Last month we were all Bluebirded-up and barely touched our Barra’ but then in a peculiar twist of circumstance we find the situation reversed this month with nowt to do on the big tin boat and loads of ‘cool aeroplane’ to be getting on with, as Hayley calls it.

Things were running slowly because before we could inch forward a step we first had to assemble all the ribby-stringery bits inside the tailplane and that’s without the masses of detail work on that next skin. You’ll recall that the inboard, lower skin from the portside was mostly replaced with the side of the fin recovered many moons ago from the Brora wreck – at least we think it was that one. It may equally have been the Whernside one, they keep confusing me at the museum when I ask so I’m not sure they can remember either. Either way, we gradually blended bits of fin into bits of tailplane until the hole went away but before anything could be riveted to the outside it fell to Mike to put all the underlying stuff back. It was yet another tale of fragile and corroded material made clean then melded to reworked fragments of scrap Baddacooda until the strength and structural integrity was won back and we had something worthy of accepting our new outer skin.

With that in place we were at last able to drill and pin the skin into position so as to see where the welds needed stretching, the crash damage needed shrinking and what needed pushing or pulling to where it would give us a good finished shape. We lost the graffiti too. Eh?

You see, when the crashed bits of Barra’ were left up a hill it seems that everyone passing the wreck felt the need to scratch their name into the metal with a sharp pointy thing and then, in about 1973, it all stopped. Perhaps this is when the tail was gathered up and taken to Yeovilton.

Whoever you are, David Hadden, your scratchings were polished out of the metal last week forty-five years afterwards.

Mike was also on a roll by now and stringer-building had become his new forté so he just carried on around the other side until the job was wrapped up.

What you can’t see is that where the ends of the tailplane snapped off and we’ve rejoined them there’s a multitude of tiny repairs all carefully crafted and riveted together into one seamless structure. We’d show you them in more detail but under the lens they’re not quite as pretty as they appear here…

So with that part of the build completed we decided we were ready to stick the last of the lower skins on. Remember that it’s only the lower ones you’ll see once the Barra’ goes on display. We’ve already added into the contract with the museum that no one with a step ladder is to be allowed access so you can forget about trying to inspect the top so that’s where we’re going to put all the mistakes. We couldn’t make it any worse than when it was new anyway so there’s nothing lost.

Mike once again stepped up to make sure the leading half of the outboard skin played the game when fitted to the front spar with all its welding tolerances. He designed a trick new process that he christened ‘creative countersinking’ and it proved surprisingly effective. The shrinking processes we use on the skins often undo the dimpling used back in the day to countersink the rivets so something must be done to put things back before we apply new rivets and Mike somehow managed to make all the slightly misaligned parts marry up so they looked like they’d never been taken apart.

In fact, by the end of the day he’d been nicknamed ‘Countersinking Wench’ and with just cause because first calling Hayley ‘Riveting Wench’ was just asking for bother!

So having sorted themselves out they then spent the rest of the day on the tools finishing the underside of the tailplane. Apart from a handful of red pins where we’re waiting on some sizes of rivet we don’t carry in stock the underside is done.

The rest of the skins ought to follow fairly quickly as they were all mended some time ago. There’s a round of fettling to do on them but it isn’t much. There’s also a load of widgeteering to do on the rear tailplane spar. It’s visible in a, see some of it past the elevators, kind of way so we need it to have all the right rivets sticking out of it in all the right places even if they’re not actually holding anything on behind. There’s things like this too…

The lower one is original, the upper one is a copy made from a spare piece of graffitied tail skin. It’s best described as a thingamabob. On the drawings for the prototype tailplane that confused us so endlessly when trying to build that first elevator was provision for two trim tabs per elevator, each with its own gearbox and chains and such so the pilot could mess with it. But when the mistake with the drawings was realised and the correct ones turned up it seemed that the outboard gearbox and adjusting gubbins had been dispensed with though the tab remained and instead it was attached to the aft tailplane spar with a short link-rod such that as the elevator went up the tab went down. Seems the long way round to me... Could they not have redesigned the elevator to do away with this mad idea and get rid of a few parts and some weight at the same time? But what do I know about aeroplanes…

The thingamabob is the bracket that attaches to the spar and it’s bolted through the extrusions top and bottom of the spar and once the skins go on it’s on for good. Why it wasn’t affixed with captive nuts so it could be replaced or removed is a mystery. We’ve a few odds and ends of this type to sort out then we’ll box everything in.

Meanwhile, we’re still stripping the tailwheelery.

There’s yards and yards of it and, as usual, it’s made of hundreds of tiny parts. Are all aeroplanes made like this? The foundation we need is an intact frame-26. This not only mounts the front end of the sticky-up bit, it also picks up the tailwheel oleo. Now there’s an aeroplany word I’ve learned. Why on earth is it called an oleo? That’s the moisturiser my granny used to try to get rid of her wrinkles! Is it a proprietary name that went all generic like Hoover or Frizbee? Or is there another explanation?

We have four or five tailwheeleries, I’ve sort of lost count because they’re all partly rendered into bits now and the piles are growing.

They’ve all had their dip in the caustic, and then the molasses-emulating phosphoric cocktail. From there, Aerospace-Rob has ‘frightened’ them off the structure and Gillian has blasted them clean. Just a spot of de-riveting left to do and these bits will be ready to mend. Likewise with this lot – bagged and ready to be put away for the moment.

The rivets have been shifted from these parts so the next stage is choosing the best of a bad bunch and mending them. The ultimate aim is to start reattaching everything to the blackened and slightly wrecked-looking lump on the right. (Once it’s un-blackened and mended, that is.)

That oval slice of tinware is our best shot at a complete F-26. Look at the shape of it, though. It’s like a banana, which is why you can see another example to the left that isn’t. OK – so most of that one isn’t there but the triangular thing up the middle is nice and straight so as soon as Aerospace-Rob gets it all into bits you can see what is going to end up where.

Other successful recoveries include this wishbone arrangement.

Seized solid but removed intact, perhaps it too is named after some cosmetic preparation for the ladies, a ‘Clarins Linkage’ perhaps?…

But the icing on the cake is the actual olay thing. We got extremely lucky here because what happens when you crash your Baddacooda is that the forged steel fork that holds the tailwheel spangs off the end of the tube it’s bolted to never to be seen again. I say this because we have exactly one example and we have it because it fell into the sea. Goodness knows why but the story goes that some bloke, many years ago, rocked up at the FAAM with a tale of a chunk of Barra’ in the mud of an estuary and would they like him to pull it out? The story further tells of how his offer was met with little enthusiasm because anything from the sea must be utterly buggered. However, undaunted, the man pulled and tugged and salvaged this, amongst other things.

Being a diver of many years experience I know that the sea is a fickle mistress and she behaves in even more mysterious ways than God so anything is possible – then there’s the chemistry of the matter. Firstly, notice that someone has, for some reason, apparently threaded a tyre without a wheel onto the fork. Viewed a little more scientifically, the mag-alloy wheel has fizzed away and sacrificed itself and in so doing all the nearby ironmongery has been saved. And so, inside, and as a direct result, the shock absorber gubbins looks like this…

As the saying goes, don’t count your chickens until the fat metallurgist sings…

This is clearly the best example but just to be safe we’ve stashed a complete tailwheel thingamy under the bench. This being the opposite end of the scale and the most rotted of the bunch so we’re not chomping at the bitt to strip it down, but it’s all there in one form or another so it’s good for reference and if we do need any more parts we can dig them out where needed.

But the gloves are off now when it comes to building a complete and wholly original example for our pet Barra’. This is the top end of another Leg of Olay.

Here you see the upper end with the outer tube removed to reveal a bewildering array of rubber rings, spacers and riveted sleeves. We’re still not sure exactly how the thing works or what moves in which direction when you land the plane but all the bits in here were found to be in excellent order so they got themselves scrubbed up and rebuilt.

We had to swap out a few rotted rivets and the painfully slow and careful stripping of these long-seized assemblages makes neurosurgery appear hurried and slapdash but once it begins to go back together it looks the dog’s gonads.

We have also rebuilt the clamp that holds the leg of Olay to the Clarins Linkage. For reasons not even nearly obvious the lower half of this thing unclamps and swings out of the way. If we work out why we’ll be sure to let you know but in the meantime we’re just happy to have an original and working example.

Notice that the upper pair of bearing shells are cheap yellow brass and the lower ones are proper phosphor-bronze… wartime production, eh. But notice that all the nuts and bolts are salvaged originals too – you’re looking at an awful lot of work to reincarnate all these parts without breaking or losing anything so if the job takes a while you know why.

But persevere we did and with a final big push one fine Saturday we got it all built. The new wheel came from the stores at the FAAM, by the way.

And the best bit… not only is it all there and 100% original we also decanted some air into it from a diving bottle and it’s now sat fully charged happily to 400psi and not losing a drop – clever, eh. Took all afternoon to get it gas-tight, mind you, but it’s good to go now and it’s even in the original paint wherever possible. Good result, we reckoned.


See you next time…