It was much too cold in the Barra’ shop over Christmas.
We’ve hung a thick, clear plastic curtain over the gap that the brick-doctors knocked in the wall, you see, and it lowers Aerospace-Rob’s core temperature on a Saturday to the point where he can listen to ball-chasing competitions on the ‘wireless’ so if he’s not in one variety of artificially induced coma he’s in another, but, despite the winter temperatures, and with the help of the ‘Barra’ Babes’, he’s relentlessly bashed yet more plane back together.
The leading edge for the sticky-up bit is looking perfectly wonderful.
He’s sussed how to recover the original rivet holes while the rest of us have pretty much worked out how to get this stuff back to the proper shape without it falling to bits or springing off into a hidden corner of the workshop so this bit came up almost like it had never been to Scotland.
The remaining bits are on the bench here being prepped for their final return to the structure. On the left is the bottom former for the leading edge and next to it, screwed securely to the bench so it doesn’t wibble about while Rob rivets it, is the upper section of the leading edge. Why was that skin made in two pieces? There’s just no need. Neither can be dismounted once you’ve built your plane and the top bit is only the size of a loaf of bread so what was going on in the design office that day? Did they not have a big enough piece of paper to draw it on or something?
Speaking of leading edges – having turned out our German night-fighter piece for the tailplane we then had to start all over again with the other side and it was way worse for one simple reason – there was a big bit missing out of the middle. When I say ‘missing’ I don’t mean it was in amongst the crumple and came back eventually like on the night-fighter side, I mean it’s still enjoying its holiday in the Highlands.
We had this bit…
And we had this bit too…
Perhaps you can guess that we weren’t especially inspired at this point. We propped them, as we always do, in the place they’re supposed to go and imagined them mended.
Wahey! There you go, you can see the finished job from here and everything is going to be wonderful.
Erm… that’s not what really happened.
First thing was to put some shape back so it looked a little like the one we’ve already done.
The inboard end wasn’t too bad, actually. What looked like terminal corrosion turned out to be only mild surface fizzing and the shape returned without a fuss. It had plenty of splits and bits missing but it was nothing like as horrid as first imagined. The outboard chunk was a little more difficult because it missed the bus to the heat-treatment plant but we brought it some of the way with a judicious dose of heat, bashery and a bit of welding here and there.
Wonderful – so now we have two pieces of roughly aeroplany tinware but the part that grabs the attention is the bit that didn’t make it to the party.
It’s the same old story, that damnable forty-five degree strut arrangement down to the tailwheel. It seems to be like crashing a sponge cake at a hundred miles an hour with an attached bread knife facing backwards but leading the way, if you know what I mean. Knife stops, sponge cake carries on, crumbs everywhere!
Now here we have some commonality with the Bluebird build because we’ll turn out a nice finished job and people will say, that looks good, how did you do that? And the answer is always the same. The secret is in the tooling. It often takes longer to construct the tool than it does to make whatever it was that you wanted in the first place but once released the finished job is always a thousand times better for the forethought and effort.
We stuck the two bits of scrap to a tool to replicate the front spar and launched into a patching jamboree.
Nothing complicated about the tool this time – only a bunch of second-hand MDF formers that we made for the other side and a few pieces of timber scrounged from the firewood pile at the timber yard over the way but much care went into setting it up within a millimetre or so before the patches started to go in. We have some nifty little wood-screws that pop neatly through a hole once inhabited by a 1/8th rivet without doing any harm – it’s old Bluebird Project technology so they were deployed in action once again. See that chunk of tin that finally joined the two halves back together and notice how the rivet holes wander over its skin in no particular direction. That’s because it came from somewhere completely different but it’ll be good when it’s finished.
It’s always a bit of a patchwork quilt to begin with because beggars can’t be choosers with the remaining Barra’ skins available but we’re wise to working this stuff now. Keep it within a quarter of an inch as you go and there’s not too much metal to move when it comes time to sort the final shape. Pop in a weld here and there and now you have enough advantage to start pushing it towards the finished article.
There’s a fair few hours in this part and we don’t have as many spare hours as we’d like so it doesn’t look like we’ve done much but it’s getting there.
There you go – fits a treat. Well it nearly fits. The inboard section needs a few patches and some shrinking here and there, oh, and three formers / ribs but we’ll get those out of some scrap we’ve put by for just that job.
The outboard piece is as-recovered and hasn’t been touched yet but there’s hardly a mark on it. One or two splits and some mild dings but it’s in great condition otherwise and because of that its internals are good too. That’ll take no mending then it’ll be off to Elvis’s paint shop for a splash of night-fighter camouflage.
It won’t really – we’ve now obtained permission from the museum to paint it in its proper colours from the off so our second leading edge will be horrid, sea-sludge grey on top and duck-egg-greeny-bluey whatever it’s called underneath, though we’ll probably keep it silver-grey until it’s riveted into the rest of the tailplane so we can do the whole thing all at once.
We usually photograph it from this side for the straightforward reason that it looks best, but there’s a problem. You see, when you come to the FAAM to look at our Barra’, unless you bring a step ladder, you’ll never see this side because it’s the top. We can’t even swap the mounts around and fake it the wrong way up because the skins go together completely differently side for side and the aero-anoraks will raise merry hell. And to make matters worse it’s still a bit of a plane crash round there.
Not to worry, though, nothing there that won’t mend. What we need to do is turn it the other way on the tool so we have to look at the ugly side as we come and go – that’d get it mended.
Meanwhile, the leading edge for the sticky-up bit needed a trial fit.
Canny-not-bad, as we say in these parts. Considering that it’s something of a mish-mash of scrap bits from different planes it offered up a pleasant surprise when all of the pins went in first time. The insides of the big bit all needed brushing down and a coat of inhibitor before the outer skin went back on but we know from experience that the white dusting is only a film of surface fizz and the underlying metal is great. Having said that, ally-oxide is tough enough to be an excellent abrasive so when it’s chemically-wedded to your old tinware it’s an absolute bugger to shift.
It looks way more Barra-esque from this side but we’re getting too good at propping stuff with its best side facing forward so Elvis and Gillian set about sorting its interior in preparation for getting it back together. Muchly-plenty isopropanol, Scotchbrite, emery cloth and slurping with Henry and the inside was clean and ready for lashings and lashings of Ardrox AV8.
For those late to the Bluebird party, Ardrox is a substance we’ve had a long and enduring love affair with as we successfully managed to coat every millimetre of the inside of every single steel frame tube that holds our big tin boat together. We designed ways to atomise it into a mist at the end of twenty feet of quarter-inch brake pipe then worked out how to get the end of said pipe twenty feet into a frame tube. We mostly did it using a converted fire extinguisher ‘borrowed’ from ‘a part of a building that never catches fire’ by a friend of ours and we immediately christened it the ‘Tube Internal Treatment System’.
Ardrox is a brown, glutinous aerospace inhibitor that keeps the weather off and is best likened to dissolving a pound of Demerara sugar into a pint of water then trying to get the resultant mix over everything in sight – sticky isn’t the word!
Fortunately, this time, we only needed a few small paint brushes, some volunteers and yogurt pots full of the gloop to get the inside of our tail good to go.
And herein lies another conundrum. We could – and there is absolutely no question about this – completely strip this to its component parts, bring each and every one to a stupidly immaculate condition and then reassemble it on a purpose built tool of our own design and manufacture to standard arguably better than when it was built the first time. It would take the rest of our lives and be good enough to fly but that’s not our brief this time around.
It’s a compromise. But look at it this way. The first time I met this part it was on a pallet around the back of Cobham Hall down at Yeovilton and when it rained it got wet. Whatever we do with it, it has to be better off.
Besides – those museum folks are fanatical about their relative humidity, temperature and how many luxes, or whatever you measure light in, gets to nibble at their precious objects so it’s hardly going to rot once it’s been wheeled into their museological lair, is it. I mean, even oxidisation would get so bored it would likely kill itself under those conditions.
Elvis has painted the Wingtipamabobs, or the outermost bits at least. They repaired very nicely and now have a quality splash of surface coating.
The world’s only Barra’ rudder hinge is also now successfully stripped and awaiting further ministration…
This is the upper hinge and we have exactly one lower one to go with it.
We found some scribbling inside our tail too.
Wouldn’t you just love to know who wrote this, but I guess we’ll never know. Still, it’s survived and is now preserved under a fine film of Ardrox.
I take a ‘nosing’ to be one of the formers that fits inside the leading edge and the ‘spar’ to be the flat sheet running vertically up the front that they attach to. If that’s right then someone must’ve thought they were sufficiently OK to make a note of it on the back of the spar. Wonder who it was and who it was for.
Baddacooda tails seem to have been assembled using a descending scale of numptyism back in the day. Everything was first put together with 2BA nuts and bolts, which could easily be undone for another try if something was clashed on upside down by the new recruit, and only when that was signed off was someone slightly cleverer allowed to bash it all together properly with rivets and such. At least that’s how it appears. Remember how we were about ready to get the side back into the sticky-up bit?
This time we gave it to Hayley so she could practice with a rivet gun.
Yes, those pesky girls are everywhere!
The best bit, though, is that our tail now has the side put back, to say nothing of the successfully rescued leading edge. We’re very pleased with it. There’s some snagging and tidying up left to do but it’s more or less there and soon, Elvis will be smothering it in paint – good result.
We’ve had a cracking few weeks on our big tin boat project too. We’ve been building the new sponsons for over a year and now they’re in the final stages of assembly. They’re basically twelve foot canoes with two hundred bits inside each one and they’re built not only precisely to the 1954 drawings but also using all the specified materials, which meant importing most of it from California. Quite a job!