Archive 2015

The Elusive Zinc Chromate: Rebuilding Tsunamis Vertical Stabilizer

One could argue that The Tsunami Project is neither a restoration project nor a complete rebuild of the airframe. Like I’ve said before, from Tsunamis first flight in 1986 until her last in 1991, the aircraft had been modified many times over. Some of the modifications have been well documented, while others are a bit of a mystery.

After drilling apart most of the airframe in early 2010, the first surface we attempted to rebuild was the vertical stabilizer. What we found when we took it apart, looked similar to the one pictured above. When comparing it with the drawing bellow you can see immediately that it’s missing two of the ribs.

At the time I didn’t think much of it. I knew most of the history of the plane and one of Tsunamis biggest problems early on was that it was tail heavy and that it was overbuilt, so from what I could tell two of the ribs missing wasn’t a big deal and we continued rebuilding the surface the same way we took it apart.

Fast forward 5 years – I am going back over everything we built in 2010. Unlike before when we were rebuilding the aircraft the way we took it apart, now with more knowledge of the airplanes history and more experience restoring aircraft, I try to understand what they did and why they did it, then I decide if the part should stay modified or go back to the original design. For example, when going over the timeline of Tsunami I know they attempted to lighten the tail by removing some of the less critical parts, when that didn’t give them the desired result, they ended up moving the wing back nine inches in 1989 solving the center of gravity issue.

However they never went back into the tail to replace the parts they removed. Now I am finding out that they removed more parts than I previously thought and figuring out what those parts are is easier said then done. You might be say “couldn’t you just look at the plans and figure all this out?” and ideally yes you could, but not all of Tsunamis plans are detailed, the drawing I posted above is about the extent of the plans for the vertical. The other problem with the vertical is that unlike all the other parts on the plane, where they were built in a storage facility and were well documented with albums of photos, the vertical was built in Bruce Bolands garage and I only have two pictures, one of which you can see below. That being said, rebuilding the vertical is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in a dark room without all the pieces.

Which brings me to the elusive zinc chromate! If you look at the picture below you will notice the missing primer on the front spar, now if you look closely at the picture above and compare the two, you will notice the rivets are bucked the opposite way. This was the beginning of my “ah ha” moment.

We can clearly see that pieces are missing. By using these clues along with cross referencing the vertical spar with the drawings of the horizontal spar I was able to determine with a high probability what pieces were missing.

Although this is only one example of the challenges to rebuilding Tsunami, it is a big reminder of how lucky I am to have all these many resources available to me, because without the original tooling, plans, photo albums, magazine articles and the wealth of knowledge that receive from fans and Tsunamis old crew I would never be able to rebuild this airplane.

One Part At A Time

Rebuilding Tsunami is quite an undertaking. 90% of the aircraft is made up of hundreds of custom fabricated parts, 5% is off a P-51 Mustang with another 5% off various other production aircraft. Although we have the original plans and tooling of the aircraft, Tsunami was modified many times, and many of those modifications were never documented. The only real proof we have is balled up in the wreck and only a fraction of those parts were undamaged in the accident.

Whenever I open up the doors to Tsunami’s storage trailer I get filled with excitement, I tell myself this is the day I’m going to start fabricating parts again, then I begin sorting through the parts and my excitement slowly turns into anxiety and suddenly I am overwhelmed. I think to myself there is no way we can do this, we don’t have the right tools or equipment, we don’t have the proper facility to construct the project and we certainly don’t have the funds to even come close to completing the aircraft. I then shut the doors and say to myself one day the stars will align and everything will work itself out.

We all know that is never going to happen, nothing is ever handed to us and if Tsunami is ever going to get rebuilt we have to start somewhere. So last week I gained the courage to open up the doors to the trailer and pull out a few of the jigs. I then pulled out the tail section along several boxes of parts and over the course of the week I laid out the parts and tried to make sense of them. I read through the plans, looked through old photos of the original build and the photos we took years ago when we disassembled sections of the aircraft. I tried to come up with a game plan, but every plan brought me back to that all too familiar feeling of feeling overwhelmed. And then something happened, I walked into the shop a couple days ago, grabbed the first part I saw and built a new one. It was nothing major, but it was a start and one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve had in a long time.

I would love to tell everyone that the rebuild of Tsunami is back in full force, but this is not the case. All I can tell you is that we are going to take it one part at a time and see where it goes.