Bring Back the Brute
A GeeBee racer in flyable condition? Don’t do it.
- By ROBERT BERNIER
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
NASM (SI 77-11856)
(Page 2 of 2)
Another challenge was the lack of a large oven to soften plastic for the canopy. Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Vito Altieri came up with a low-tech solution. He placed a plywood mold of the canopy into a modified 55-gallon steel drum and put a flat sheet of plastic atop the mold with weights along two edges. Altieri sealed off the open end of the steel drum and inserted a heat gun into a lid opening. When he turned on the gun, the 400-degree air softened the plastic, and the weights and gravity did the rest.
Visitors touring the Gee Bee construction project wondered why the volunteers put so much effort into making the reproduction airworthy if the museum had no intention of flying it. The volunteers believe no job is worth doing unless it’s done right. Said Allan Palmer, “If you’re not building the airplane using original plans, materials, and techniques, you’re building a coffee-table ornament.”
By the spring of 2007, most of the construction work was completed and the racer was moved to the hangar annex to be painted. The volunteers, most of whom were in their 80s and 90s and were veterans of museum restorations and reproductions, including the Spirit of St. Louis twice, milled about the space the airplane once occupied, impatient for another job. We’ve got a few more years of work on a reproduction of a Boeing P-26 Peashooter, restoring a Vought F4U Corsair, and dealing with wood rot on a Wright Flyer reproduction.Robert Bernier, a former Navy pilot, flies for American Airlines.