The strange things restorers find in old aircraft.
- By Bettina H. Chavanne
- Air & Space magazine, May 2008
(Page 3 of 4)
Nazzaro believes the artifacts in the Seiran provide clues to the mood prevailing in wartime Japan. The material the restorers discovered, he says, shows "their urgency, how really desperate they were to get this flying. It speaks to the level of quality in their factories."
Mysteries remain. One of the forms had a handwritten note on it, which translates to "Yesterday's thought. Today's thought. There is no difference." Is that a sign of dedication and focus, or of demoralizing boredom?
Details That Don't Fit
And then there are the finds that no one can account for.
Beneath the pilot's seat of an elderly glider, a Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross built in 1933, restorers found a linen handkerchief, delicately embroidered with flowers. Says Bob McLean: "It looks like something a wealthy person would have carried with them—but that's just my impression."
The American-made Albatross, named Falcon, had been donated to the Smithsonian in 1935 by the widow of Warren E. Eaton, who had flown SPAD XIII fighters in the 103rd Aero Squadron in France during World War I. After the war, Eaton founded the Soaring Society of America. Could the embroidered handkerchief have been given to him by a beloved family member, or by the object of his affections? At some point had a woman flown the glider? It's fun to imagine the possibilities.
A small medallion—discovered tightly crumpled around a screw in a World War II British Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC fighter—also ended up teasing the restorers with possible storylines. Museum Specialist Will Lee, who found the medal while working on the Hawker restoration, took the time to straighten it out, make it recognizable, and do some investigating. "It's actually a watch fob," says Lee. In the course of researching the item, Lee learned the meaning of the medallion's icons: "The anchor symbol means it was made in Birmingham, England. The lion indicates that it's made of silver, and the letter corresponds to a date—in this case, 1915." But who had owned the medallion? A pilot? A maintainer? A person of wealth? And why was it wrapped around a screw?
Whoever the medallion's owner was, he may have had a sweet tooth: While working on the Hurricane, Garber employees also found a vintage candy bar wrapper.
The handkerchief from the Albatross and the pencil from the Sparrowhawk were both catalogued and attached to the aircraft's collections by their curators. Not all items discovered during the restoration process are classified this way. "It really depends on the mood of the curator," says McLean, "whether he has time to process the item and whether he even knows about it."