What gives the restored warbirds of the Flying Heritage Collection their sparkle?
- By Peter Garrison
- Air & Space magazine, November 2004
(Page 4 of 5)
Each part, including those that disappear into the unvisited recesses of structure, must have a quality controller's inspection stamp identical to the ones used at the original factory. "There's no such thing as 'They'll never see it,' " says WestPac's soft-spoken president, Bill Klaers. Restorers use parts and equipment that are identical to the ones originally used; even though many versions of an accessory would fit and function in the airplane, only the one with which it was originally produced is acceptable.
Getting the Flying Heritage Collection work "was a dream come true," says Klaers. "All restorers say that they wish a customer had the money to do a restoration back to original specs—the final 10 percent," he says. "After doing one, I realize that I never knew how difficult that final 10 percent would be…It's changed my idea of restoration…Now I'd never go back."
The collection's Republic P-47 Thunderbolt is under restoration at WestPac; the FG-1D Corsair is next in line, and the Lockheed P-38J after that. Other treasures, which include a rare CASA 2.111D bomber (a Spanish-built Heinkel He 111H) and a Yakovlev Yak-3U fighter are in storage in Arlington, their restorations not yet scheduled.
WestPac had to relearn old techniques, like the spot-welding of heat-treatable aircraft alloys, because although the same effect could be had today by riveting, that's not how it was originally done. The spot-welding in the Mustang—the "doghouse" containing the radiator ducting consisted of three large spot-welded subassemblies—was, says Klaers, "the most cost-ineffective thing on the airplane." But it was worth it. His clientele has expanded, he says, to include "collectors who want to take advantage of this costly educational experience."
JME Aviation is restoring the collection's Fw 190 as well as its Me 262. Fw 190s were the best of the Axis propeller fighters, and are rare today; about two dozen airframes, or portions of them, are known. No flying example of reasonable authenticity exists.
The collection's Fw 190 came from Russia, where it had lain for decades, upright and relatively undamaged, in a remote forest east of Leningrad (St. Petersburg today). What was an airplane doing deep in a forest? The answer, deduced from the damage to the leading edges of the wings, was that it had crashed among poplar saplings only a few feet tall. The forest had grown up around it.
Flash back to July 19, 1943. Two Fw 190s were attacking a Russian supply train bound for Leningrad when the engine of one quit. The pilot, Sergeant Paul Rätz, glided to a safe landing. He left his flying cap on the seat but took the airplane's panel clock with him. Trying to make his way back to German lines, he was captured a few miles away and remained imprisoned in Russia for 16 years before finally returning to Germany. In 1988, a collector found the Focke-Wulf where Rätz had left it, his helmet still resting on the seat. Rätz died in 1989, never having learned that his airplane had been recovered. But his family did—and, it turns out, they still have the clock.
A Vintage Wings technician dismantling the 190's BMW 801 engine found a clod of dirt in an oil line downstream from the oil filter. This had evidently been the reason for the forced landing: Lack of lubrication had caused an internal shaft to overheat and fail, disabling the fuel and oil pumps. But how had the dirt—not engine dirt, but soil, earth—gotten there? Says Jeff Thomas, "BMW's policy on major engine maintenance was to insist that the whole 'power egg'—the engine and all of its plumbing and equipment and mounting hardware—just be taken off and sent back to the factory rather than repaired in the field." As a result, all engine assembly was done in Germany, some of it by slave laborers. The theory is that one of those laborers had packed dirt into the oil line to sabotage the engine, the engine had then been shipped to Russia and installed on the airplane at the front, and within a few minutes after takeoff the defiant act of the distant and anonymous captive had done its work.