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December 2010

Well, here we are a year older as a nasty Arctic blast cuts through our workshop reminding us that the ball chasers have missed all the good weather and winter is upon us once more. Our draught excluder went atop the roller-shutter last week meaning no more tea breaks in the street and Carl’s heater has been grafting away to keep the chill off though it’ll likely expire for the want of fuel if our delivery is delayed much longer. Time seems to roll around frighteningly fast and we look in the Bluebird shop every day and wonder what’s actually been done. There’s a growing groundswell of, ‘when will it be finished’ but it’s only when you look back that you realise just how much we’ve actually achieved in the past 12 months. The problem is that it’s all stuff that’s hard to see. We have, for instance, completely cleaned and inhibited the inside of every last frame tube – or rather, Rob has and it took months. We’ve stripped and rebuilt an Orpheus with nothing to show except that it looks prettier that when we started at the same time being very kindly supported by some big names in aerospace who’ve worked equally hard making things look prettier. Items that do, of course, work at the end of the process too. For example we have Donald’s original fuel pump being tested on a rig normally reserved for bits of Eurofighter.

And the rest of the fuel system is well on the way too. This is the CCU or Combined Control Unit in pieces awaiting rebuild and testing.

It wasn’t long in going back together and it’s ready to go now. Amazing or what…

K7’s start system is another case in point and has had untold work to bring it back to working order after we discovered that, apparently, only two sets of this equipment were ever constructed so spares simply aren’t available – the other is in the RAF Museum at Cosford. Support from machine shops and various stockists has been donated but as I always say – you go on the scrounge and you give up the right to nag so it takes as long as it takes. John spent week after week on those start bottles and was finally rewarded with both passing a hydraulic test. We’ve resurrected many of the original, outer body skins too and Mike has made a multitude of historically correct widgets for the cockpit. No one will give a stuff about the ludicrously complex air intake that has almost put us all in the psychiatric ward but the flat instrument panel with holes in will have them all oohing and ahhing… Such is the nature of our mission. I actually started writing this diary entry months ago but it foundered for the want of spare time until Christmas loomed and the clamour for a diary entry grew unbearable. The fact that the original opening line read, “If Emily gets sunburnt is it OK if Susan puts sun-screen on her?” would suggest that the sun was still shining so what can I say except, sorry for the wait. Emily is my youngest and Susan is the child minder and a good rant was due but I was in the midst of trying to sort an evening’s worth of photos of our big tin boat so my missus’ question seemed both stupid and irritating. What sort of fool would allow their kid to burn for the want of a splash of lotion when they’d left the little-un with a childminder in the first place and buggered off to greed for gold? “What? Yes, of course,” I said testily, and went back to the photo organising. I was free for a beat… but then came another. “If she cuts herself is it OK if Susan puts a plaster on?” Now I really thought the wife was taking the proverbial… “Course it bloody is! And should she slash her neck on a collapsing greenhouse and suffer a severe arterial bleed it’s OK to call paramedics and apply pressure to the wound in the meantime too…” I grumpily stuffed more photos into the requisite folders during a slightly longer pause than followed the first question. Then Rachel gently cleared her throat… “If Emily is cheeky do you want Susan to ignore her, chastise her or attempt to reason with her?” I stopped what I was doing and swivelled my chair expecting to find the wife wetting herself at having irritated me out of my male uni-tasking. But she wasn’t. She was filling out a form for the childminder - her mate of old who’d enjoyed both our kids’ Christenings with her own family and looked after our offspring since they were born but was now to be given a few quid for her trouble so the police wanted to know our psychological leanings on discipline. “What kind of stupid bollocks is that?” I demanded… “A checklist for leaving the most precious thing in your life with someone you don’t trust?” Rachel proffered the form but I waved it away, instead firing a question or two to be sure she was serious before voicing my thoughts. “Tell Susan to beat the stroppy little bitch to within an inch of her miserable life if she works her ticket!” I said before going back to my photos. Then I thought, hmmm, maybe I could work that little rant into a piece for the BBP diary. After all, it’s been a while. Trouble is there’s been very little to write about. Oh, I could throw ten thousand words together on how diligently Rob has opened, cleaned and Ardroxed (the verb, to Ardrox) multitudes of frame tubes. Or describe in intimate and excruciating detail every hammer blow on our cockpit panels’ road to recovery but you’d wander off for a cuppa after the first couple of paragraphs. Yet behind the scenes our project continues to evolve and recently we solved a serious problem that has plagued us almost since we started. Rob’s ball-chasing. For the uninitiated, Rob tunes his ‘wireless’ every week to excited commentary on a squad of blokes kicking a ball at some other blokes they kicked it against last year with no variation year on year to keep it even vaguely interesting. It’s painful to say the least and after four years we’d had enough and decided to act. Let’s be reasonable here – the footballists have had plenty of time to introduce a multiball round or a sin-bin or something, anything, to generate new excitement but they seem utterly bereft of imagination and merely repeat the same old drudgery year on year. We’d taken all we could so by the commission of a major fraud we nicked twenty quid from the BBP coffers and bought Rob a pressie. Yes, we promise every penny donated goes straight into the boat, and that’s true. If you don’t believe us then please turn up with your accountant and tidy all our paperwork because it’s currently bursting out of a filing cabinet in my office… But we reckoned on morale being boosted and productivity increasing on a Saturday if only we could be rid of the ball-chasing once and for all.

So we bought Rob a pair of ear defenders with a radio in them. It took him a while to get used to the ball-chasing playing inside his head not to mention finally owning a gadget that actually worked and which hadn’t just cost him 50p on eBay but soon as he’d tuned in we had our beloved music on again and only hand signals from Rob. The ball-chasing wireless, meanwhile, was ceremonially flung into the street for cars to crush.

We all agreed – it was twenty quid well spent… But all the while the child minder nonsense wouldn’t leave me be... There’d been a few other questions like, was the baby allowed to travel in a car, or use playground equipment, breathe air or go on ‘routine outings’. Sort of depends on what that means, doesn’t it. I mean, it may be routine for the child minder to go get her methadone but I’d not want my kid tagging along. We had no worries about any of that stuff really but, out of curiosity, I eventually asked for the paperwork because I just knew it had to be full of stupid bollocks. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a good one for you from the ‘Equality and Diversity Policy’. Our child minder has to, ‘Include all families in her ‘setting’ and not to discriminate against them on the grounds of ability, sexual orientation (I assume this refers to the parents not the kids, though there’s a few scenarios even there I can think of that may take a bit of smiling through), age, class, family status or HIV/AIDS. Now here I draw the line because, sympathetic as I am to those thus afflicted, I certainly don’t want my kid biting, scratching, nipping or violently colliding with another that may be infected with a life-threatening virus. Let’s face it, if you go for an operation in such a condition, not only do the staff kit-in like North Sea divers, they throw the knives and forks in the bin afterwards never to be used again. What we’re facing here is just wholesale, do-good bureaucracy placing your kid in danger for the sake of political correctness. But the do-gooders are rarely content with being stupid once. It’s an inbuilt want in them to repeat it at every turn so if you progress to the ‘Illness and Infectious Disease’ section you’ll soon discover that if a child arrives in your child minder’s ‘setting’ with, a mild dose of the shits they have to be sent home at once and chicken pox means virtual lockdown even though, as everyone knows, by the time the spots break out it’s already past the infectious stage! Change the subject matter and you could easily be reading something written by a museum professional for the Hapless Lottery Failure. Incidentally, as a glimpse into the mind of a child, I was hugely entertained one day when, Lucy, covered in spots, explained that, though she had chicken pox everywhere else, she had only a single ‘chicken pock’ on her face… Obvious, isn’t it. And as if that’s not enough and moving quickly (and finally) on to the, ‘Policy Statement: Behaviour’, our child minder may not administer ‘physical or any other form of punishment with the intention of causing pain or discomfort, nor any kind of humiliating or hurtful treatment’. Anyone still respect the dad who lashed your arse with a slipper? Or is that just me? It also says that ‘punishment is destructive – it humiliates children and makes them feel powerless’. Powerless… and so they bloody-well should be. They’re in the hands of the child minder, for goodness sake – the last thing they need is power! What kind of a ridiculous statement is that? It’s followed by the promise that the child minder will, ‘say no and mean no’. How powerless does that leave your kid? The lunatics have taken over the asylum once again, methinks. But at least we don’t have to put up with any such rubbish at BBP headquarters these days. We plan the strategy, call the shots and do the work and once our cockpit panels were just about ready we spent another twelve quid of your donations having a batch of aerosols of Bluebird-blue mixed too so we could put a guide coat on our cockpit opening. It looked rather tasty.

What you do is put a thin coat straight onto the metal then gently rub it back off with a nice flat block of wood with fine abrasive paper stuck to it. This has the effect of only taking the paint off where it touches thus showing where the metal is high or low so you can treat it accordingly. Lows must be raised with a hammer and dolly; highs can be pushed into an area that will shrink, or out to the edge of the panel. It’s just a case of hours of careful hammer work, the occasional hit with the shrinking disc and learning what the metal is up to by touch. The girls reckon they’re better at distinguishing highs and lows in the metal skins because their fingers are more sensitive than ours – can’t think why that should be.

What you end up with is this.

Where the paint is off, the panel has had its first round of fettling. It takes about three goes to get it perfect but by this stage we were in a position to drill and pin to the underlying formers. That way if the pinning pulled anything a funny shape we could treat it sooner rather than later. But it didn’t, it all went down perfectly at the first attempt.

Notice how the right-hand panel has lost almost all of its guide coat. That’s because it’s pretty much spot on and those red pins are holding it to the formers. They’re 3/32nd of an inch in diameter and will be upsized to 1/8th (yellow pins) when the time comes to put the rivets in. That way we’ll be putting new rivets into freshly-drilled holes whilst being able to reliably remove and replace the panel in the meantime to an extremely tight tolerance as it undergoes the final operations before we sign it off once and for all. After a second round of tin-bashing and with a fresh guide-coat we declared the panels essentially finished and about ready for BettaBlast.

The metal is only 1mm thick so it’s no good filing or grinding to remove imperfections – you have to make it the right shape and no cheating so it’s amusing and frustrating in equal measure that we’ll spend hours trying to get a perfect shape only to whip out the reference photos and find that the thing you just made perfect actually never was. There really wasn’t a straight panel on the boat by 67 so we can afford a few battle scars here and there but nothing compared to how it started out…

And never forget that in straightening this original cockpit opening and putting it back precisely as it was on that fateful morning in January 76 we are actually destroying history. We know because the Hapless Lottery Failure paid someone who normally writes policy for child minders to set it out for us... Having written all the above nonsense time marched by until we grew tired of battering those panels around and finally threw them into BettaBlast to be painted for better or for worse. They came back (as you’d expect) looking a million dollars and went down effortlessly.

The cockpit opening mobilised an army of pins and took two days to drill, debur and pin down atop a slap of good old choccie sauce. It then took a further day to set the 250-odd rivets that secure those outer skins but doesn’t it look magnificent.

And don’t forget that there’s still only a thin coat of paint on top of the original metal here – not a speck of filler. That’s how you mend tinware… Another task that’s absorbed untold amounts of time is the ongoing rebuild of the air intakes. It’s by far the most complex structure on the boat and was horribly crushed and never built to the drawings anyway so putting it back together again is proper detective work. For example, see that plate trapped under a strip of tin between the clamps with three small tags sticking out along its forward edge?

That’s what remains of the hinge plate that supported the original, 1954 flip-up cockpit canopy. It was built deeply into the intake structure so when the sliding canopy replaced the flip-up one the best they could do was cut the hinges off and file away as much metal as possible. But what can’t you do with a hinge-line? And what shape did they draw the top of the intakes above the canopy? Yep – the drawing describes a graceful curve all the way over the top but you can’t build a curve into a hinge-line so they simply departed from what was stipulated and built it flat as a billiard table up there. Then they departed similarly whenever something looked tricky on or around the intakes. We discovered rather late in the day, for instance, that achieving the required curvature in the inlet tracts at their entrance involved putting a hell of a lot of shape into the metal. Then we found that, given enough stretch to get the right shape, the wheeled material became critically thin (if you use what’s specified on the drawings) and so work-hardened near the entrances that it was likely to be sucked inside out if not annealed because it doesn’t have a lot of support out there. We looked at using thicker material to keep it safe then went back to the wrecked parts only to find that they’d got around it in 1954 by not bothering with a big swath of metal-shaping then redesigned the inlet mouths to suit. We’d rebuilt the mouths to the drawing by this time (should’ve known better) and made a new inlet duct to match. Argh! We could’ve clashed it all together like that and you might not have noticed but instead we pulled it down and did it again. The duct is constructed from no less than eighteen double-curvature panels all fully welded and dressed into a single, contiguous shape to scoop air from the outside and feed it to the Orph’. I didn’t especially enjoy having to modify that!

Meanwhile, we had to re-tool for the inlet mouths and do those again, the plus to this process being that we’d wondered about many of the dimensions not seeming right – we had too much or too little metal in so many places and when that happens with original material you just know you’ve done something wrong. Suddenly it all fell into place and everything now matches up – took a long time though.

The left-hand start bottle has taken ages too and for a good while we thought it might all prove in vain. The right-hand one had all the pressure regulating and air-release gubbins attached so the water never got near it but the other side only had a little pressure relief valve that didn’t have a hope so the water got past it and knackered the bottle. We cut it around the welds to get a looky-see inside and it wasn’t pretty.

The damage was confined to the bottom quarter of the bottle so the deal was this… we’d systematically grind out the corrosion pits and rebuild the inside with super-tough TIG rods then polish it back until it looked like new. Or rather, John would... After months of painstaking work we signed it off as at least looking as we’d hoped.

We took immense care but, as people keep pointing out, compressed gas is dangerous. Yes – tell me something I don’t know. I was a diver, remember? I used to crash around shipwrecks strapped to bottles containing over 300 Bar just for fun and this is partly why the repaired bottle took best part of a day to weld back together. Firstly, we dressed a 45 degree chamfer on the cut edge to be sure the weld would penetrate right through the bottle wall then set up the two halves in perfect alignment with a few bits of scrap tacked to the sides and bridging the gap so nothing would move.

Next, the inside was thoroughly purged with Argon to be sure that no atmospheric gases met the back of the weld and oxidised it as it was made. That’s what the hose is doing going into the top of the bottle. The first pass – and it’s nearly four feet of continuous weld – put a root into the bottom of the weld-prep.

The second pass then filled the chamfer level with the outer surface and a third put a rounded cap over the weld that wove slightly either side of the original chamfer for maximum strength. All without letting the bottle lose its heat. The process was later proven a complete success when the bottle easily took a hydraulic test beyond any pressure it had ever had to contain and was then allowed a suitably low working pressure for the purposes of starting our engine now and again. Just another thing we were told could not be done. Now that we have both bottles back in action we’ve also been refurbishing all the widgets that go with them. They were held to a frame that straddled the air intake trunk by spider-like steel straps, which had rotted quite badly by the time we turned up.

Their refurbishment involved the usual careful patching, shaping and dressing to put back the strength and make them fit for purpose whilst hanging onto as much original as possible. Conserveering…

Every last fragment of K7 receives hour after hour of care and attention with a view to one day putting it back for ever and every day our sub-assemblies come closer to completion.