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All and Nothing

After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese planned to strike the United States with aircraft borne by giant submarines. If it worked, the Atlantic fleet would be trapped.

McLean: Using photo-interpretive techniques, a profile was developed and made into cardboard templates. These templates were physically held up to the spinner base and the propeller hub temporarily mounted to the Seiran. We visually compared it to the photographs of the airplane, and we all agreed that it looked right. We then contracted to have a replacement spinner nose spun to those dimensions.

When we received a resin model kit of the Seiran and its highly detailed brochure, we saw factory drawings of entire subassemblies—the rear gun and how it moved, and the rear-seat articulation. Our volunteer, Hiroyuki Nagashima, remembered building this model and found us another kit and had it delivered to the United States by a friend who came here on a visit.

Nazzaro: The model kit was the first important data milestone. After that it was like a flower opening; more information began to flow. There were still many mysteries about the airplane: brackets that you could only guess the purpose of, or large empty areas surrounded by fabric snaps.

Karl Heinzel: [The wing] was beat up and covered in cosmolene.  The wooden wingtips were busted up and the sheet metal was bulged around where the spar was corroded.

Anne McCombs: One wing served as an example while the other was apart so we could always refer to it. It also had a lot of acorns in it, so obviously some squirrels had been in residence.

Heinzel: [Inside it] the interesting stuff was the drawings. A guy had written the alphabet in English with no letter L—there’s no equivalent Japanese sound for L. There were some cartoon mice, a really nice geisha, a car, and two airplanes, one apparently on fire.

McCombs: There were numbers on each rib that would say “aircraft 12, rib 4” or just “12/4”—it took us a while to figure out.

Heinzel: Bill Stevenson welded in some patches, and the weld won’t take unless the corrosion is completely gone, so you know that if the weld is okay, you removed all the corrosion.

Scott Wood: The original lens covers, the green and red lenses on the wingtip lights, were all busted up.  I had to make a wooden mold in the shape of the lenses, so I taped the red one together to use for a pattern. I didn’t have the right thickness of Plexiglas, so I wet-sanded it down to get the right thickness and then polished it. I took that finished piece and heated it, then shaped the heated plastic with hand seamers until it fit the wooden mold.

Heinzel: [During the corrosion cleanup] we had to build a box frame around the wing-stand assembly and cover it with plastic, then get inside and blast. So we’re working in protective suits inside this enclosure to contain the dust, and someone painted some fish on the outside, so it looked like an aquarium with a guy in a diving suit walking around inside it.

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