We’ve been in the silly season of late – all our staff have been holidaying so there’s been very little baddacoodering. It’s impacted the Bluebird effort too. First there was Richie’s little tank, which we were all delighted to see on its way to the show, then we’ve lost everyone one by one to natural summer attrition so we’re only just getting back into it so only a short diary this time and, to make matters worse, it’s more of the same. Apart from the happy ending, that is. Read on.

There’s still some progress to be seen.

It’s all too easy to forget how far some stuff has come unless you go back to the old pics, a good example being the tailplane skins.

They were pretty badly savaged and this is after the spars and ribs were mended so they look a little happier but we’ve steadily treated them a little here and a little there until last month we put the first one back for good on the upper surface.

That one was a bit of a cheat as you know because it wasn’t badly damaged and all we had to do was take the pain out of it before Lou, Gillian and Hayley stuck it back on.

The same one on the other side was pretty straightforward too and it’s amazing how well they fitted, all things considered. There’s been a lot of stretch removed from literally hundreds of parts and you’d expect that what’s left would add up to make lining up the skins problematic but, no, the rivets popped in good as gold on this side with no need at all for Mike’s ‘creative countersinking’.

And then the middle skins got mended too and underwent the final fit and check before the girls got stuck in with their rivets.

These skins were much more difficult, having been ripped in half and bits gone missing, but the technique is almost routine now. Weld and patch, die-grind and hammer, repair the cracks where inclusions were missed and the thing started to fall apart again, die-grind again, wheel into a nice soft crown over the repaired area to form a single homogenous sheet of tin then shrink it back to a delicious flat panel and ask the girls to apply rivets – works every time.

Those two panels are the very last where we can get onto the back of them to sort any riveting issues. The end panels were partially inaccessible on the inside but most of the void could be reached one way or another, but the two remaining inner ones will have to be installed entirely from the outside. It’s not a big deal but it’s fiddly.

Meanwhile, the other leading edge is coming along too. Our apprentice, Nugget, who is really called Tom, by the way, is doing brilliantly having landed a job mending real aeroplanes so we don’t see him as often as we’d like but he’s never very far away. That’s the worst of these youngsters – they keep wandering off to have a life!

This time we don’t want any filler or a German night-fighter colour scheme so the approach is different. We built the other side as it was done back in the day as one, very long section with lots of widgetry on the inside and then we got it painted but it’s actually made in two sections so this time we’re going to treat them as separate parts in the interests of manageability and see whether they come out looking more authentic. They will, there’s little doubt about it because we’re so much better at working the material nowadays.

Meanwhile, after months of experiment and effort, Aerospace-Rob finally succeeded in freeing a F-26 bulkhead and what a disappointment. Well, it’s not really, except that it’s the flimsiest piece of nondescript tin you ever held in your hands.

It began as a great, rigid conglomeration of parts that now fill two boxes and dismantling it has proven a real battle but we’re here at last with the common denominator for the whole tailwheelery assembly. Next we need to dip it in the stripping bath, blast it clean then get it annealed so it’ll play ball rather than behaving like a Rich Tea biscuit when we try to straighten it. It’ll need a graft or three but we have lots of spare material. By far the hardest part of building this is going to be remembering how the damn thing all goes back together.

Meanwile, the Barra’ Babes riveted furiously ahead of a landmark event and even Aerospace-Rob had an unusual afternoon of putting rivets in rather than taking them out. He doesn’t do that too often these days and with the imminent arrival of the rear fuselage he looks set to be taking out for ages yet.

We had hoped to have the entire upper surface skinned but despite our efforts it wasn’t to be…

Because, you see, we were to entertain a VIP and it was important that we made a good impression.

It seems that we’ve become something of a victim of own success where our main benefactor is concerned. We just hit metal, weld it back together, sort it out and rivet stuff back together, week in, week out. We’re maintenance free so our bosses from the FAAM just leave us to it.

Then the main man, Dave Morris called to say he was coming up for a look! We had to sweep the floor and everything!

At least that was our first thought but the floor wasn’t too accessible so instead we put his aeroplane together as far as we could…

Then we lugged it outside into the sunshine so he could have a better look while we cleaned the workshop up a little.

It seemed to get even bigger when we took it into the daylight. Notice the chunk of wing lying against the wall. That’s another piece we rescued only this year, completely legally, by the way.

The good news is that the work seems to be satisfactory and Dave liked it… The tail is largely complete now and it’s bloody huge. It arrived in small boxes or stacked on pallets with moss and mud oozing out of it so when it got clean and grew to eighteen feet across it became very impressive. There’s bits still unfinished – the portside leading edge, for example, and that bit on the top with no name that I’m assured is the shape of a Cornishman’s head. The covers for the catchitt’s are still in their crashed state and we have two small skins to stick onto the upper surface but safe to say there is a complete Barra’ tail in the world for the first time since 1959.

Next we’re doing the aft fuselage, it’ll be arriving soon and it’s made of much heavier material, which is a massive advantage, and there’s half a ton of spares with it. We really did scrape the bottom of the barrel with the tail but there’s masses of fuselage so we’re hoping for an easier ride with that.

 

Back soon…