AidSpace Blog

What We're Working on in the Restoration Shop (Part 2)

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In addition to the high-priority Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight aircraft being refurbished at the Garber Facility (described previously), we have a number of other projects progressing at a slower pace:

The item to notice in this picture is not the engine, but the stand behind it. Volunteer Maurice Goodwin is working on a long-term project to build sturdy engine stands that can be rolled into position in a work area or stacked on heavy-duty shelving. The expensive casters are set into sockets and are reusable on any of our many stands. And, since some readers will want to know, the engine is an experimental Continental XR-1740-2 sleeve-valve radial engine, 875 HP, built in 1941 but never flown.

Volunteer Bill Pellegrino is fitting new copper-colored Kapton outer layers to the ATS-6 Earth viewing module. The welding shop added extensions to the stand to provide access to the bottom of the satellite – notice Bill’s wheeled work seat underneath.

Forerunner of today’s ultralight and light sport aircraft, this Curtiss-Wright CW-1 Junior is being restored by a team of volunteers headed by Joe Fichera, a retired Museum restoration specialist. The fuselage is nearly complete; current work is focused on the wings and wing struts (not shown). The wings will attach above the cockpits, just below the silvery fuel tank, with engine and pusher prop behind them.

The Junior’s engine, a three-cylinder Szekely. The Szekelys had the unfortunate habit of occasionally blowing cylinders completely off the engine while in flight, due to bolt or cylinder base failures. This one has the factory-installed “fix”; straps running between the cylinder heads to hold the cylinders on.

This immense one-piece wing from the Heinkel He-219 occupies the center of the shop. Visitors to the Udvar-Hazy Center can see the fuselage, one engine, and other components already on display. The exhibit designers assure us that the airplane will still fit in its gallery when assembled, but it’s going to be a tight fit.

At present, this Daimler-Benz DB 603 Aa engine is getting most of the attention on the He-219 project. It needs just a little more assembly, and then it’ll be ready for the cowling. Note that the stand is designed to hold the engine either horizontally or vertically. How do you rotate a 3000-pound engine?

It helps if you have two forklifts and a lot of practice. Here, Jeff Mercer (foreground) and Rob Mawhinney (behind the engine) make it look easy.

Anne McCombs is a restoration specialist in the Collections Division of the National Air and Space Museum.

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4 thoughts on “What We're Working on in the Restoration Shop (Part 2)

  1. How would one go about starting a career in aircraft restoration? I read this blog and look at the pictures and it seems like the type of work I should have been doing the past decade despite having worked in a very different field. Do most restoration technicians have an engineering background or experience operating and/or maintaining aircraft? While I think aircraft are amazing machines, I must admit it’s not something which I’ve had a deep interest. However, the idea of doing hands on work to bring these or other vintage machines back to life really interests me. I’m currently in the process of restoring an antique tractor and it has been very rewarding despite the fact I can only dedicate a few days a month to it. Any insight you could provide would be of great interest to me. Thanks!!


  2. Patrick, you’re already doing two things right by doing actual restoration work on your tractor and by asking questions. The best next step I can recommend to you (or anyone with similar interests) is to volunteer at an aviation museum that has a restoration program. If there’s no aviation museum near you, try a museum in a related field, but make sure you get into working with hands-on artifact care. Almost everyone here started that way, myself included. There’s a lot of on-the-job learning in this profession, and you can acquire the formal education later when you’re sure this is what you truly love. Expect to be doing a lot of tedious work (cleaning, corrosion removal, etc.), because that’s the nature of restoration work. If a museum doesn’t work out, go to your local airport, find the maintenance shop, and volunteer or work as a mechanic’s assistant.

    Most of us are FAA certificated airframe and powerplant mechanics, but many of us got those ratings later in our careers. We have a variety of technical backgrounds; most, but not all, in some branch of the aerospace world. A love of airplanes and a solid background in hands-on mechanical work are the most necessary ingredients.

    Keep asking lots of questions and also be prepared to learn by reading manuals. We use standard FAA manuals when we can’t find evidence of the original builder’s methods. If you’d like to see examples of the kinds of repairs we do, take a look at AC 43.13-1B (go to and click on “Advisory Circulars”).

    Good luck!

    Anne McCombs

  3. Thank You for that informative post. I really love to read articles that have good information and ideas to share to each reader. I hope to read more from you guys and continue that good work that is really inspiring to us. Great Job!

  4. I really enjoyed reading your article about aircraft restoration and the machines/tools involved. Although I am not a mechanic myself, I am interested in aircraft – especially since my grandfather used to work at Rolls Royce jet engines and was the head of product support (after being an engineer in the Air Force).

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