similar length of time to our plane and it’s all steel and he’s stripping it down using nothing but sugar. Sounded too good to be true but Richie assured us that his stinking, bubbling old tub of fermenting rot could munch a section of tank track spotless in a matter of days so we weighed over some seized bits of Barra’.
I’d not have believed this if I hadn’t seen it; you can literally wind that in and out with your fingers. It seems that if you leave your bathtub of molasses awhile it ferments into a cocktail of acids that devours iron oxide but not iron itself so you can leave the treasure in there as long as you like and all that’ll go missing is the rust. It won’t touch the underlying material so it comes out immaculate. You can distil the juice into moonshine when you’re finished too…
Other instances have required heat.
We have exactly one good elevator hinge and it’s a conglomeration of aluminium and steel that needed a waft of the hot-spanner to get it moving. But move it did once Alain set about it with the oxy-propane.
Hot that may be but, how cool is this, our Barra’ is mostly being built by girls. This often raises eyebrows as building a smashed up aeroplane doesn’t seem a terribly feminine pursuit but let’s be honest for a moment, girls are expert at fine work and to understand the reason let me ask a question of the boys. How many of you lads began using a file at age-nine both left-handed and right-handed to turn out small pieces with perfect symmetry and an immaculate finish?
Never cared that much about our fingernails, did we.
This is usually the point when someone cries sexism! But it’s not, it’s true, and this skill crosses perfectly into the world of aeroplane mending. Trust me; the girls are made for this job in all sorts of ways.
Take Helen, for instance, she thoroughly enjoys raking out a scruffy lump of tinware…
…and setting about it with isopropanol and Scotchbrite until it gleams.
Like it or not, us boys could never enjoy that very much.
Then there’s our Louise who makes perfect patches for where bits of our plane are still somewhere up a hill. She mocks them up in cardboard, snips and files a fragment of BOOB to perfection then we weld it in.
And Gillian can put rivets in with either hand, which none of the rest of us can do!
She’s spent the last couple of weeks rebuilding one of these…
We’ve no idea what it’s called. It lives at the back of the vertical sticky-up bit where the rudder goes and attaches a linkage that goes back to the rudder itself. We had a few of these in various states of completeness and rottenness that Aerospace Rob chiselled from the wreckage then Gillian cleaned and assembled the bits until we had a good one.
If anyone knows what it is we’d love to hear from you.
What’s oft-forgotten is that when these machines were built for real it was often the womenfolk who turned them out anyway as the men were away being shot at so we’re only remaining true to history.
Aerospace Rob, who most definitely isn’t a girl, has been doing the fine work on the leading edge for the sticky-up bit.
The formers came out of the leading edge with all the screws around the bottom that we didn’t use but thankfully they’re exactly the same shape and in fair condition though it seems a cable or two passes up the inside of the leading edge on its way to somewhere and in the crash it got tugged tight. Cheese-wire-tight, in fact, and it sliced through the formers. They now have little doublers over the splits but otherwise they’re fine.
It’s now chock-full of inside bits all neatly riveted in place. The good thing about putting these in is that it effectively divides the outside skin into small squares so any remaining hills and hollows are ring-fenced and easy to treat by hitting them. Once Rob has finished putting the guts back inside, including those long stringery things that are actually slices off the other leading edge, it’ll be riveted back onto the fin.
The fin is about ready to have its side put back on too. We took it off to mend some dings and to replace all the captive nuts inside and that’s all done now too.
Another little project that’s about there is the catchitt for the other end of the tailplane. If you remember we had one good one…
It’s a latch for when the wings are folded back so they don’t swing forward when your aircraft carrier hits a steep sea and decapitate the bloke with the mop. Trouble was, we only had one decent one from the wingtip that was mint but rotten with corrosion. This bit lives slightly inboard from the skins and such so it got away with it. But the good news is that another was crafted from leftovers.
Just a few tweaks and an inch or three of careful welding and it’ll be as good as the other one. The steel was salvaged from a scrap piece of frame tube from inside the fuselage and it’s ridiculously tough material despite the passage of time and the fact that it’s been slowly dissolving through the seasons. The alloy parts, bolts, etc have been hand-picked from the crashed examples for being sort of OK. Yet again, we got there without using any non-native material.
Most of the tail is now mended and only needs fettling and riveting back together. The first part has even been painted. Our mate ‘Elvis’ a professional spray painter by day put the first layer of surface protection on the right-hand leading edge. It’s just to protect the insides as we go and to prep the outside for its final finish. It looks rather well, I think.
I was told, however, that Elvis has managed to inadvertently paint it in some German night-fighter camouflage scheme so we can doubtless expect some disgruntled aero-anorak to take issue in due course.
Personally I think it looks great.
And on that note I shall leave you and bid you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We’ve done slightly under a year on our Barra’ using only the spare scraps of time our beloved Bluebird allows yet we’ve moved it on quite a way so it all bodes well for 2014. We shall see you all on the other side…