Diamonds in the Wreck
Riches to rags and back again: A 1928 mailplane is reborn.
- By Sam Goldberg
- Air & Space magazine, November 2003
(Page 2 of 2)
The reusable parts—all made of the alloy chromoly steel, durable enough to survive 5339’s prolonged exposure—included the cockpit entry steps, the wobble pump, and seat brackets. “If it wasn’t a structural part, we’d try to incorporate it into the airplane,” says team member James Love. Wood from the wreck has been salvaged and combined into new gussets and cross-strips.
When parts have had to be fabricated, the team has benefited from 600 schematics on microfiche preserved by former Boeing employee Harl Braken. Years of work have been saved by using a device called a water jet, which cuts metal plates with a 50,000-pounds-per-square-inch stream of water. Three years into the seven-year project, the cockpit and instrument panel, control systems, wing ribs and fittings, oil tank, engine mount, fuselage, and mahogany-accented cabins have been restored.
What’s left? “We have to construct the tail flying surfaces,” says Pemberton. “We have to do the final assembly and completion of all the wing panels, scratch-build the landing gear, and finish the sheet metal.”
Since Pemberton owns the manufacturer’s data plate and has technical drawings to prove 5339’s conformity to the original design, the Federal Aviation Administration will be able to classify the aircraft as a standard—not experimental or a replica—though that may be stretching things, suggests welder Ernie Buckler. “If you have the [data plate], you can put a new fuselage, new wings, new tail, new engine, new cockpit, new instruments,” he laughs, “and it’s still the same airplane.”