When one is recruiting technicians for a jet warbird rebuild, the individual who answers often turns out to be: (a) very excited, but inexperienced; (b) "experIenced", but not entirely truthful, or (c) the kind of person who has worked on everything all over the world but who is currently installing seamless gutters from the back of his truck. So when one finds a real artist, one tends to overlook some peculiarities.
I say this so you will understand that when I found two of our techs laughing hysterically at 10a.m. one morning, I next went looking for beer cans! The truth was worse. We came very close to providing the raw material for enough beer containers to hold "a thousand pints of Lite". While hoisting our J73-GE-3 jet engine from its temporary aircraft jacks, the boom's support cable parted. Fortunately, our engine was only an inch in the air, and it had descended firmly. Another inch or two and we may have been calling a scrap dealer while wondering what to tell our banker. Just another day in the restoration business!
I have become accustomed to speaking with some offbeat warbird restorers who say, when they face a problem, that it's "No problem. We'll just bring it up from billet". Soon we got to this unenviable pass. When North American wanted to seal the gap between the retracted flap and the top of the wing, they assigned this task to an engineer I would like to meet, though not in a dark alley. This worthy individual decided this required a complex extrusion of fine magnesium, unnecessary though this may seem to we who know less. This precious object was then milled by a machinist and installed with 344 rivets requiring disassembly of the rear wing structure to remove. In time these seals corroded (as magnesium will), and when our Sabre arrived, they were good only as blades for the world's longest cheese cutter. But, we were lucky. It required a search of only two months to find John Patton, a machinist, who could mill replacements, but this time from a hard grade of aluminum. We now have an extra set, so I have a valuable chip when bargaining with recalcitrant warbird restorers who are hankering for an F-86H restoration of their own!
Another amusing feature of the restoration experience is our "easter egg" hunt for parts. We were fortunate that Professor Jim Froemming and the folks at the college (see Part One in Volume 1 Number 3) protected this airplane from vandals and souvenir hunters, but when the government demilitarized the bird earlier in 1970, the team must have had one collective hot date because they removed not only everything dangerous or classified, but they also did it with the fewest twists of the wrist, taking the wheat with the chaff. As a result, we are searching for things that were never in any way hazardous or secret.
Trying to replace rare items allows us to meet some interesting characters in the restoration world. The first is the puck nut. This is the person that has it but will not sell it, even though he has no use for it, now or in the future. This fellow has no rational justification for his position and needs none. He has the goods. Price escalation is useless; his choice is to barter. A B-25 turret drive for anew canopy? Voilal Friends for life!
Another distinctive character is the big dealer. This person has no time for a small transaction. A canopy seal? It would take more time to find than it is worth. Usually these people have computer inventory systems. I believe the reason for their reluctance is that they hope to sell their stuff to some government some day at gold plated prices. Needless to say, antiquarian sentiment is not in their makeup. The solution is through an intermediary - a mutual friend who can make the request on a more personal basis. Rainmakers have helped many desperate restorers. May their tribe increase!
Another thorn in the rebuilder's side is the ice cream parlor syndrome, referring to the Sacramento Sabre overrun accident years ago which nearly sabotaged the jet restoration movement forever. This mindset is found anywhere. It pervades the original manufacturers, espcially if they have been through a merger or three. Their position is that any assistance, let alone a sale to a restorer, opens the door, however slight, for a disastrous legal judgment. After talking with these people, I am left with a mental picture of a small, haggard wretch in deep mourning, entombed in a basement office under a cloud, while in the distance the Voice of Doom intones the dreaded phrase, "Jointly and severally liable". There is not much one can do about the ice cream pador syndrome. it would help if the safety record of our jet warbird movement improved. The military can wreck jets; it usually occurs in deserts, at sea, or at military airfields in grubby spots far from public observation. Further, it is usually held necessary for the national defense. But when civilians crash a jet, it is often at public displays. Sometimes they take a journalist into the smoking hole. Be that as it may, nobody will ever forget the Sacramento disaster.
The work on our F-86H is progressing nicely. The aft section looks new, thanks to Leroy Keener. The wings will be finished, as will the wheels and brakes, by the time this is published. The forward fuselage bays are done as are tail feathers. Would you believe we need 256 new brake pucks?! Still waiting are the cockpit and main hydraulics bay, the main gear wells and the engine's inspection. With only 180 hours on it, our J73 looks good. We have a specialist to plan our avionics setup. We will make it a good one with modern gyros, possibly ERS, GPS nav and all the necessary hardware. Can anybody locate a HUD projector? Please let us know.
Another item readers could help with is the weapons bay display we want to complete on the right side. We hope to remove the gun bay panel and have everything visible. The bay is done, but we need M-39 cannons, the adaptor kit and the ammo feed drives. Needless to say, the weapons will be inoperable, but we want them to look accurate. Present plans call for a conformal smoke tank in the left gun bay. Baggage space may be located in the ammo lockers or the external stores. Does anyone have a Mk 12 nuclear device training shape? Golf clubs would be better than megadeaths - titanium instead of plutonium!
Once again we appeal to the kindness of strangers: send us your tired, unwanted F-86H stuff. We'll buy, we'll trade, we'll even get you published in Sabre Jet Classics! We still don't have a canopy seal, but we do have six extra F-86H nosewheel tires. We are hurting for inititors and catapults for our canopy and seat, but we have lots of corporate jet parts; Sabreliner, Falcon and the like. We even have a pair of F-86H flapgap seals - new manufacture! For you, a special deal! We are always online and interested in talking with Sabre folks. Please call us at Spint Fighters at (314) 532-2707, or FAX (314) 532-1486
(To Be Continued)
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