Bill Dinghly. 90 years old. 25 years at heart and soul. Professional aircraft metal worker. Every rare now and then you get a chance to have amazing people come into your life. I have been blessed by breaking that rule on frequent occasions.
Bill works 3 days a week at the Connecticut Air and Space Center. He has never been married, well as he says “I’m only married on the weekends” . Bill is the original smooth operator. I would have loved to have cruised around Naval Air Station Patuxent River with Bill back when he was my age. See as well as being Chance Vought alumni, working on the Corsair assembling center sections, he also worked on the Vought XF5U, the Flying Pancake and the Cutlass! He moved later in life down to Patuxent MD, living in Lexington Park to work on aircraft.
In the modern era, he can be found cruising the Fairfield area in his 65 Tempest. But back in the day he had Packards and Hupmobiles. He bragged about running his Packard up to a hundred, “back when you could do that” His only rule is, “If it’s raining, I don’t drive the Pontiac”, then we wont see him at AREA 53 because he really doesn’t drive the Tempest in the rain.
A guy like Bill is a wealth of stories and he has a new one every day. Today he recalled a tale about a Martin Mars down at Patuxent. He had just crossed the hanger under the back of the big seaplane, which was idling. As he closed the door and exited the hanger, someone in the cockpit bumped a switch and dropped a drop tank full of AV gas. The hanger was engulfed in flames in a matter of seconds. Did I mention Bill is 90. I’m sure he has used up a few of his 9 lives with stunts like that.
This isn’t a history of Bill Dinghly by any means, but un belying his quiet meek demeanor and skinny frame is a personality that is larger than the Corsair he is working under. It is an unseen force that ebbs around him like the “force”
This morning Bill returned with the tailcone from the Corsair. He has a metal working area in his garage and can better fix small stuff there. While it was dinged in pretty hard, the corrosion from the bird poop had caused the worse damage. Now it was sufficiently cleaned and dent hammered out, a new patch over the poop rotted hole.. He used 3M Scotch Weld to fill in the remainder of the damage from the corrosion after applying a small patch. All in all it looked pretty darned good and when the final coat of primer and paint go on it will be fine.
We are stuck with a bit of a dilemma. Damage done to the tail section back in El Salvador has never been addressed properly. A gallant attempt at fairing the tail off was made in 1971. The reality is most of the rear section of the tail is missing and what is left was chewed up pretty bad and punctured by a forklift. The copy tailcone that was on the plane, that we repaired looks good and really from 10 feet away and the uniformed would never know the difference.
We will be repairing or replacing as much as possible to correct the length and shape of the tail section. To make it correct and perfect, We would need a replacement cone. If anyone out here has good drawings / patterns of the tail from the horizontal stabilizers back, we could really use a copy. The tail section is a F4U-4, not a FG1-D. We have parts books and assembly guides but no blueprints to speak of. If anyone reading this has an old tailcone that is sitting behind the shop or maybe even a slightly damaged but rework able section, well please contact me? We are Non Profit. Let’s talk.
As for myself today, I was burning on 3 hours sleep. I had to rund south the day before and ended up driving to Cape May and Back to handle some business. Moral of the story is, I was tired, I got up late but still was at the shop close to on time. As a volunteer I hold myself accountable to being there early, working safely, getting work done and offering my 2 cents when I think it’s appropriate. I try to take the commitment seriously.
As for the body count, I managed to remove the elevator gusset on the starboard wind and boy what a mess. Nothing on this plane surprises me. Years of neglect have made themselves seen to many times in the past few weeks. After attaching a brace and safety tie off on the horizontal stabilizer, I did manage to break 4 nuts loose. The top “kingpin at the leading edge is proving to be a real pain in the neck to remove, but we will see.
The best part of the day after leaving was spotting a huge tail accross the street at Sikorsky Memorial Airport. It was hidden buy the old 20’s era General Avaition hangers. As I feft I commented to Charlie Vesterman that IU was going to get a better look. Imagine my suprise when I saw this big beautiful bird, a Grumman Mallard.