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Bringing history to life

I have been rather scarce lately and those who know me well enough probably know some of what I have been up to. Much has been either of little interest to our readership or has had me too busy to even talk about it. However, I have been up to a bit of aeronautical fun the last couple Saturdays which some of you might enjoy hearing about.

For some years I have known about the F4F Wildcat which the Ulster Aviation Society pulled out of the lough where it had rusted in pieces for a half a century. I had no way to get out to the hanger where the restoration work has been going on until last weekend when I finally convinced someone to give me a lift. Once there, others decided they really could use my set of reasonably skilled hands… and the rest is history as they say. Actually all of it is history: this is a genuine British WWII veteran that ditched one winter’s day while out on a patrol from this very airfield.

UAS Wildcat
It has taken them over ten years to get here, but she is beginning to shape up quite nicely.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

My first job was to install a small fitting between the outside and inside of the cockpit, so I had to contort myself into odd positions to ratchet in bolts to re-install a 65 year old part to the restored fuselage skin. I also learned that a 6mm metric wrench does quite nicely on a 1/4 inch bolt…

Wildcat cockpit
It is a good thing I got skinny again… I spent a good chunk of the day squeezed in here.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

After accomplishing that small task, the foreman, a retired ATC from Aldergrove (BFS), gave me a slightly bigger job. I was told to pull an aluminum fitting from the cockpit port side where the combination of new and old parts had been pressed in for a fit check, and then to do all the filing, cleaning and priming to ready the part for use.

Wildcat cockpit
This will eventually contain some controls near the pilot’s left elbow
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The hanger is itself history. During WWII Shorts built Stirling Bombers here. The Stirling was a big airplane and stood high on its long undercarriage. If you have ever seen a picture of one you will never forget it.

The Wildcat is not the only airframe in this ancient hanger. There is also a Blackburn Buccaneer, a Shorts Tucano, a number of classic helicopters, a Shorts 330, and a few other airframes that are only to be found here. There is even a recently retired RAF Canberra photo recon plane due to arrive any month now.

My second favorite after the Wildcat however is the Suez War veteran Sea Hawk. Even just sitting there it seems to be telling me “I want to fly!!!” The office is quite comfortable but I could not convince them to move all those other aeroplanes out of the way and let me take it for a spin. Well, there is one other problem: someone built a large building in the middle of where the WWII runway used to be. Oh well…

Dale Amon in Sea Hawk
Did you say catapult one or two?
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

14 comments to Bringing history to life

  • You lucky sod Dale!

  • the other rob

    I also learned that a 6mm metric wrench does quite nicely on a 1/4 inch bolt…

    OTOH, a 1/4 inch hex key is not the appropriate tool for a 6mm hex socket bolt. As I have found to my cost.

    I concur with NickM – you are a very lucky man!

  • M. Thompson

    Those old birds are beautiful to see in any state of preservation. Wish I had the time and money for a Wildcat.

  • Dale

    Which version of the F$F was it ? The early models are incredibly rare but there are lots of the FM-2 ‘s around

  • MattP

    Did you say catapult one or two?

    That reminds me of something I heard from an FM-2 driver. The guy was landing on a fleet Carrier, from an escort carrier.

    He saw the size of the deck, and asked which runway he should take.

    By the way, the emoticon which expresses just how jealous I am hasn’t been invented yet.

  • Dale Amon

    It’s a Wildcat Mk5 in British nomenclature. They called the Wildcat a Martlett’s early on but switched to using the manufacturers name later on.

  • Dale Amon

    I must admit that when I looked at the narrow wheel base of the mains. I’d swear my old ‘172 (N3892S) had nearly as as much distance betwixt wheels! I can well understand why this type was a bit squirrelly on a deck landing..

  • Dale

    According to by sources (Barrett Tillman’s book on the Wildcat) the Wildcat Mk 5 was known in the US as the FM-1 made by General Motors in New Jersey.

    The F4F-3 and F4F-4 that fought at Midway and Guadalcanal are still are rare as always. I think the only one left is in the US Navy museum in Pensacola.

  • Dale Amon

    There’d be a lot more of them around if the USN weren’t such pricks about recovery. The USAF basically says go for it, unless there are remains, in which case that recovery has to occur first.

  • MattP

    The Wildcats that fought at Midway and Guadalcanal should be rare.

    The ones that fought at Leyte were better.

    As it turns out, if you take a couple of guns off the wings, uprate the engine, and put a taller stabilizer on the Wildcat, it’s not that bad of a fighter. And a good maintenance chief could fix you up with 1400 horsepower.

    I never met anyone who would have traded down from a Hellcat for one, though.

  • Dale Amon

    Quite a few have expressed some jealousy at my good fortune… but you needn’t do so. There are collections all over the UK and the US where you can go and volunteer to help with restorations. If you are good with your hands and know your way around tools, they’ll have you doing interesting stuff as soon as they are convinced you can be trusted not to kill yourself or, even worse, damage the aeroplane!

    So, don’t be jealous! Get out there and volunteer!

  • Subotai Bahadur

    No places for me to volunteer nearby, and Sir I will still express my envy also. I have seen the F-4F [and everything else they had] at Pensacola, and had the privilege of flying in the gun turret of one of the Confederate Air Force’s [this was in 1995 at a WW II Victory Celebration airshow, before they became (‘gag’) the Commemorative Air Force] TBM Avenger’s. And I still envy you the chance work at the restoration. One question. Is the Wildcat being restored eventually to flying condition, or just for display?

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Dale Amon

    Restoration to display standard only unfortunately. They just do not have the funding to restore to flight. Nary a millionaire in the bunch…

  • ErrolC

    There are collections all over the UK and the US where you can go and volunteer
    And most other places readers of this blog are likely to be. There is a B-24 project near Melbourne, for instance.