by Ed Buerckholtz

In the days of the great sailing vessels, the time immediately after departure was a busy one - getting stores in order, shaking down an unhandy crew, securing and repairing all that has carried away in the first storm - those tasks that kept everyone occupied, and more. Likewise, the ship's approach to its destination was an exciting time, with many preparations to be made and new experiences waiting ashore. The long months in between, the middle passage, however, was the time that most shaped the truly nautical mind. The most seasoned salts could be brought nearly to tears by the intrusion of days or weeks of calm, "in the doldrums", with the ship wallowing without way in an ever-widening collection of flotsam, jetsam and mire.

So it is with the restoration of our F-86H, 53-1250, by October 1992. We began well with the aft section and both wings completed, all actuators overhauled, and all damage and corrosion repaired. Our canopy (a complex assembly as it has to be operable electrically, manually and pyrotechnically, and it carries the cabin pressure control system as well) is well on its way to better-than-new, under the skilled hands of Larry Denning, a builder whose own aircraft became a Grand Champion at Oshkosh. A good start has been made on the fuselage with the gun and forward bays completed. But like the old mariners, we are "becalmed" by the loss of our central mechanic, and our search for a replacement, even in this time of aerospace unemployment, has produced only a motley and rag-tag assortment of "specialists". They are accustomed only to doing a rigidly defined subpart of a task. What we need is a restorer, an artiste!

Like the old sailor scratching a backstay or trying to "whistle up a wind," we, too, are plotting and scheming, trying to snare the right true restorer whose tribe unfortunately has decreased. Rumor and travellers' tales speak of a far land in which real F-86Hs bellowed no more than ten years ago, well IRANed, fitted with remote flight equipment and redesignated QF-86H; but all, alas, now gone to Davey Jones' locker. But the men who maintained and modified those Sabres - some of them are still there, living quietly in their high desert homes near Tom Wolfe's "ratshack plains of Olympus."

Now let it be clear that these mad monk mechanics reside in Lotus Land (whose secret name is CALIFORNIA!). If you are a novice in such matters, let me caution you: when the suggestion is made that a Lotuslander relocate, even temporarily, away from his area code (much less to the midwest, and still less likely, (ugh!) Missouri), the result is predictable: deafness; doctors' orders to remain in a warm, dry climate; children need day care; or his wife is terminally ill; a man's bowels upset by the very suggestion! So unless these objections are overcome by lucrative offers or we can somehow revive the press-gang tactics of Portsmouth, we are at a standstill.

Our difficulty has forced us to consider radical solutions. It is to raise the ante to where our man cannot afford not to come. But, this is expensive. Another is to move our project; bag, baggage and bandsaw; to the rat shack plains. This, too, is expensive. But it may come to that. At least there is a potential ally in Dan Sabovich, the manager of Mojave Airport. He is one of the few such officers who considers it his duty to further his clients' projects rather than frustrate them. Also, there are long runways, test ranges nearby, an FAA office with experience in this sort of thing, and, if a flight test deteriorates to the point of maybe or maybe not, there is that big, white friendly lake bed not so far away. Hmmm, maybe not a bad idea! But we have to do something. That is for certain.

Our middle passage; when will it pass? One day the end will be in sight, and, in the grip of "channel fever", we will (literally) be contracting for the services of a pilot. But today, that day seems far away.

As always, we are on the alert for F86H stuff. Call Ed or Bob at Spirit Fighters, Inc. at (314) 532-2707, or Fax us at (314) 532-1486.

(To Be Continued)

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

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