The Soplata Airplane Sanctuary
Of the 20 stray aircraft his father rescued, the author remembers that first bomber best.
- By Wally Soplata
- Air & Space magazine, November 2007
(Page 3 of 6)
“I just can’t believe it,” Dad grinned. “It’s like they made this plane to be hauled down the highway!” He showed me that all the major sections were bolted together in just the right places to allow damage-free disassembly. The forward fuselage could be unbolted in front of the wing, and the aft fuselage behind the wing. The outboard wings unbolted just beyond the engines, and even the engine nacelles unbolted slightly aft of the wing.
To Dad, the realization was like learning that the airplane would not be sacrificed to the gods. What he most hated about hauling airplanes was that some had to be cut to fit on the highway, and if a major section of the structure was cut, the airplane would be difficult to put back together and restore to flying condition.
Dad was still in mourning over his first Twin Mustang, the prototype XP-82. To haul it home, he destroyed the wing by cutting it with a torch—only later to discover bolts in a different part of the structure that would have made the torch job unnecessary. He was sick about it.
When he got his second Twin Mustang, he had learned his lesson and hauled it without any cutting. For every airplane that followed the XP-82, Dad studied the airframe carefully before deciding to cut anything.
Our quick study of the B-25 concluded, Dad went into General Patton mode and got all of us busy turning wrenches and screwdrivers. Usually I was the only one with him on trips for airplanes, but on this trip I appreciated having my sisters along; they proved to be a big help, especially Barb, who knew wrenches, sockets, and other tools by name, size, and use.
Dad would come to describe this first trip as “the easy load.” We removed all the small components— tail section, wing flaps, ailerons, landing gear doors and bomb bay doors—loaded them on the trailer, and took them home.
Dad had picked his words well: Nothing was easy after that. The first major disassembly we tackled was removing the outboard wings. From the outside, the wings looked relatively simple to remove, and Dad took just me to get them.
Along the top and bottom of the wing joint, a long row of bolts stuck into the wing, with their 9/16-inch heads protruding. Easy job, we thought. We got on top of the left outboard wing. Dad started on the first bolt, which turned without much difficulty, but that was it. It turned and turned and turned but didn’t even begin to come out. He put his socket on another bolt, and another, with the same result. “Don’t tell me they didn’t put self-holding nut plates inside the wing!” he exclaimed.