394. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

We spent a good deal of the summer worrying about the recovering process on 1264, and were delighted to find that Randolph, one of the main manufacturers of dope, could offer a dyestuff and UV blocker that will replicate the original colour of 1264’s fabric, but – we hope – last considerably longer.

We placed an order on 26 November, and were a little surprised to learn that it wouldn’t be in the UK until the middle of February.

In fact, it wouldn’t have caused too much disruption since it was late January before we’d completed the fabric covering and applied the two initial coats of nitrate dope, which was in stock. But there has been a major problem with customs or some such which has delayed the shipment from the United States – not just our stuff, but many other customers’ products as well. The shipment was delayed until late February, and so we put back our two planned weeks to dope and then rebuild by another fortnight.

Unfortunately there is a delay of yet another two weeks, and the problem now – apart from rescheduling our other commitments – is that it’s starting to impact on the start of the season. So this week we are making a bit of a start on reassembly as far as we can.

Aileron 1.jpg
The bracing wires transmit the load from the aileron horns to the rear spar. They are a bit of  a fiddle to fit, since they have to be bent in situ, with the risk of accidentally poking an end through the fabric. And they have to be bent to exactly the right length, since there are no strainers.

Today, we’ve been reapplying the external bracing wires to the ailerons and centre section. Tomorrow we’ll start reattaching the strut sockets to the wings and put the fuel tank back on the fuselage.  My pilot’s licence needs revalidating and I’d hoped to get that done this week, as well as getting formation training, ready for the new season of display flying. But the weather isn’t playing ball either. Hrrmph!

Aileron 2.jpg
These ferrules are made from the same wire, and Rick invented a new, and very clever, way of making them. The wire – which is a posh version of piano wire – has to be bent first, then poked through the hole in the bracket without damaging the fabric, and then the ferrule threaded over both parts before the loose end is bent back to lock everything in place.

And because of the delay in arrival of the dope, the week when I should have been revalidating my display rating (postponed because the wheel fell off in August) is now going to be tied up rebuilding 1264. There just aren’t enough days in the year!


393. Fuselage fabric

Week three of the recovering process was mostly concerned with the fuselage.

By Monday we’d stripped the old fabric off the chassis (undercarriage) and fuselage and cleaned and recovered the chassis. There was a setback in that the setting tool for the lacing hooks we were going to need fro the fuselage fabric was still in Ludlow, but I set off at around 1700 feeling pretty positive about the progress we might be able to make.

I got back late morning on Tuesday to find that Theo and Chill had got the three panels for the fuselage fabric measured, cut out and sewn together. But in offering them up to the fuselage for one of many trial fits, a partly open pair of scissors had punctured the fabric just behind the cockpit, meaning they’d had to start all over again…

Thankfully they were able to re-use most of the original fabric and carried on while I tidied up some bits inside the fuselage while we had access, and applied frayed edge tapes to the ribs of a couple of ailerons. The fuselage fabric is attached by means of lacing hooks as used on traditional hiking boots, and it’s necessary to double over the edges of the fabric and sew on a reinforcing tape. When I’d finished my jobs, I dug out the crimping tool that I’d been back to Ludlow to fetch, and looked for the big bag of lacing hooks which were in the blue bag of spares. Except they weren’t. I’d seen them in December and looked all over the house and in my car, and failed to find them. Theo and Chill did the same, and failed to find them. There was nothing for it but to order some more, which were set to arrive on Wednesday and shouldn’t hold up production much.

By Wednesday morning it was becoming clear that our optimism about the speed of the operation was misplaced, and it was going to be yet another slog of a week. Still, I was tidying up a space in the workshop when I came across the bag of lacing hooks under a box of paintbrushes…

Fuselage Fabric.JPG
The old fabric. Notice the difference in colour between the top of the fuselage and the sides, due to the difference in exposure to sunlight. We’ll be trying to replicate that in the new fabric.

You might have thought that it would be possible to use the old fabric as a pattern for the new, but you can probably see that it’s not flat enough or clean enough, and we’ve had to start from scratch with the new one. The only time we were able to take dimensions from the old was for the control cable holes. And it takes a long, long time. Theo did all of that with Chill’s assistance, and I carried on with other things; undercarriage legs, wheel discs, aileron rib tapes, cleaning the ply cover on the fuselage top, and making the frayed edge tapes for all the other ribs. I did this by tearing strips off the roll of linen fabric we had left over from four years ago. This leaves a good start for the frayed edge but you really need to unpick a couple more thread each side, and I ended up with frayed edges and a slightly frayed temper, staying up until 0020 on Friday morning to get the job done.

frayed edge threads.jpg
Here is a small selection of the threads removed from the rib tapes!
Fabric laced up.jpg
The fabric laced up. You can see the reinforced edges to take the lacing hooks, which have to be crimped up using specially modified bolt croppers.

And in fact it wasn’t until Friday afternoon we were finally able to sit the fabric in place, lace it up and iron it, the two initial coats of dope being applied on Saturday morning, after which we all felt in need of a lie down!

Doped Fuselage fabric.jpg
With the wheels off and the tail supported as high as possible, it wasn’t too difficult to apply dope to the underside.

I had hoped that we might be able to apply the rib tapes as well this week, but that hasn’t happened, and the few I did on a couple of ailerons has demonstrated that we need a method of applying tension while we apply dope, otherwise they wrinkle when dope is applied.

So we have arranged yet another week to get that done before the butyrate dope arrives in time for March, when we hope to get the final coats applied, the markings painted, and the whole thing reassembled in time for the 2019 season.


392.Book signing

We drove to the Shuttleworth Collection on Friday 28 Jan in time to set up our stall in the shop. As always, there were loads of old friends there, and we spent a wonderful day gossiping and selling copies of the book to a good many of those who came.

In fact, by 1500, we’d actually sold out – our nice neat box of 24 copies was completely empty, so we had to start a list of those who’d been disappointed.

In each one we’d included a piece of the original fabric as a memento, and that proved very popular, some buyers choosing swatches that had blood on as well as castor oil and dirt!

It’s revised our ideas of the popularity of the book and so today I’ve placed an order for even more. If you left your name with us over the weekend, it won’t be long now.

Also at the Shuttleworth was our petrol tank, repaired and repainted, and ready to do service in the new season.

The Engineering Weekend is a wonderful event, and we wouldn’t miss it even if we weren’t displaying or selling. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends and look deep inside some of the Shuttleworth Collection’s magical toybox.

And for any of you reading this, here’s to a happy New Year, with plenty of flying!

Scout takeoff Wayne Allen.jpg
Many thanks to Wayne Allen for this wonderful shot…


390. A Stitch in Time

It’s been another bruising, tiring week in Dorset.

The plan was to get all the fabric attached to the flying surfaces and the ribstitching done, since a good deal of the ribstitching is a two-man job.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are 11 surfaces; four wings, four ailerons, two elevators and a tailplane that my true love gave to me…

The previous week we’d also applied Waxoyl (which is based on lanolin, which they’d used originally) to the internal steel stuff. We’d used it originally and were delighted to find no deterioration in four years.

The actual flying fabric mustn’t touch metal at all, otherwise the metal will rust, and chafe through the fabric, so the leading and trailing edges had been re-wrapped wrapped with fabric, and the wood contact surfaces had had 1/2in tape glued to them – again, to stop any risk of chafing.

So this week, before we closed the frame off, they were very carefully examined, since you won’t be seeing them again for another ten years, with any luck.

The tail surfaces are closed off with hand stitching; Sue did the elevators as you saw here, and this week Theo’s brother Noel did the honours on the tailplane.


The wings and ailerons are closed by gluing the fabric to the structure (originally they used loads of carpet tacks, but they weren’t expecting their handiwork to last more than a few months). Getting the fabric to lie nicely against the surface you’re gluing to is time-consuming; inevitably it has to be led over a curve first, and the surface itself has cutouts and obstructions like aileron hinges. So it takes a while to work out how to cut the fabric to provide full cover, and the glue itself (called Super Seam) is not easy to work with.  Inevitably you end up with a short temper and fingertips entirely encased in glue!

The next phase is ironing, which we also covered in the previous entry, and it’s generally rather satisfactory. It also enables you to iron out most of the mistakes you made at the gluing stage…

At this point, we tried applying dope to the elevators, and were horrified to find a ‘bloom’ appearing. It’s hard to see here, but the conditions were sufficiently damp that the clear dope picked up some moisture while drying and ended up with whitish stripes.Elevator bloom.JPG

It was possible to remove them with liberal amounts of thinners in warm dry conditions, but we were very concerned that this would put paid to any further doping during the winter. we invested in a hired heater, and thankfully all went well after that, but it caused both of us a sleepless night, I can tell you.

We applied two coats of dope; the first is thinned 50:50 with thinners in order to ensure it penetrated the pretty tight weave of the fabric. we used a small 3 in roller and this seemed to apply just enough fabric to penetrate without causing drips on the inside. Theo had a couple of fancy face masks he’d acquired from somewhere and they proved invaluable in keeping us conscious despite the atmosphere thick with thinners. The second coat was full strength, and we used it to stick 1/2 in tapes to each of the ribs. These are needed for the ribstitching as you’ll see.

Ribstitching took place in the living room, and is a very long-winded process. The purpose is to positively secure the fabric to the frame, and involves using thick waxed thread (minimum breaking strength 14lb) to tie a series of loop round each rib at 2 1/2 in intervals. the tape we stuck on earlier makes sure the thread doesn’t simply pull through the fabric. Each loop has to be secured with a seine knot, which is the one fishermen use for making and repairing their nets.

First of all, you have to mark off the 2 1/2 in intervals down each rib, on both sides, ensuring that matching holes are opposite each other. then you start stitching with a giant needle, long enough to reach right through from top to bottom of the wing.

You push the needle through the first hole and then have to fidget carefully until the tip of the needle lines up with the hole on the other side. And once you get into the middle of the wing and can’t peer over the top, you need someone else to guide you.

Sometimes the holes line up with the internal bracing wires or other internal structure; if you’re not careful, the aileron cable, which is lying slack inside the wing, ends up on the wrong side of the stitches.

A seine knot is fiendishly simple, the operative word being ‘fiendish’. I’ve never heard Theo swear as much, nor he me. And it is a long, long process. The last two wings were done on Friday, and took the two of us 12 hours, only to find the aileron cables were on the wrong side of some stitches, so we had to redo those ones, which took another couple of hours.

But, finally it was done, and on Saturday we could concentrate on doping the ailerons and tail surfaces, and the stitching was finished on Sunday. Phew!





388. Stripping Off

That was Friday. On Sunday afternoon I set off for Dorset with the trailer in tow. Without the engine, it tows far better!

Having parked it up in a farmyard overnight, on Monday morning we backed the trailer into Theo’s drive. we were delighted to find there’s just enough room to fit the trailer in his garden and still get his car on the drive. This means we can leave the trailer where it is all winter. Hooray!

First on the menu was the wings, so they came off the racks and into the workshop two at a time. We were joined by Mark Smallwood, who’s starting on the ambitious project of building not one, but two Sopwith Snipes – both powered by the 230hp Bentley BR2 rotary, one being single seat, the other being a two-seat trainer version.

He recorded the first skin coming off, and it was surprisingly hard work.

When we checked through all the old tins of dope in the trailer, there was a surprise in store. The lid had obviously leaked on one, letting air in and the dope had gone off, resulting in a small lump of solid dope in the bottom.

20181126_153345.jpgAs you can see, it’s a lot smaller than the tin, and yet perfectly symmetrical!


Poor Chill had hoped to be with us by Monday lunchtime but the fanbelt on his car failed near Bedford and he arrived just as Theo was dishing up dinner!

Inside the wing looked more or less immaculate – just as we’d left it four years before. The only obvious deterioration was the leading and trailing edges, where the fabric wrapping showed signs of rust leaching through. P1120844.jpg

Amazingly, there was more or less nothing visible when it was stripped off, but we ordered some more etch primer and applied it to the tubes just in case. And vowed never to leave her out in the rain again!

Meanwhile Theo and Chill were hard at work in the kitchen making up the new skins…

… after which they adopted the living room for trying them on the wing structure.

You can see how the wings stack up behind the sofa when they’re not needed. The wall is about 20mm longer than the wings!

And so the days passed. The tail surfaces and centre section were taken off the fuselage and stripped, and some fittings inside the centre section which had never been satisfactory were remade.

By Friday we had all the flying surfaces ready for covering, and the skins made for everything except the tailplane. The elevators require the final seam to be hand sewn, and they are back in Ludlow for Sue and I to do this week. Theo will be working on the inboard ends of the wings which were never finished in accordance with the original drawings.

And on Sunday I’ll be heading off down to Dorset again when we hope to have the first coats of dope applied to the flying surfaces and the new skin made for the fuselage. The majority of the dope, plus the colouring and UV blocker are on their way from the US and won’t be her until February, so there will be another couple of weeks of work in March to complete that a well as the markings and re-assembly.

And meanwhile, don’t forget to come to the engineering weekend at Shuttleworth on 28/29th December when we will be in the shop and happy to sign copies of the book which is now available from Fonthills, Amazon, and all the rest.