“Change is good” they say. I have always wondered who the hell “They” are. I guess “They” know what they are talking about. Change can be a beautiful thing or it can be soulless and ugly. The Stratford Corsair spent 37 years hanging out on the pole, becoming sort of like an Icon to the town and her population. Thanks to the elements and improper curatorial measures things changed. Now the pole sits empty. In a dark grey old metal building less than a mile away a team of men and women work to save the fragile egg shell. The Stratford Corsair’s future has changed. After 4 months of work the tail section has been removed from the plane. Yes the aluminum tapered cone that the tail wheel gear attached to, and the arrestor hook lived is no longer part of the plane. The profile of the Corsair has changed, for the better right now.
The tail section had been stripped down to a point that we could remove it safely from the airframe. Using a quasi “Genie” lift that fit perfectly under the tail, Mark K.and I adjusted and aligned the moveable bars to surround the tail section. Fast forward to Thursday the 1st and we had to re adjust everything all over again. Such is life. The process of freeing 10 bolts was finished. The drilling out of the triple row of rivets was almost done when we ran into a small snag. Hey this is the Stratford Corsair, snags are a way of life.
We found that we needed to remove the vertical stabilizer fillet from the tail /fuselage seam last week. It turns out that there was a triple row of raised rivets under the front lip of the fillet. They needed to be drilled out in order to free the tail. The fillet attaches to a frame, which in turn has the vertical stabilizer slipped over it. Many months ago when the vertical stab was removed we knew the inserts /cage nuts were bad and would need to be drilled out of this area. Once free the fillet would need to be disassembled in order to replace these inserts. After removal of the fillet it was found that there was serious corrosion all over the fillet and it would need to be cleaned.
The tail was rigged up and prepared to be removed as Rob and I drilled out the rivets. We had planned to make sure everything was free then loosen the tail up so Ed could join us later in the day to do the final pull. Best laid plans. As I yanked it pulled free then hung upon the last bolt. Dave Phipps and Mark K. were helping eye things along. So the whole bunch of us had to jockey and maneuver the till the tail finally broke free. It would have been dangerous to leave the section hanging free.
In order for wok to start on the tail section we needed to design and build a stand that would hold it at a working level. After combing the back of AREA 53 for some casters it occurred to me that we had a stand that would meet the requirements for our build. I spied a helicopter blade storage stand, and the blade holders which was made of wood was removable. I assigned Mark C. and Mark K. to make it work since this needed to be done quickly and accurately. Mark K. stripped down the stand and then I pulled him to help on another project so Mark C. ended up spending the last few work days getting the formers made, secured and painted. That afternoon we pulled the tail off the cart and placed it on the stand. A perfect fit.
This lead to our first “Nite Shift”. In the interest of getting more faces and hands on the project we have extended our hours on Thursday evenings till 8pm. For me that means a 12 hour day on site, but for other guys that means being able to participate 4-5 hours a week that was not possible before. It appears that working in the evening may be a little more productive than I first thought. Attending were Bob Bracci, Rich Jersey, Ed McGuiness, Dan K., Mark K and myself. Our efforts are being aimed at getting the tail section restored first. The horizontal stabilizers are a mess of corrosion and will require the skins to be removed.
During the After Hours meetup, Rich Jersey assessed the condition of the skins and made the decision to pull the starboard leading edge. Rich was part of the crew that restored the VS-44 Flying Boat at Sikorsky that is now in the New England Air Museum. I am relying heavily on his experiences and hands on work doing skinning work for this project.
Bob spent the evening taking the hardware off of the Stabilizer. Meanwhile Ed began stripping the tail section with his friend Dan. Mark K. spent the evening doing what he has become the grand master of, stripping paint.
Saturday morning, Rich was zapping out rivets before I had my first cup of coffee and by lunch time with my help removing the spot welds on the edges, the leading edge was removed. We found an array of trouble brewing inside the stabilizer. The corrosion is rampant all through the front half of most of the frames. I am assessing the corrosion control process to clean up the damage. Meanwhile Rich is beging to plan out the repairs / replacement of the skin.
It seems that Vought liked to spot weld things back in June of 1945. Why that date? Well we found stamps marked “Jun 9 1945” on the leading edge of every frame. There are rows of Longerons spot welded about every ¼ inch several rows deep and 6 or so feet long. This will be fun to replicate.
Ed spent the day in the cockpit removing control gear to make room for someone to lie down and start taking the 110 bolts free. Mark K. finished stripping the Port Stabilizer as well as helping Mark C. continue stripping the tail section. Due to the 1970 “restoration/refit” a lot of damage was covered over and added due to the work preformed. At this point we are assessing the need to re-skinning about 50% of the tail section.
As for myself, well I have been busy cleaning up the many small parts and trying to abate the constant corrosion we keep finding on them. Cleaning the vertical stabilizer fillet proved to be a somewhat fun task compared to other projects I have been helping with. First I mounted the fillet / frame into a bench vice with some creative blocks of wood. Then I proceeded to drill out every rivet along the port side. The starboard side had been drilled out while still on the plane. Then once everything was free I took a few photos of the parts for prosperity. In the media blasting room I loaded “Old Red” up with a bag of glass beads and proceeded to clean the corrosion out of the metal. The pitting was fairly deep in some areas but the glass beads made short work of the damage and soon I had a clean, almost new appearing frame and filet fairing. The next step was to use a combination of Red Scotch Brite pads and steel wool to clean the remaining ick out of the metal. This went by pretty quickly and I ended up with some pretty clean looking aluminum albeit with a few areas that were pitted a little deep. Now I have been taught that after bead blasting, the
Alcad surface protection is basically removed, and this protection helps fight surface corrosion. So after a cleaning with acetone and then Alodine, I gave each piece a squirt of primer in order to keep the corrosion at bay for a few more decades.
In the rear of the tail section sits a bracket that looks like some sort of strange torture device with holes and bolts from every direction. When mounted in the rear of the plane the bracket holds the Horizontal Stabilizers . In its native form it was a mix of Zinc Chromate and bare metal. After a session in the glass beads it look like it just came out of the forging mold. Since this piece connects with aluminum on a frame position it has been primed in order to keep the dissimilar metals separate.
Assessing the tail section we have found several alloy pieces that will need to be re machined or sourced. The first part in question is a small aluminum alloy block that looks like a small tuning fork. This part connects the main lower longeron of the tail section to the station at the end of the main fuselage. intergranular corrosion has destroyed most of one side, and it can be flexed between your fingers. . The fitting has 8 bolts that attach it and it is about the size of the palm of your hand. It is under constant stress and here is a case where we are lucky that something like this was caught before it failed, and the tail drooped off the plane.
The second part is one of the struts that the vertical stabilizer U horn attached to. This is again a block of alloy that is about 9in long and has disintegrated from intergranular corrosion. The real problem we encounter with these types of part is the simple lack of replacements. We will have to reverse engineer, produce CAD or Solid Works drawings and then have them machined at a fairly expensive rate.
Number three is a trunion that attaches to the back side of the horizontal stabilizer. This part matches the same one that holds the rudder onto the vertical stabilizer. Additionally there are several frames that may need to be hand formed or cut and patched.
So we now find the bulk of the crew now working in the main shop. This is quite a change from a week ago.