In the last three months, Airframe Assemblies (AA) have made some great progress. The stretch formed Frame K sections (finally) arrived, the team assembled those two halves, making the various tweaks and adjustments that have been necessary throughout the build. A good fit has been ensured and they have had the final trim and fettle.
A split was discovered in one of the original Frame A sections, which has been repaired. All 12 main fuselage skin panels have now been formed on the Farnham rolls, and have been trial fitted to the fuselage frames in the jig. Skin edges normally require a shrink just to tighten them up so there’s no “bagginess” or panting when finally riveted, and to provide a correct profile and shape over the fuselage taper. This has been completed. The prepared skins are then drilled off the frames in the jig and then taken off the jig to begin fitment of stringer sections.
The stringers are a mixture of old and new, with appropriate repair pieces to allow splicing and joining. They all (old and new) have to be cut and spliced to fit at designated lengths and points on the fuselage. All have a minimum of two joints. There are 26 full-length stringers in total, so this isn’t a swift exercise. There are also doubler plates required on the skin joints required to attach to.
Some of the missing info on the doors and doublers between the front end ring and frame A has been discovered, and it is hopeful the additional work provided recently by the project research team will fill in most of the gaps. These parts are in the process of being produced, as until all the measurements could be accurately achieved, it was better to wait.
The Frame A fittings require three of the four in our possession to be remade, along with the tubular structure at the “front” end of the fuselage. This has added some time, and money, to the overall cost of the rear fuselage. At present, an exact figure for both is not yet certain. Material has been sourced, as well as a third party company to produce the fittings. An extra set is not being constructed at this time, purely down to cost, and there is no requirement for a spare of this item on the rebuild. However, a full length of the material is being purchased, as the material spec is required elsewhere in the rebuild, including the cockpit section which is currently with ARCo.
Almost all of the twelve skin panels are fitted with stringers.
Access door surrounds need further detailing, but are well advanced – and suitably over-engineered as most British items were. Frame repairs are ongoing in certain areas in order to retain as much originality as possible – the team are still on target to retain and reuse as much as 80% of the original rear fuselage internal structure, (not including the skins) which is a fantastic amount when compared to many other ground up restorations. This is something that you will know we hold dear, we want to retain as much originality and detail as possible. A recent query which has come from Airframe Assemblies refers to whether or not we wish for the internal flare chute structure, and door, (which will never be operated or seen) to be completed to a working standard. Our answer is, and always will be “YES!” We are building a unique memorial to all the crews, quite probably one of a kind, and we feel that the only way to do that justice is to do everything as authentically as possible.
One final bit from Steve Vizard at Airframe Assemblies which is quite fun, is the following:
“The actual final fitting and riveting of the skins to the fuse in its jig could be problematic. There will be some serious head scratching on this one….Hawkers apparently had a series of separate jigs and fixtures to allow the skins to be assembled off the fuselage, and then had a ‘hollow’ final holding frame where it all came together. We obviously – only building a one off in a single fixture – have to try and complete all these sequential stages working on a jig with a complex internal structure…!
We will come up with a method – but then we have to get the completed fuse OFF the jig (which had to provide all that we needed in one unit)….bit of a catch 22! We may have to dismantle the jig internally, bit by bit, until the fuselage can be safely removed. All doable…and it’s good that we relish a challenge.”
This is what Airframe Assemblies do, and in partnership with the Aircraft Restoration Company we are absolutely sure we have the right professional organisations involved. What’s more, it is fantastic to see these companies really very excited about working on something different. Everyone loves a Spitfire, but this is different for them, and for everyone, and it is abundantly clear that the engineers are relishing the challenge this build is bringing.
The rate of spend has been reduced, from around £30,000 per month, to around £10 – 15,000 to cater for the cockpit starting at the Aircraft Restoration Company and costs associated with that, and a little uncertainty from AA over the tubular frame affixing to the “front” of the rear fuselage, and, preservation of cash flow as contributions have reduced considerably since passing the £1million raised or pledged mark. We did not want to soldier too far ahead, only to have to then undo any work for the purpose of the tubular frame. That uncertainty has now been resolved, and parts are now being manufactured, as mentioned.
The time-lapse below shows the work completed in September, and if you look carefully you can see the supporter visit (23rd September) in there which was arranged for a number of project supporters. This is one of the main benefits of being a supporter – access “up close and personal” to the build. Visits to the engineering workshops where the rebuild is happening are an exclusive benefit to supporters – all supporters – and if you wish to be this close and personal to the build, then please join as a supporter to help the work continue, and, to have benefits like this yourself. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the YouTube channel, we will be posting more video content as the build progresses.