Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three steps forward... One step BACK???

The project to bring Curtiss Robin NR59H out of retirement has gone well thus far.  Up until September 21, we were making good forward progress toward our goal of returning her back to the air.  Occasionally, we have had small setbacks, but mostly things are moving along nicely. 

That day, on Sept. 21, we finished mounting the engine up to the airframe.  Afterwards, the three of us, Lon, Randall, and I were under the fuselage sitting on the floor... we were half-way resting, but half-way looking things over to decide what our next steps would need to be.  Randall saw it first... and uttered those ugly words..... Uhhhh Ohhhhh! 

With the owner's schedule looming in, the last thing we need is a major set-back.  Of course... that would be living in fantasy land.  So when we ran across this rusted tube on the airframe, it was almost enough to discourage the whole plan.  Evidently, despite the best of care given by Joe Erale over the past forty-some years were not enough to combat the adverse environment of some years of neglect and outdoor storage on Long Island New York in the 1940's and 1950's.

Here's the ugly truth we (Randall) found...

Of course, this prompted a whole 2nd effort to go over the whole airframe again with a tiny ball-peen hammer to tap on all the tubes.  It is hard to be 100% certain, but we think this is the only tube with major rust.  Something has to be done.

It didn't look any better after cleaning off the paint.  But we decided that this might be a candidate for a patch repair.  We tried that first.   It turned out there was just too much rust in the tube to accept a proper weld bead.  The whole tube must come out!

In the old days, this might have been considered a routine field repair by the old school pilot-mechanics.  Of course, they were probably dealing with an airplane of much less value, so they might have just dove right in and not worried so much about cosmetics.  We, on the other hand, are dealing with an Iconic aircraft of significant historical value.  The pressure is on.

As an engineer, I have never liked schedules.  Now, as the business owner and leader of this project, I was faced with some tough decisions.  So, after some discussions with our team here and with my friend and expert airframe weld repair expert, Craig Gunder, I decided that we need to proceed on with assembly of the wings onto the airframe and then to go ahead with the first engine run before we tackle this tube replacement.  That way, we will have the opportunity to identify whether any other major difficulties may crop up with either the fuel system, engine, or the general assembly of the airframe.

So here we are on October 30.  The wings have been installed.  This Saturday we plan to pre-oil this old Challenger engine and fire it off for the first engine run since 1984.  We will then proceed to weigh, rig, and inspect the airplane as though for final inspection.  Once deemed ready, we'll Bring in expert weld repair GURU, Craig Gunder from Red Lion PA. Craig is the operator of Gunder Restoration and Design and has made quite a name for himself repairing and building frames for vintage airplanes. Quite a lot of parts will need to be removed or partially disassembled.  But we're confident that this can be done and and back together pretty quick.  Perhaps we'll be airborne by Mid November.

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