AOPA Pilot Magazine
February 2002 Volume 45 / Number 2
AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes: We Have Wings!
They don't build airplanes like they used to
No wonder they don't "build 'em like they used to." Parts counts and labor costs in our 1940 Waco UPF-7 are prohibitive by today's standards. The wings may be the most labor-intensive portion of the restoration of your Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes airplane, but there is strong competition for that title from all other parts of the aircraft. Restoration is in progress at Rare Aircraft in Owatonna, Minnesota.
The original wings were more than 60 years old, so the restoration team decided to build all new ones. Our Waco's wings were framed before AOPA bought the project, but they are not yet covered. Wing builder Mike Redman, son of Rare Aircraft owner Roy Redman, remembers them as a nightmare of compound wooden curves that nearly drove him out of his mind.
The ugly truth
There are nearly 15,000 parts in our Waco's $30,000 wings — counting fasteners. It takes 800 hours of labor to assemble them. Mike Redman didn't just build the wings — he created the tooling to make the individual parts as well.
He needed 17 jigs, and each one took eight hours to make. A jig is a flat board with blocks to hold in place the spruce wood sticks that make up the part. The parts are then glued, stapled, or nailed together. (In many respects, restoration of these antiques is similar to building a radio-controlled model airplane.) Once the jigs were done, each wing rib took two hours to assemble. There are 12,500 stainless-steel staples in the entire rib set, and each one was positioned by hand.
While many of the parts are similar, they can't be mass-produced. For example, there are 10 wooden wing spars reinforced with 69 plywood plates that require 162 different bevels. (When Redman refers to plywood, he means furniture-quality mahogany plywood that costs $210 for a 4-by-8-foot sheet.) A bevel is a small square piece of wood with a hand-cut 6-degree angle on top and a 4-degree angle on the bottom. The bevels must conform to 162 different sizes and are hand-drilled with 194 holes.
You're getting the picture by now. There are 28 wing ribs of nine different sizes on the top wing. There are 22 ribs in 13 sizes on the bottom wing. The wingwalk, used by the pilot and passenger to enter the two cockpits, requires 30 separate reinforcement pieces that must be added to the wing.
The rounded wing tips, known as the tip bows, were the real headache. They required forming a compound curve (a three-dimensional shape) out of the mahogany plywood. That effort challenged the sanity of Redman and his fellow craftsmen.
"The wings we did are far and above what Waco did," Redman said. "[The Waco factory] did not use steam-forming to make the parts. They did a lot of really crude stuff."
Despite the frustration, Redman is a great fan of this and other Waco aircraft, and has served as a test pilot for his dad's company. "It's the only way to fly," he said, referring to the open cockpit. He enjoys the smell of the grass wafting up from the ground and flying over Main Street of any small town to wave at the folks below. He is a former commuter airline pilot with thousands of hours, but he still prefers an antique aircraft to anything built in the past four decades. His enjoyment is tinged with respectful caution, and he approaches the UPF-7 warily when the crosswinds blow.
"You can't fly it like a modern airplane. It was designed in an era when there were no runways, just an open field and a windsock. You could always land into the wind. It can be flown well if people remember what era it was designed to fly in," Redman said.
Tracing it back to the tree
Somewhere east of Sitka, Alaska, there is a Sitka spruce that wants to fly: The lumbermill will determine if it has the right stuff. Wooden aircraft are commonly made of high-grain Sitka spruce (grain refers to tree rings; more tree rings mean greater strength), which grow to heights of 260 feet in Alaska and.300 feet on Vancouver Island, Canada.
Rare Aircraft buys its Sitka spruce from Wicks Aircraft Supply in Highland, Illinois, 30 miles east of St. Louis. Wicks is an interesting story in itself. The company was originally formed in 1904 to make wooden organ pipes and still does. Located across the street from the organ pipe division, Wicks Aircraft Supply has provided most of the aircraft fittings and wood for the AOPA Waco. Wicks official Don Deiters has overseen the quality of spruce sold by his company for 29 years. "While the military specification for spruce is six grains per inch, most of what we buy is 10 or 12 grains," Deiters said. "There can be no defects other than small pin-size knots," he added.
Wicks, in turn, buys its spruce from Fred Tebb and Sons, a lumbermill near the docks of Tacoma, Washington. Mill official Craig Leverson said he sells 12- to 14-million board feet of spruce a year, but only 150,000 board feet go for aircraft uses. The rest go to music companies making soundboards for pianos and guitars, and to other high-quality, nonaviation uses. Only 2 percent of all the spruce purchased is of aircraft quality, he said. Officials from Fred Tebb and Sons go to Alaska and western Canada to select the logs for purchase. The wood is graded three times at the mill as the grain becomes more exposed during processing.
Fuselage is ready
The bare-bones steel-tube fuselage, like the wings, was also reconditioned prior to AOPA's purchase. (It is currently stripped of fittings and components except for the control stick.) Jeremy Redman, another of Roy Redman's sons and the company's project director, said the fuselage cage received a thorough inspection in accordance with FAA standards. The logbooks indicate that there was no damage history since the UPF�7 left the factory in Troy, Ohio. Despite 60 years of use, there was no corrosion and only a slight dent in the lower longeron (a tube that runs from the front of the fuselage to the back). The aircraft may have fallen off a jack while the tailwheel was replaced sometime during the past six decades, Jeremy Redman surmises.
Once the tubes and welds were inspected, the bent longeron was patched. The entire fuselage cage was then sandblasted and covered with a two-part epoxy coating from Viking Paints in Minneapolis, an hour's drive to the north. The black coating was originally developed to paint the hot sections of Allison turbine engines.
Other work completed before AOPA came to Minnesota included rebuilding the landing-gear legs. Cleveland wheels and brakes from Parker-Hannifin Aerospace in Avon, Ohio, will be used. The Waco originally came with Hayes brakes that were "grabby," Redman said. "Where possible, we try to benefit from newer technology and not be foolishly original," he said.
Other work completed to date includes reconditioning a network of bushings in the control-stick assembly. The tubing for the tail surfaces has been reconditioned and is await-ing covering. Finally, brackets and fittings will receive a silver cadmium plating.
The steps ahead
There are basically four steps to completing our Waco UPF�7 trainer. Step one calls for wood to be added to the steel-tube fuselage. That allows the installation of stringers that will be used as mounting for the aircraft's fabric covering.
The next step is preassembly of the uncovered aircraft. The craftsmen at Rare Aircraft want to be sure all the pieces fit before the airplane is covered. Once assembled, it will look like a skeleton airplane.
The third step is to cover the airplane with Ceconite material, but this phase of work includes major interior work as well. Plumbing for the instruments will be installed, the engine will be hung on the airframe, avionics will be installed, and the aircraft will be painted.
The final step is to assemble the completed airplane. Fuel tanks will be hooked up, electrical wiring will be completed, and control cables will be attached and adjusted. All that will remain then is a test flight and minor adjustments.
Meet Rare Aircraft
Rare Aircraft began as a hobby following Roy Redman's career as an airline pilot with Northwest Airlines. Today the company comprises a unique blend of skilled craftsmen who, as you will see, have some unusual talents — far beyond those needed for aircraft restoration.
Redman, 70, got into restoration while still an airline pilot. He restored a Stinson Reliant and covered some Stearman wings for a friend. After retirement he got a commission to restore a Waco and hired his first employee — Tom Novak. Rare Aircraft was born and continued to flourish. "One Waco begat another," Redman explains.
Novak, 59, had rebuilt wrecked airplanes for 25 years (50 airplanes in all) in Waseca, Minnesota, and built a Glasair for a Northwest Airlines pilot. That pilot brought Novak to Redman's attention. Novak jokes that he "runs the tin business," meaning that he fabricates aluminum bulkheads, seats, and outside panels. He is a certificated pilot.
Dan Pfleger, 30, answered Redman's ad for a wood craftsman because he had experience in making high-quality custom cabinets; what impressed Redman was that Pfleger also built model airplanes in his spare time — as he had done since youth. "I brought in some of the radio-controlled planes that I built and was hired to work in the wood shop, but I have also done metal work, welding, and painting. There is a lot of similarity between radio-controlled models and the real thing," Pfleger said. He is a student pilot.
Brian Mechura, 23, is trained in welding and metal fabrication, and primarily works on fuselages and steel structures. He is a specialist in cluster welding, or welding at a point in the fuselage where several tubes come together. Outside of work he enjoys snowmobiling and off-road truck racing. Mechura is not the only Rare Aircraft employee to have unusual outside interests, however.
Daycleth "Doc" Walker, 57, has recently joined Rare Aircraft and specializes in fabric covering, painting, welding, and wing building following a career as an orchestra leader at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, middle school. He was getting paid for aircraft restoration even during his music career. He admits to missing the 135 kids who made up his orchestra, and he hopes to form a new jazz group and perform publicly as he did before he left Iowa. A jazz pianist and bass player, he has served as a contract musician with Doc Severinsen, Mel Torme, and Henry Mancini. He owns and flies an Aeronca Champ and is building a Waco F-2 for himself.
Ben Redman, 23, and one of Redman's sons, is chief of maintenance for Rare Aircraft and for the FBO his father purchased in Owatonna, Minnesota. Mechanically gifted, he organizes and coordinates repairs on American Champion and Waco tailwheel aircraft, and does general maintenance for transient pilots visiting the airport. His father, in addition to owning Rare Aircraft and the Owatonna FBO, is an American Champion dealer. Ben Redman has learned through training and by hanging around his father's workshop since childhood.
Jeremy Redman, 28, another of Redman's sons, runs the restoration shop. His career began in computer technical support at a large corporation, but he has helped his dad at Rare Aircraft since its inception. He was sitting in his computer-tech cubicle one day staring at a picture of a biplane when he decided he would be happier working on antique aircraft. His skills include fabric work, sheet-metal forming, leather installation, and electrical wiring. Like Ben, he was taught to fly in a tailwheel airplane by his father and now has 100 total hours. He was a Shakespearian actor in college, playing a duke in King Lear and still retains an interest in acting.
Rare Aircraft's team has more than enough skill to restore a sweepstakes airplane you'll want to fly.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
A newly restored Waco is delivered to its owner
By Roy Redman
A newly restored 1931 Waco QCF awaited delivery to its owner at Fort Pierce, Florida. I tried to time the flight from Minnesota to Florida as far into spring as possible for warmth, but early enough for the owners to attend Sun 'n Fun. And so �.
On April 1, we (the Waco and I) made a mid-morning takeoff and pointed southeast. Minnesota temps begin to rise in April but the mornings are still cool; quite cool if you're in an open cockpit. As we broke ground the surface temp was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It was just tolerable with my heated vest plugged in and heat packets in my gloves and socks. The landscape was still mostly white.
We cruised 1,700 feet above the ground. The morning air was crisp but smooth as the snowy terrain slipped past the silver lower wings. Bare trees, roads, and farms made a clear map against the stark white background, and the sweeping view above was bright blue with white cloud accents. Winter flying like this is always a visual delight, but I was a bit too tense from trying to keep warm to really enjoy myself. Still, a pilot has to be really impervious not to savor such a sight from an open cockpit.
The Waco is a delightful little airplane but range is not one of its long suits. A two-and-a-half-hour leg is possible, but then a landing must be assured. A two-hour leg is really more practical — and safe. The plan was to traverse Iowa, cross the Mississippi River, and land at one of the smaller towns just southeast of Moline. Good tailwinds would make Illinois possible; no winds meant an Iowa stop. The GPS and fuel monitor combination would help make the decision, which began to evolve as Waterloo passed on our right. Davenport would be the stop, which really wasn't too far short of Illinois.
We parked at the gas pump. I got out a sandwich and walked to the neat little white terminal, savoring the 40-degree sunshine. Warming up inside I looked out at the silver-winged biplane as I munched my sandwich. Our first leg had gone well. Another two-hour jump would put us into southern Illinois.
We skirted east around the center of the Moline Class C airspace and then started southeast. The temp aloft had moderated a bit, but it was still on the cool side. The landscape was bare of snow now, but nothing was green. Peoria passed on our left. The large central Illinois farms, always a marvel to me, were as yet untilled. The soft steady rumble of the Continental radial sounded better now, not that it had changed — I was warmer and more relaxed. The ride was smooth. The Waco stayed level and on track with just the lightest touch on the controls. We slipped between Springfield and Decatur on course for the smaller airports ahead. The two-hour goal this time was the small-town airport at Olney, Illinois.
Olney-Noble looks like it was made for an old biplane. The neat office building and hangar are just a few steps past a wooden railing at the gas pumps and flight line. No locked gates here! The neat grass panels were just beginning to show a bit of green. I went inside to pay for the fuel, and enjoyed some quiet and another sandwich in a comfortable, broadly windowed second-floor lounge above the office. Luxury. Spreading out my map, I decided to try for an evening stop at Lebanon, Tennessee, just east of Nashville.
The winds had diminished in the late afternoon and as we crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky, a change to a nearer alternate seemed prudent. Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the choice, and we adjusted course a bit to the east. The irregular terrain was taking on the look of a relief map with the lower sun angle creating shadowed contrast. The Waco's stainless flying wires were shining with the reflection of the sun now behind us. Coolness was returning. Bowling Green appeared through the light haze.
The runway was in sight now. It looked long and broad compared to the smaller ones we had just visited. An attempt to punctuate the day with a greaser ended with a slight bump as I flared a few inches high�the tales of changed perspective after hours of cruising were true.
We taxied to an imposing FBO building on our left and were waved in for parking under a huge pillared canopy obviously meant for much larger aircraft. After parking the Waco in a hangar amongst a bevy of brooding swept-wing beauties, I caught a van to the motel. I took off my jacket for the first time that day.
Roy Redman is directing the restoration of AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco UPF-7.