Said I wasn’t going to write any more diaries. The fun had gone out of it. You see, the only part I actually enjoy writing is the rubbish at the beginning. It’s like making a curry. You marinate the meats and roll in the spices then watch while it bubbles and the kitchen fills with wonderful aromas, season to taste then, when it’s perfect, boil up a big pan of rice and serve it up. The artistry is in the curry, not the rice. Rice is easy as is all that boat stuff that we’ve discussed, planned then executed. Been hands-on with it... So the last thing I want to do is write about it.
But then all you good people want to know how it goes so it’s pretty selfish to just not bother, which is why a nice pot of controversial curry goes on the stove to be tweaked and picked at while the rice is boiling.
Last time the bleaters got their knickers in a twist about foxes.
Okay, so I thought the trampolining fox advert was stupid so whenever it came on I just ignored it. I didn’t run to the nearest keyboard, so if you don’t want to know what foxes really do just scroll past that bit. Then before that I was accused of not caring about my dog because I described how he was euthanized after 17 happy years. Once again, Angry from Manchester felt the need to protest. Just don’t read it! You know there’s a heap of dry, boring Bluebird stuff coming right up so if all you want is a big plate of boiled rice scroll down ‘til you see the first picture and get stuck in but if you read the next bit and don’t like it – keep it to yourself!
Oh, and by the way, whatever I write is either my opinion or just total nonsense.
I was in the pub the other night. I pop down for last orders most nights. I bought my beer then pocketed my change, which to my annoyance, fell straight down my leg and rolled across the floor – hole in my pocket, bah…. Having retrieved my coins I asked, jokingly, if the barmaid, who I thought was my pal as she was oft my late night companion, could sew.
She bristled at once.
“Why?” she asked, accusingly.
I was onto her in a beat and already a little hurt but, sod it, she was getting it back.
“Because that’s what girls do.” I said.
Now tell a bloke that he farts in the morning, smells like a swamp by the time he gets home and lives like a pig and he’ll likely smile wistfully, laugh a little then agree but ask a girl if she can sew and you risk of a tirade of what a disgusting sexist pig you are, and that’s exactly what I got.
Well, I’m sorry. Women make great nurses, secretaries and PAs. Men make good lumberjacks, coal miners and F1 drivers – which leads me onto another point. No grid girls this year? Really?
No doubt that’ll pacify someone but what about all those happy go lucky, pretty girls who willingly sign up for the free travel, interesting opportunities, the off-chance they’ll beguile a billionaire, not to mention wages for a young person before they settle into a proper career or raising a family – and all because they’re blessed by nature? As a veteran of many a trade show I’ve met lots of lovely agency girls. It’s one of those jobs you do when you’re young, like working in a bar or as cabin crew. They love it but, alas, people who ought to live and let live can’t help but poke their noses in.
I am also blessed by nature. Not with looks to die for or a body that would grace Adonis (unfortunately) but with the ability to speak pure, unrelenting bo**ocks for indefinite periods and as long as I apply this blessing to Bluebird related matters people actually seek me out to entertain at their gatherings. They feed me for free and keep my beer glass full, put me up in expensive hotels and take me out to meet interesting people and make new friends. How glad am I that there’s not a hunting pack of do-gooders behind me railing at the injustice of my exploitation.
Many years ago when I worked in Russia I’d frequent the Tribunal Bar in St. Petersburg where pretty girls were celebrated. (Had a quick Google – seems the good old Russkies haven’t lost their sense of fun). The place was always packed and I remember supping a beer one night, not three feet from a girl in a black bikini dancing on the bar with another wearing a red one. Moments later I was verbally assaulted for watching by some irate woman bent on telling me how awful it all was, how exploitative… and guess what. She was the biggest, fattest, ugliest babushka you ever saw in your life.
Now, I have a theory, that it’s ugly people who scupper pretty ones for these stupid reasons. I mean, I reckon, had the babushka been as gorgeous as the bikini girls and not wreathed in spare tyres, extra chins and hair where it oughtn’t have been she’d not have been so quick to pour scorn on their way of making a few tip so I’m going to check something out.
For as long as I can remember we’ve had a calendar on the wall from the same welding supplier as has every fabrication shop on Tyneside, it’s almost a rite of passage, a welcome sign, the secret handshake. You know you’re safe when you walk into a workshop and see it on the wall and so it’s been for at least twenty years. Until now…
The weeks went by but our welding rep’ didn’t come with the customary Christmas bottle of wine and the calendar until I was finally faced with a double mutiny from both the main factory and the BBP shop.
“Where are the new dumplings?”
Now I must point out that the calendar, though depicting the naked female form, is most artistic and graced with girls who evidently choose to display their assets willingly and with great pride. We’re not talking one of those gruesome medical jobs here full of quarter to three shots – oh no, this is genuine art beginning with the subjects and ending with the exotic locations and first rate photography.
Things were getting desperate so I called the rep’, whom we’ve known and dealt with for many years – one of those constants in life – because the welding supplier has had this advertising and branding exercise sewn up to perfection for as long as I can remember and my main concern was that they might’ve gone out of business leaving a whole swath of Tyneside scrabbling for welding consumables.
The explanation was ludicrous.
“Hey, Tony, where’s our new calendar?”
“Erm… we don’t do them anymore.”
“What! There’s Hell-on in here wondering when they’re coming. It’s February! What’s the problem?”
“Sorry, mate. The new boss is a woman…”
Oh, for goodness sakes – let’s set everything else aside for a moment. From a purely commercial perspective, this woman is now the boss. How did she get there? She has to be good at something. Yet to look at the calendar situation and demolish twenty-plus years of brand awareness over some feminist crap is just poor governance. Your average Tyneside welder is no more politically correct than he was when we had shipyards to mess about in and won’t change in our lifetime so play to your audience if you’ve any commercial and common sense at all. Stupid woman!
We’re dished out endless calendars from other suppliers depicting the best of British viaducts or the best cars ever that we’ve seen a thousand times before and they all go in the skip. There’s but one calendar that never gets binned and the new boss-woman has scrapped it.
I’ll bet a fiver she’s not calendar material…
This is where we left off. Having K7 mostly fitted out and all her systems up and running for an engine test after which she was gutted out and put back on the rollover jig at the start of 2017. Now it was time to put her clothes on and get her watertight and this was going to be a big job!
Most of the panels are repaired originals with only the right-hand cockpit wall and the infill panel immediately behind it being completely new-build – oh, and a good proportion of the ruined air intakes. This, for anyone new to the tale, is because the boat was in a fast roll to the left when she hit the water due to the fin momentarily leading as she flew backwards and upside down; then she righted herself so as the sponsons touched down the centre hull was twisted free and landed left-side down. This had the effect of crushing all the panels down that side onto the frame and blowing all the ones down the other to smithereens as the air pressure inside went off the clock. The front end just burst like a crisp packet so we recovered very little of the right-hand cockpit wall and the panel behind was fairly devastated too.
The little piece up at the nose wasn’t in bad shape, however, so we salvaged that and cheated somewhat. It’s other half was missing so we made up a new section then claimed the whole panel as original so it got painted grey instead of that awful Kawasaki green – soon to be covered with a splendid coat of blue.
The section aft of there was a real mess. Yes, we’ve straightened out worse but what settles it is the amount of corrosion. You can have a panel that looks essentially OK but it would be more patch than panel when mended so it’s better off left alone to tell the story.
Those who’ve followed us for long enough will recall the bureaucratic ditherings of the Hapless Lottery Failure and their insistence that any interference with the wreck would be ‘destroying history’. That the boat was a ‘snapshot in time’ and all those parts were ‘telling a story’. Our counter argument was that we could use 99% of the parts to rebuild the machine and the remaining 1% would adequately tell the story – and that’s exactly how it’s played. The old air intake skins and bits of the right-hand side are in the museum in their original blue and the rest are back where they belong. This bit was especially fuggered.
So we made a new one.
This is going back awhile but it meant that these parts were a least in the stores and simple enough to install when the day came.
Now when I say simple…
Even a brand new panel has to fulfil two requirements. It has to be a panel that does its job and keeps the water out and then it has to be historically correct, which in Bluebird’s case means either looking like a dog’s breakfast, albeit in shiny blue pint, or festooned with redundant fasteners, or both and this was no exception.
The job is well advanced at this stage. Look and you’ll see all the captive nuts on the inside. Most are redundant from the early experiments to get the boat planing in ‘55 or whenever it didn’t work straight out of the box. Others are to hold on the spar fairings and then the whole thing is painted silver on the inside because it’s a damn-sight easier to do that before installation. Notice the 600-odd rivet holes too. All carefully drilled, pinned then deburred and countersunk. Each captive nut has two countersunk rivets holding it on too. Days and weeks of preparation to load a single panel, and that’s a new-build part.
Good slobbering of choccie on the underlying structure…
Then clash it on with many rivets.
One thing we discovered via our partnership with Stanley Engineered Fasteners is that modern day rivets are infinitely better than those used in the original build. It’s easy to put solid rivets, i.e. those that need a rivet hammer on one side and a block on the other, into freshly drilled holes, but once a structure has been de-riveted and it’s time to put it back together again this can be problematic because a hole that’s already held a rivet becomes slightly stretched and putting in another can get tricky. Although the holes in the new panel were all brand new it was the ones in the old structure that would have caused the headache. Up-sizing will fix things usually but far more effective is to use modern blind fasteners that one person can insert with a gun from the outside and which are 100% reliable and effective. We used a 1/8th closed-stem rivet on the cockpit wall made by Pop and they worked every time, pulled like you’d not believe and forgave holes that would have given a solid rivet a fit. To say that panel won’t fall off would be a massive understatement! And that’s without the adhesive, sealing and stiffening properties of the good old choccie sauce, something that was never included in the original design or build. And, just so you understand the level of detail in the rebuild, at some time a rivet must have given up and Donald’s team tried to mend it. They likely tried to upsize but it was in an awkward place down on the turn of the hull on the right-hand side and very tricky to access from the inside so, following what must have been an intensely annoying attempt at repairs, they finally put a screw through with a nut on the inside and tightened it up. So Mike worked out exactly which rivet had failed, drilled it to the right size, extracted the nut and screw from the dead panel and put it in the new one.
Cool, eh? And, no, all those little holes won’t let water in because they don’t lead to the inside. The back of the rivet is closed, then there’s the filler, then there’s the high-build primer, then there’s the three coats of shiny blue, but that’s a little ways off in the future.
The other cockpit wall was a horror story by comparison. Largely original it was very fighty and took many weeks of fettling and shrinking before it would even go onto the frame.
This was the first major piece of wreckage pulled from the lake and it tried to kill me with a lift bag – but that’s another story.
Only its centre survived so pretty much all its perimeter is new material but the hole in the middle, covered by a blister that the steering linkage pokes through, revealed a piece of material that was painted once only when the boat was first built then covered over by the blister once they realised the steering wasn’t going to fit so we were able to identify 1954 Bluebird blue with absolute certainty – RAL 5007, is that one.
The skin also contained a startling piece of evidence of the violence of the crash. See below where the material had petalled out as though a bullet has passed through from the back. That’s where the end of the steering shaft, an inch diameter steel tube, twanged through it when it snapped. The shaft shouldn’t have snapped at all. It should have bent but such was the speed of the hit it shattered like glass and the broken end slapped from right to left and blasted that hole in the panel. Scary stuff.
The panel was gradually brought back to life. Most of it came out of the lake in 2001, the forward part was to have a further six year slumber in the darkness down there before we got it back attached to the missing piece of cockpit frame in 2007.
This was taken in October 2014 and that was that for a few years until we got back to needing it. Fast forward to 2017 and our Barry from Grimsby inherited the thing.
It was even more work than the other side and took months because many rivet holes had to be welded up and re-drilled, and as well as the same collection of pointless fasteners it also has doublers behind a few corroded areas and this one has the blister on the side too. Barry very carefully marked out all the areas needing rivets and devised pitches to ensure every last one went into good material. At this point it’s being pinned with red, 3/32nd pins but they were later upsized to 1/8th then countersunk and deburred once the panel was painted.
Almost there… only the choccie sauce and a shedload of rivets then a good clean up and it’ll be on for good. Oh, and install the blister.
There you go – all done. The blister was a modification made necessary by a bit of an oops. The hull, once complete, was handed over to the Bloctube people to fit the controls. A crazy idea when you consider how much easier it would have been to work through the sides of the hull as we did but, hey-ho, that’s what they did with the result that, no matter how they tried, the steering linkage as specified to give the correct gearing and force to the rudder wouldn’t go in until they cut a hole in the side of the cockpit for part of it to protrude as it travelled so then they had to put a cover over the top. We spent a good while properly restoring the original. The file marks are those of the craftsman who made it originally.
So that was the cockpit closed in at long last and the infil panels aft of the cockpit were much the same story. One brand new and relatively straightforward to install, the other an absolute nightmare of repairs and reinstating its subtle shapes ahead of a world of losing and re-drilling rivet holes, etc. The right-hand side one managed to get to the paint shop before we’d finished the tin-bashery on it so I was never happy with it but only for cosmetic reasons.
Yeah, it looks OK, I know, I was being extra anal about it and it went on and fitted nicely after all. The other was the usual pain in the behind…
This panel also took weeks. It was cut into three and each piece treated separately before being welded back together and even then we included a half-height bulkhead behind it so if it fails the water still can’t get in. It actually came out pretty well in the end and had we known how good it was going to be the bulkhead would have been deleted but it was already riveted in so we left it.
A bit wibbly-wobbly but not for long and, crucially, completely original. As an interesting aside, follow its lower edge along until it meets the next panel aft and you can see that it’s misaligned with quite a pronounced step. I puzzled greatly on how we could have got it so far adrift seeing as both panels are completely untouched at that position along with the underlying structure it’s attached to. That was until we pored over the reference pic’s, as we do at these times, and there it was – built that way from new!
You can see here also that the long panel aft of the infil is installed too – the ‘flutes’ as we’ve always called them because they’re fluted underneath. They were largely buried in mud so they survived in pretty good shape but the right hand one had a big hole smashed in it where it meets the infil and the other had some damage at the back.
Not sure what caused this. It could simply have been hydroformed around the underlying structure in the surface tumble but why is it so well circumscribed if that’s the case? Yet it shows no signs of having been impacted by, for example, a sponson; we’ve never properly bottomed that question. The flutes are made of the softest aluminium imaginable so maybe it just got bashed by the water as the truncated hull rolled end over end. The opposite flute had damage right at the back so it’s the best scenario. Either way we decided not to fix it at the time so we made a new piece and used the bits we cut off for riveting practice – but that wasn’t to be the end of it.
Because by the time we got to putting it back on two things had happened. We’d worked out how to confidently repair worse and we still had the damaged parts.
Out they came and were swiftly cleaned up, repaired and reinstated from whence they’d come.
All that remained was to weld it in and get some surface protection on it. On the downside of installing the flutes was that they were held on with 5/32nd snap-head rivets so we had to use like for like and that was a real pain. One because it meant we had to lose all the original holes and that makes the panel change shape and you have to fix that and then we had to set the rivets with a gun on the outside and a block-man reaching into the most inaccessible corners of the hull whilst being deafened and trying to maintain comm’s with the man wielding the rivet gun. It was deeply unpleasant but the result was great.
As mentioned, the opposite one had damage right at the back. It was crushed in and split around the underlying formers.
Quite a straightforward repair over here and it too went back on with the noisy riveting from Hell routine.
The old button-back sofa look has been restored to the sides of the flutes. It’s caused by the hard rivets subtly stretching the soft panel by degrees as each one is set and the look is perfect and totally authentic. Very pleased with how that turned out.
The keen-eyed will also have spotted that there’s two smaller panels above the flutes. They’re joined to the flutes with a jointing strip running the whole length and on the left hand side we decided to attach everything together and install it as one.
It wasn’t a clever idea, as it happened. It was very difficult to load and pin and gave us a dreadful time installing it so on the other side we installed the flute and then the upper panels as separate jobs.
The upper panels on this side were full of corrosion and needed many patch repairs because it seems that whenever Donald’s lot needed an outfall or plug connector or anything else to pass through the hull it was here that they drilled the hole with the result that it was filled with steel and brass fittings allowing the old electrolytic action to gobble up the aluminium. This, naturally, made the panel difficult to line up and even as it was being fitted it was still being hammered to relieve stresses. Nice fit in the end, though, leaving only a small triangular closing panel to install on each side.
Because of the slight misalignments brought about by having everything apart, mended then put back together both of these panels had to be split lengthwise then welded back together, though you’d never know. With all the rivets in it remained only to fit the little sealing plate complete with its original gasket around the lifting/tethering point and that was the outer bodywork finished.
This took us to July so we were bang on target but the outer skins were the easy part, what lay ahead was the floors. The entire underside of the boat is a flat skin. Up at the front they added the so-called ‘dragon’s teeth’ then aft of F-19 where the step is in the underside it’s flat as a billiard table broken only by the rear planing wedge. Problem being that its one long piece joined down the centre from F-19 all the way to the transom. Anyone see the problem yet? You got it, the boat snapped at F-15 meaning that the floor had about four feet torn off the front – but back to that in a moment.
The forward, sloping floor popped off in one piece. It’s three layers thick and incredibly strong. Even though it was one of the first pieces to strike the water it survived in amazing condition.
It has a thick and very tough inner skin an eighth of an inch thick and made of a properly tough copper/aluminium alloy, then there’s a corrugated skin an inch deep in the middle capped over with an outer skin of the same hard material as the inner only half as thick and screwed to that is the dragon’s teeth.
This is the inner floor having had a section welded back in.
The corner was cracked out of it but still riveted to the corrugations so it was welded back in but with considerable difficulty. It really didn’t want to weld and it tore itself apart as it cooled and contracted directly behind the weld pool. In the end it was necessary to use soft rods to dilute the material whilst applying pre-heat, post heat and peening the welds as we went. It turned out very nicely in the end.
That sorted, the corrugations were much more difficult to mend. Corrugations just are. Once they’re bent they’re a nightmare to get straight in any plane and welding bits in only adds to your woes. Not a big fan of mending corrugations.
A fair amount of corrosion and a completely knackered bit halfway down one side but it cleaned up and mended nicely.
Notice the big patch repair in the middle on the right – that was expertly executed by our mate Chris from Proalloy on his first ever visit. The outer was a bit of a nightmare too.
It had a bit of a chunk missing and a lot of corrosion where the dragon’s teeth had set up a battery on the underside that stripped the more reactive copper/aluminium skin. You can see it as a dark shadow up the centre of the panel. These all had to be welded up and dressed back to get things smooth and strong again.
We inserted a new piece where the original had gone missing and that was that for quite a while.
Problem is – having it look all wowee for the pic’s is one thing, bringing it to the point where we can stick it in with glue and rivets is quite another and often finding that last eighth of an inch is more work than finding the first half a yard. In the first instance the corrugations were all subtly different heights after their ordeal so a round of hammer work was needed. To achieve the correct shapes, or at least as near as it was possible to achieve with hammers and tooling we had some oak machined to the correct profile and used it as formers to persuade the metal that little bit closer.
Oak is plenty hard enough to work aluminium against but flippety-blinking heavy too so it was only used as tooling but it did a splendid job. Next we elected to put a fix on the dragon’s teeth attachments because back in whenever it was Leo and the crew must have had a bloody awful time installing them. They were a later addition fixed to the outside of the outer floor by using a hole cutter to pop inch-diameter holes in the inner floor…
…then fiddling captive nuts on strips of scrap aluminium…
…through the holes, presumably with someone on the outside saying, left a bit, right a bit, down a bit, oh, hold it there… damn! Left a bit... It must have been absolute torture.
So, knowing that we could work in the captives elsewhere and that the little strips of aluminium could join the loof without detracting from the story, we riveted strips of 3/16th 2024 left over from the sponson packing strips into the corrugations then drilled and Helicoiled them to ¼ BSF and 2BA to suit. Here it is choccied and ready to go on once and for all. The strips with the Helicoils are the green bits in case you’d not worked it out.
Just a quick word about Helicoils, if I may. Many people seem to think they’re some sort of awful bodge and that a proper thread cut into the metal is the real answer. In actual fact, you will never put a stronger thread into aluminium than you will with a Helicoil (or a thread insert, to give it its proper name) by some considerable margin. They were invented to put strong fixings into soft alloys for the aero engine industry when magnesium and mag-alloys were becoming prevalent. They work by distributing the load on the thread its full depth and not just on the first couple of threads, which then fail loading up the next few and so on. Believe me, Helicoils are bulletproof.
At this point we got a lucky break because the original drawings stated that the outer corrugations were supposed to be packed with wood yet when we took it apart there wasn’t any other than a single strip of what seemed to be teak right at the back at F-19. But if we added the wood this time we’d be able to produce a beautifully flat surface onto which our outer floor could attach and be supported between the corrugations where we had previously feared it might crack when smacked in the face with super-hard water.
So we first had some nice, lightweight pine machined, primed then glued it into place with methacrylate adhesive.
The red is the primer – reasoning that it would never be seen again we told Bettablast that any colour would do so it came back red. It’s the other side that’s red so the methacrylate would stick properly to the powder coated corrugations in accordance with its data sheet – see the detail and lengths we go to.
After that it was planed to height and any irregularities filled with Belzona to give us a perfectly level surface.
You might notice that the cockpit wall isn’t fitted yet and that the outer floor must lap over the top of it so we had to fit that first and then it became clear that the overall width of the boat at this point had grown by about 1/8th of an inch so the outer floor had to be substantially reworked. Grrrr!
But we had a serious and recurring problem. With the outer floor being a mix of materials, where it wraps over the side panels it just kept on cracking at the welds. We’d get it pinned and pull it around a little and next we knew another crack would grow from the turned edge towards the flat underside and no previous repair scheme, of which by this time we had devised very many, would contain the problem. That was until we realised that by slightly stretching the turned edges such that the panel had a curve in it we could place the entire edge in compression by the simple expedient of pushing it flat. That put a stop to its antics so off it went for painting but riveting it in place was a heart in the mouth job with each rivet through that inch-high lip expected to cause another crack – and it was a lot of rivets. We started at the back by F-19 and at the front then pushed the excess metal into the centre bunching it up and shrinking with a hammer as we went fully expecting it to crack at the last – but it didn’t and soon it was nailed down thoroughly everywhere.
All that remained was to mill the rivets, tidy up with a bit of spotting putty, a coat of paint and re-fit the dragon’s teeth. I say all that remained…
By the way – the dragon’s teeth are completely original too.
They were a bit poorly to begin with but nothing that wouldn’t clean up. They have been one of those jobs that’s been on the bench forever. If anyone was ever stuck for something to work on we’d throw a weld or two onto a dragon’s tooth and send them off to file and grind and dress away at it. They were often buried under other jobs for months on end but always a work in progress. They turned out beautifully and we’re very proud of that fix.
And now this left us with the worstest, most horriblest job I’d been dreading since forever ago.
When it finally became apparent that the Hapless Lottery Flops had blown it and had to be cut loose we turned to our conservation advisor, Chris Knapp. As head of looking after things at IWM Duxford we reckoned he knew a thing or two and a big problem for us was how to get the Coniston mud from under the floor corrugations. It was well and truly trapped in there having oozed in through tiny openings and then solidified while the fools dithered and now it had set like concrete.
It was trapped between the inside of the flat outer floor and the undersides of the corrugations and no way was it coming out of there.
“Take the floor off,” Chris said matter of factly.
“It’s sitting on the floor.” I pointed out.
“Well put it on a rollover jig.” Chris returned exasperatedly.
It was at this point that we realised we’d have to up our game here.
This was the first major piece of tooling we built – the stanchions were made by our old mates at Ivanhoe forge, who at the time of writing are busy making Bluebird’s new launch and recovery trailer, and we made it fit the wreck. Look at the far end and you’ll see the ragged piece of floor ahead of the break at F-15 that was bent downwards in the crash. We had many thousands of rivets to drill out to get those floors off but we did it.
Now then, at the time we’d just had to weather a massive storm in order to sail straight into another one. You see, the museologists, Lottery Fools and bureaucrats were totally wrong. They didn’t have a clue. Bluebird would rebuild and we were damn-well going to do it. Problem was – no one but us believed and now we were going way beyond taking off things held by nuts and bolts. Things that could go back and no one would be any the wiser – but drilling out rivets. That was a different animal – we were committed and my heart was in my mouth. From a storm of negative nonsense to creating the potential to become the people who took K7 apart and never put her back together again could have been a notable case in the history of people jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. I vowed I’d never sleep easy in my bed until all those rivets were back in and things were at least no worse than when we’d begun. It was October 2006.
It would be 2017 before the final assault on those floors would begin. By now we’d repaired the entire inner floor and all of it original, end to end, no mean feat.
But now it was the same old story – find the last eighth of an inch and get the rivets in. First thing was to look at the floor skins themselves and work out how to glue them back together. The front piece from under the cockpit had been torn off and left clinging to the outside of the cockpit floor, which had come away as a separate lump because it’s different to all the other floors in having an inner skin as an inner cockpit floor so Donald didn’t have his feet amongst the corrugations.
That’s the piece that tore off – the outer skin seen below is actually two pieces riveted together down the centre and the straight edge at the top fits against the back of the F-19 step under the hull.
And here’s the rest of it showing clearly where it tore in two.
As you can see, there’s an orange strap holding it flat-ish but take that away and…
All we had to do was glue it all back together but it was going to be quite a job, not only to work out how to weld what was obviously some kind of exotic material but also to get it all straight and flat enough over a distance of over twenty feet so that it would rivet back together down the centreline and fit properly over the corrugated inner floor. First thing we did was get it all spotlessly clean and bundled up to go to Bodycote Heat Treatment to be annealed and given a nice long furnace cool over the weekend. We always tried to time our jobs to be last on a Friday so everyone went home from the plant leaving our material to cool ever so slowly. Works a treat and the floor came back nice and soft and not at all it’s rat-trap-like former springy self. Several times it got loose and violently reassumed the shape given to it in the accident – but not anymore.
Next we decided to chop it into manageable portions by removing that which was damaged from that which had survived still riveted flat to the hull, the plan being to weld it all back together once the damage had been treated. We had no clue how to do this, mind you, as a chemical analysis had now shown it to be somewhere between 7075 and 7078 aluminium or something very close without quite being either of the above so it wasn’t going to weld for fun.
As it happened, it welded much more easily than expected once softened but the above pic’ gives an idea of its original properties. Notice the parallel lines in the material in the glow from the arc. This is an effect of the crash where the skin was torn away from the corrugations. It first creased across the rivet lines where it’s naturally wreaked due to the line of holes across it then the rivets failed releasing the load onto the next line where it creased once again before those rivets failed and so on. We left it as a stark reminder of how the floor unzipped itself in a split second.
The material was almost exclusively fused back together so as not to dilute it with filler and fortunately it was mostly all there so there’s only two small patches inserted on one side, otherwise it’s all native. We wanted to get that process right because the skins would have to be joined across their whole width in four places and it wouldn’t do to have a soft, discontinuity running across the floor. Wasn’t long before we had two repaired forward sections.
If you look closely you can just see where the two small patch repairs are yet to be inserted in the upper half, but otherwise they’re not far away from being welded back to the undamaged aft sections. Note also that the joints are staggered so if there is a discontinuity it’s broken by the joint up the centreline and doesn’t go from one side to the other in a straight line.
Another thing we had to do was sort out the corrugations because they’re repaired parts too and the heights were all over the place. Only in the order of a millimetre or two but even that would make for a very hilly floor when it’s supposed to be flat.
Some careful filling and sanding and checking in all direction with a straight edge took care of the hills and hollows and then there was also the matter of the tear across the floor that even when welded up and repaired remained a concern so we decided to go all belt and braces by letting in a stiffener either side to bridge the repair and let us add even more rivets for extra strength.
Next we used a sheet of 3mm polycarbonate to precisely locate the corrugations and transfer the info to the back of the floor because those corrugations get very narrow and only capable of taking a single rivet across their width near the front and everything had moved around a bit so we lost rivet holes where necessary and drilled new ones to suit.
All these processes took week after week of fettling and trying and fettling again until the day finally arrived when it was time to weld the sections back together again to form two floor skins that run all the way from the transom to F-19. One side just fused together in one go as soon as we put a spot of filler rod at one end to shrink the halves together until they touched. The other had grown a small tapering gap following the work we’d had to do to get it fitting properly and this was a puzzle because the gap was a quarter inch wide at one end and too big to fill or fuse. So we harvested a strip a quarter inch wide from the joggle where the two sections are joined along the centre line from the piece that goes underneath where our theft will never be seen and this was fused to the cut edge on the forwards section of the cut in half floor.