Above & Beyond: Wings? Frail. Engine? Weak. Fly? Let's.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, March 2008
(Page 2 of 4)
A few days later a truck pulled up in front of my rented hangar at Oceanside Airport and disgorged all the parts we had found in the basement that looked like they belonged on a Blériot. What was not found were assembly instructions. After comparing old photographs to the wires and parts at hand, it became generally apparent how the thing should go together.
Rigging information was also missing, so I tightened the flying wires to a tension that felt right to keep the wings attached. Building control-line model airplanes had educated me in the value of proper alignment.
An overhaul of the 85-horsepower Continental C85 engine was outside the budget, but cleaning and gapping the spark plugs and running it up sufficed. The engine sounded smooth enough despite the dismal compression readings.
The fabric appeared to have been compromised at the wing's leading edge. Rumor had it that the wings had once been stored against a hangar wall, with the leading edges down, and that the building had later been flooded. Water stains were clearly visible a foot back from the leading edge.
When the FAA inspector arrived, I picked a couple of areas well back from the stains to do the fabric punch tests. Twice the needle in the spring tension gauge eased up through the red and just entered the yellow before the fabric gave way and a little hole indicated the fabric’s failure point. Even the best of the linen was just barely strong enough to be certifiable.
The inspector asked me what the museum planned to do with a 12-month airworthiness certification. The airplane was technically—if marginally—airworthy, but one look at it made you wonder how wise it would be to fly it. I told him we planned three flights at the airshow and that I would be the only pilot. He told me to be careful and signed the certificate of airworthiness.
Once the Blériot had been disassembled, moved to Brown Field, and put back together, airshow preparations kept taking up the time I had hoped to use to get acquainted with the airplane. And so it was that the first time I clambered up to stand on the wooden seat with intent to fly was the first day of the airshow.
Fortunately, the Blériot controls matched the convention for stick and rudder; many early designs did not. The control stick was capped with a small wooden steering wheel The rudder was operated not by independent pedals but by a single bar that pivoted. The engine control was a knob on the left top longeron of the cockpit. The instrument panel held an oil pressure gauge and a tachometer. On the right was a pair of magneto switches.