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Super Catalina Restoration

By Paul Chandler
August 8, 2001

Most people are aware of the history of this aircraft and its unfortunate accident in Southampton Water in July 1998 - this is the story of the project so far and my involvement with it.

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Photo © Colin K. Work

I first became involved with the restoration of Catalina VP-BPS in March 1999 after a work colleague and I responded to an advert placed in a aviation magazine. We contacted the new owners and arranged to visit the project.

The aircraft at the time was on a slipway within the boundary of the British Aerospace site at Hamble and, on arrival, we contacted security, who gave us directions to the aircraft.

On seeing the aircraft for the first time since its accident it was evident that considerable damage had been done to the aircraft during its salvage, particularly to the forward fuselage and leading edge of the wing.

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Photo © Paul Chandler

Other volunteers and the owners had already started the dismantling of the aircraft, with the outer wing panels and tail assembly already having been removed.

After having a tour of the aircraft given by the new owners, we set about doing some work. The Catalina, like a lot of aircraft of its era (it was designed in 1936 and built in 1944) is of "simple" construction, and that meant a lot of screws, nuts and bolts that needed removing.

The outer wing panels are 30ft long each with a leading and trailing edge assembly that needed removing. With a row of screws on the top and underside of each assembly, there were plenty of screws that needed to be removed. We spent that day (and several others) removing the leading and trailing edge fixing screws, which having been in sea water were in poor condition and often needed drilling out.

The engines were, at that time, still mounted on the centre wing section. Work was progressing to disconnect all the pipes and electrical systems, which would allow the engines to be removed and worked on at ground level. This took a lot of work to complete as there were over 30 plugs and pipes, some of which were quite difficult to get at.

Over a period of a couple of weeks both engines were lowered to ground level where further work could be done, such as preparing them for transport to the overhaul facility. This included the removal of all the electrical systems and pipework, making sure that all items were labelled for identification and ease of refitting.

During another visit to the aircraft it was necessary to remove all the exhaust stubs from each engine. As each engine is a 14 cylinder R2600 model, that meant a total of 28 stubs, most of which had been fixed using ‘nylox’ nuts which had suffered from heat damage and salt water corrosion. They proved difficult to remove.

Once the engines had been removed and all the necessary preparation work had been done, they were taken away for overhaul, along with the propellers.

The next stage of the dismantling process was the removal of the remaining centre wing section. This involved the disconnection and labelling of all the wiring that runs from the wing, through the pylon, and into the fuselage for distribution. The wing struts also had to be removed before the wing could be lifted off. These proved very difficult on 2 of the 4 struts and we actually broke 3 sockets trying to undo one of the bolts before resorting to more brutal methods at a later date.

The centre wing section was finally removed on a Saturday. This involved using a small crane and a lot of brute force. First, we had to move the Catalina some 20 feet to allow the crane better access. Our intention was to lift the wing off and roll the fuselage back to its original position. One of the team had overhauled the towbar and this was use to tow the plane. We had to undo the 2 main wing bolts, which are located in the centre pylon, and these proved to be difficult to remove, to say the least. Eventually we were able to remove the bolts by using a large hammer and 2 of the strongest team members. The crane then lifted the wing off and it was placed on supports that were located next to the plane.

The next step was to arrange for the move of the whole project to Lasham airfield, near Alton in Hampshire. The day was chosen and it turned out to be FA Cup Final day [that's a big day in the "soccer" world--Ed.]. Moving day arrived, but because of the limited space around the aircraft it had to be moved further up the slipway and closer toward the facility's main gate before it could be loaded. This was done using the towbar attached to a large forklift truck and was accomplished without any major problems.

Once the fuselage and other items were loaded onto the 3 lorries provided by the moving company, it was off up the M27 and M3 highways to Lasham where the aircraft was off-loaded, with expressions of much relief all round.

The following day it was back to working on the plane. Work was started on the previously removed the leading edges, fuel tank inspection panels and fuel tank filler units. The leading edges were fixed using screws, and again these had suffered corrosion from its immersion in salt water and consequently proved difficult to remove.

The fuel tank inspection panels proved equally stubborn, and again many of the screws had to be drilled out. Once these panels were removed it was possible to get to the underside of the fuel filler caps. These required 2 people to remove them, 1 inside the fuel tank (to prevent the bolt from spinning) and the other turning the screw from the outside. Once the 30 or so nuts and bolts had been released, a makeshift lever was used to free the units. The fuel cap units have now been overhauled and are ready to be reinstalled at a later date.

Once we had gained access to the fuel tanks it was possible to remove the fuel sender units from them. One of the float arms was actually loose on the bottom of the tank, which was a unwelcome surprise as it meant the quantity of fuel in that tank would not register on the gauges in the cockpit.

The next set of items that needed removal were the firewalls from the front of each engine nacelle. This would allow access to the main oil tank for each engine and allow an inspection to be made of each of those. The firewalls proved as difficult as all the pipework had been, and electrical connections for the engines had to be disconnected to allow the firewall to come away.

Once the firewalls were removed, the oil tanks were next and these were held by many nuts and bolts, most of which required two people to undo and at least one "rubber arm", as some required an arm inside the nacelle with a spanner [wrench--ed.] to find the nut being worked, while the second person turned the bolt from the outside. It was difficult and dirty work, but we had a real sense of progress when the tanks finally came away.

Also progressing at the same time was the removal of the nose landing gear, which would allow better access to the undercarriage bay, allowing the repairs to this section to commence. This involved the removal of 12 badly corroded split pins, nuts and bolts, along with a lot of physical effort to ‘break’ the locking mechanism. In fact, a jack was used to move the retaining arm against its spring before the gear would move. Also removed were the cockpit seats, floor and control mechanisms, again to allow better access.

The ‘Z’ section stringer that was proving so difficult to source was finally delivered in December 1999, and has since been used to replace all the damaged sections on both fuselage repairs, which have now been completed.

During this period work has also continued on the centre wing section trailing edges, where many of the ribs were broken. These are currently being replaced with new ribs and plated/riveted into position. There are approximately 15 ribs that need repairing in this way.

The centre section leading edge (between nacelles) has also been removed and all the pipework/cabling and conduit have been removed to allow repairs to be undertaken. This piece has also had its skin panels removed to allow some of the broken and corroded internal structure to be replaced.

The anchor box was also removed as it was found to be badly corroded and not watertight. Its removal allowed better access to the forward flight deck bulkhead and floor panel, which are badly corroded in this area and along the chine line, and will probably force the replacement of the skin as there are several other repairs that need to be done to the stringer sections in this area.

The windscreens have been replaced and sealed, so the flight deck is now almost watertight, with only the roof exit hatch to be fabricated and refixed.

The throttle/mixture controls have been overhauled or repaired and are ready to be replaced at the appropriate time. The main instrument panel has been re-sprayed and will be replaced once suitable instruments are located. The overhead panels and eyebrow panels have been rewired and tested and once the flight deck is watertight will be reinstalled.

The next major repair to be undertaken was the nose undercarriage bay, which involved a new rear bulkhead and part of each side. All these pieces are ready to be installed. Once these repairs have been completed it will allow the nose undercarriage to be installed and the plane to be mobile once again.

We have also been removing the split pins from all the control cable runs. As you can imagine, there are a lot of pulleys and some are in particularly awkward positions. We also intend to replace every pulley and control cable.

Also being removed are any surplus electrical cabling and conduit, which are no longer used or have suffered from corrosion. The same applies to the circuit breakers and the power distribution boxes, all of which will need replacing and/or overhauling.

The other ‘large’ job that has been done is the removal of the numerous layers of paint from the fuselage and other airframe items. We have found 4 or 5 coats of paint in places and this has been removed , albeit slowly, to allow a detailed inspection of the fuselage skins to be undertaken. This will indicate any other areas that need repairing prior to repainting.

Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Paul Chandler

Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Paul Chandler

The plane has now been stripped of most of its paint (see above) - only those panels requiring replacement were left intact and a couple of further skin repairs were started, one close to the nose undercarriage bay and the other on the rear keel section.

Owing to poor weather during the later part of 2000, it was proving very difficult to do much useful work on the plane itself. However, during this time the group had negotiated the purchase of another PBY Catalina (N423RS) and a considerable number of spares - 3 containers of the latter coming from Greenpeace.

The latest news is our recent relocation from Lasham to Lee-on-Solent in March 2001, which involved the Army, and it was a good sight to see the convoy on the motorway during the 55 mile trip. (see below)

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Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Paul Chandler

Work has continued since then on unpacking and organising all the pieces we brought with us from Lasham, and with the arrival of some spares from Denmark has meant a busy time for the volunteers working to restore VP-BPS to her rightful place in the sky.

Written by
Paul Chandler

For further information please see our website www.supercatalina.com where you will find contact details - please note that it is possible for visits to be arranged given prior notice. Article edited by Colin Saunders, www.airliners.net

5 User Comments:
Username: Colinsensei [User Info]
Posted 2001-08-08 09:30:08 and read 32768 times.

Congratulations on a fine job, Paul. It’s people like you who help us maintain a real link with our aviation heritage.


Username: F-WWAI [User Info]
Posted 2001-08-08 10:26:52 and read 32768 times.

you guys are the real enthousiasts, I congratulate you for your courage and admire your passion.
the catalina is one of the most beautiful planes ever build.

Username: Airlinelover [User Info]
Posted 2001-08-09 06:26:40 and read 32768 times.

It's good to see the new article. And to have it this good! What a treat! I look forward to hearing updates as to the restoration work!


Username: Hastaroth [User Info]
Posted 2001-08-12 21:26:02 and read 32768 times.

A truly painstaking job you're doing there!I hope you'll soon get the plane into the air again:)...A pity that I can't be there to see the first takeoff!

Username: Greeneyes53787 [User Info]
Posted 2001-09-22 01:03:48 and read 32768 times.

Good publication. Dad would have enjoyed reading it. He started his engineering carreer during WWII on Consolidated's assembly lines building B-24 Liberators and PBY Catalinas. His brother, Dwight, built the Turrett Tracks of both.

I recently viewed the one (PBY) in San Diego's museum. They are a tough machine- one worth saving.

Thanks again.


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