Monday, April 27, 2015

Wonders of Wicker and Workmanship

    For those who cling to the bygone days of the early aviation, there is a sense of wonder regarding the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells that embody the spirit of old airplanes.  Sometimes it's wondering... whether or not this old thing will start, or quit, or leak, or even fly.  Or we may wonder... why did they make it this way?  or... how did they accomplish such perfection with the basic materials and manufacturing technologies they had back in the day?  And then, sometimes we are faced with wondering... should or shouldn't we update this design... will this or that afford us the level of safety we desire?  Such are the dilemmas one must face in dealing with old airplanes.

   Perhaps these questions are a large part of the adventure and mystique of vintage airplanes.  Looking back, we find that somehow through all these questions, these old birds have endured through time and are still here after many people have come and gone.  We must realize it is out of duty and respect to those who came before us/who created and maintained these wonderful flying machines that we are called to do our best to "Keep the Antiques Flying" (as is the motto of the Antique Airplane Association). It is therefore necessary to study the details found all throughout the machine so that we form an appreciation for their simplicity, practicality, and fine workmanship.  It is in this way that we might establish for ourselves, the same or higher standards in homage to these great machines.

   And so, for this posting, I wanted to share some of the "wonder"ful things that we have noticed while working on the St. Louis Robin over the past few months.

8-day Time-Piece by Waltham

 About the Waltham Watch....
 - We wonder... was this the actual time piece used for the endurance flight in 1929?
 - Wonder how many times they wound it over the 17 day endurance flight?
 - Wonder who climbed out on the catwalk to do the winding job? (its on the backside of the unit).
 - We wonder... did they pay attention to alignment of all the screw slots horizontally?  Well... the prior restorers (the Erale's) certainly did.  And so any screw that isn't in alignment, really stands out!
 - We did find from the watch repair folks who replaced the mainspring that this watch is indeed from the correct time period.


Cowling fastener - requires a quarter turn
About the cowling fasteners... These things are really cool!
 - Wonder if they ever got the patent?
 - Wonder why such a simple/effective design isn't still in use today.
 - Wonder which other Curtiss Airplanes used them.... Thrush? Fledgling? KingBird? Condor?


Perhaps one of the most essential pieces of equipment in the airplane, the pilot seat is often taken for granted. As is the case with many airplanes of the 1920s, typical airplane seats were made from bamboo and wicker.  On this Robin, the prior restoration in 1976 included a pilot new seat made from a rattan (similar to bamboo) frame with wicker cane weave for the seat and back.  What a beautiful job done by Mr. Erale in building this seat. Although it was authentic and very cool, the old seat was just not practical for the future plans of this airplane. The problem.... after 39 years, the frame was beginning to crack in its weak joints, especially at the side b races which keep the back upright.  This was quite concerning to us from a safety standpoint.  You could just imagine the back collapsing on takeoff which would likely have catastrophic consequences. So....

 - We were beginning to wonder if this thing might break down in flight???
 - We wondered, is there a way to repair it?
 - We wondered... Why didn't the Aero Bulletin 7A have any better strength requirements.
 - We decided.... whatever happens, this seat must be strong.

A TEMPORARY solution was to weld up a steel tube frame to be laced onto the existing seat for reinforcement.  This enabled us to proceed with short test flights while awaiting a more practical permanent solution.  The repair was done in such a way that it might not be difficult to remove the reinforcements, so as to allow the seat to be retained for future display of authenticity in the plane if desired.

Starting the process of lacing on the steel reinforcement.

Steel reinforcement almost done, laced on with rawhide.

We decided to have our ace fabricator, Lon Carr, build us up a new welded 4130 steel seat frame.  Since we were making it all new, the airplane owner requested a change to allow fore and aft adjustment..  We also were able to eliminate the uncomfortable side braces to make the new seat more comfortable for long flights.  The new frame was essentially a copy of a steel frame seat used in another Curtiss Robin, NR82H.

New adjustable steel frame to replace the existing rattan frame seat.

New steel seat frame woven with fiber rush cord.

The fiber rush cord is a practical alternative to wicker cane material.

The weaving job was expertly completed by Lisa Perry, of  Wicker Revival.

  We now have a couple of flights using the new seat.  It is certainly more comfortable than the prior one. And though its not original, I think it is a good compromise between practicality, safety and authenticity. 


1 comment:

  1. Clarine "Skipp" AndresenMay 18, 2015 at 11:34 PM

    I have a description of the original instrument panel and there is no mention of a clock; they list the tachometer, oil pressure gauge, temperature gauge, altimeter, air-speed indicator, the rate of climb indicator, and the bank and turn indicator.


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