Barn Cub Found
Every collector’s dream is to come across a “barn find,” though often the discovery doesn’t involve a barn. It can be a Merlin engine spotted in a junkyard, a decrepit Stearman parked in a field, Spad wings stored in a warehouse. A remarkable recent find, in fact, involved a Texas ranch hangar: Parked inside it was a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub with only 197 hours in its logbook—the equivalent of a ’46 Ford with 6,000 miles on its odometer— that was last flown in July 1950.
NC7057H was bought new in 1946 by rancher Charles Moseley, who flew it from the Piper factory in Pennsylvania to his sheep ranch near Austin, where both he and his daughter, Charlotte, used it purely as a utility plane: Moseley owned two small ranches, and the plane shuttled between them. When he sold the second ranch in 1950, there was no more use for the Cub, so it was pushed into its hangar and forgotten.
Over the years, a large tree grew directly in front of the hangar door. Untouched but safely out of the weather, the Cub’s fabric eventually sloughed off the wings and fuselage, hanging in tatters. The Plexiglas windows yellowed and the seat fabric disintegrated. The hangar roof settled above the Cub, but the airplane’s rubber landing-gear bungees gave out and the gear legs spread to their stops, saving the aircraft from being crushed.
When 22-year-old Jared Calvert learned about the plane, he assumed it was a runout old bird and would be a good candidate to re-engine and modify. Little did he know that he was about to acquire the lowest-time, most original Cub in the world. Calvert hopes to have it flying again before the end of the year and will restore it to close-to-original condition, with modern fabric (the original was cotton) treated with classic butyrate dope. He’ll have the six original panel instruments rebuilt, but the plywood floorboards simply need refinishing. The Cub’s little 60-hp Continental engine turns freely and has surprising compression, though Calvert will, of course, have it rebuilt.
A college student, Calvert also finds time to help out at the Ranger Airfield, a historic West Texas strip (go to www.myspace. com/rangerairfield to read about its fascinating past and recent revival). When it’s restored, the Cub will be used to give rides at Ranger.
Canadian First Flight Reenacted
Nearly 1,500 spectators gathered on frozen Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia on February 22 to watch a replica of Silver Dart— the first powered heavier than-air machine to fly in Canada—climb 35 feet and travel 4,000 feet in a reenactment of the original 1909 flight. The replica achieved amazing fidelity to the original airplane, incorporating two of its breakthroughs—wingtip ailerons and tricycle landing gear—that were the fruit of collaborations between chief designer Jack McCurdy, his mentor Alexander Graham Bell and Americans Thomas Selfridge and Glenn Curtiss. These innovations, along with a water-cooled 8-cylinder Curtiss engine not duplicated in the replica, made Silver Dart arguably the best and most controllable aircraft in the world at the time.
The Aerial Experiment Association 2005 of Welland, Ontario, built the Silver Dart replica over five years, using bamboo, ash, sitka spruce, Douglas fir, wire and friction tape. The group based its design on drawings in the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa and the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck. They substituted a 4-cylinder air-cooled Continental engine for the original, and included rudder pedals, rear wheel brakes, an instrument panel and seat belt and shoulder harness. AEA 2005 plans to remove the temporary equipment and convert the aircraft into a more exact reproduction—complete with Curtiss engine, replica copper radiator and wood propeller—before donating it to the Bell Museum.
Gerald Haddon, grandson of original Silver Dart pilot McCurdy, swooped in behind the replica in a helicopter, and described his vantage point as “picture perfect.” He added: “The big thing about flying the Silver Dart is you’ve got nobody to talk to. You only have your own experience and your wits with you to get you through the air.”
A lack of experience with the fragile bird almost grounded the 2009 reenactment when pilot Bjarni Trygvasson (a former astronaut) suffered a broken nose wheel on his first flight attempt. His plane eventually achieved liftoff, coming off better than the 50th anniversary replica did in 1959, when it crashed in high winds on Baddeck Bay. Even McCurdy had his own problems in 1909. “In taking off I had to clear one old Scot, so doubtful I would fly, that he had started off across the ice with his horse and sleigh,” he said. “I think they both had the daylights scared out of them.” On landing, McCurdy narrowly avoided two girls on skates (see story, P. 46).
Doug Jermyn of AEA 2005 was well aware of the competition between the Wright brothers and Bell’s young engineers. “We were a tiny bit proud that we were able to successfully fly our replica on a budget of about $50,000 on the 100th anniversary,” he said. “The Wright Flyers that were built for the December 2003 centennial [in North Carolina] cost millions and did not fly well—although they had weather problems too!” More info at www.silverdartreplica.com.
Northrop Tests Hitler’s ‘Stealth’ Fighter
One of the most interesting controversies surrounding any Nazi German aircraft project concerns the all- wing, mostly wood, twin-jet Horten Ho-229 (also known as the Gotha Go-229—see “Radical Luftwaffe Weapons” in the May issue). After World War II, the Horten brothers claimed they had designed the flying wing with stealth in mind. Reimar Horten said he mixed charcoal dust in with the wood glue to absorb electromagnetic waves (radar) being shot at the Ho-229, in effect shielding it from early detection by British ground-based early warning Chain Home radar. Skeptics claim that the Horten brothers didn’t know anything about radar or radar-absorbing materials in the early 1940s, nor did they know how to make a low-radar-profile aircraft.
Award-winning TV documentary producer Michael Jorgensen is a longtime fan of the Ho-229 V3, the single surviving example that is stored at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul Garber restoration facility in Silver Hill, Md. In early 2008, Jorgensen partnered with the National Geographic Channel to produce a documentary to determine whether the Ho-229 was in fact a “stealth” fighter-bomber—the world’s first such aircraft, predating Northrop’s all-wing B-2 Spirit stealth bomber by almost 45 years. The documentary will air in late June.
For years the engineers at Northrop Grumman Corporation had been interested in the Ho-229, and several of them visited Silver Hill in the early 1980s to study the V3. After Jorgensen and National Geographic reached an agreement on the documentary, Northrop offered to build a full-scale, unpowered Ho-229 replica. In addition, the company said it would take the completed replica out to its classified radar cross section (RCS) test range at Tejon, Calif., place it on a 50-foot articulating pole and shoot electromagnetic energy at it, duplicating the same three frequencies used by the Chain Home radar network in the early 1940s.
Before beginning the build, Northrop experts returned to Garber in September 2008 and ran electromagnetic experiments on the V3’s multilayer wooden center-section nose cones. These cones are threefourths of an inch thick and made up of thin sheets of veneer. It is the glue between each piece of veneer that historians debate. The Northrop team concluded there was some type of conducting element in the glue, since the radar signal slowed down considerably as it passed through the nose cones.
After an expenditure of about $250,000 and 2,500 man-hours, Northrop’s Ho-229 replica was ready to be tested at Tejon in February. The results were surprising. Although Northrop will not release the Ho-229’s actual RCS values, the 53-foot flying wing demonstrated that given its 550-mph speed, wood construction and charcoal or graphite mixed in the glue, its detection by Chain Home radar would have been reduced by 25 to 30 percent compared to the slower piston-engine Messerschmitt Me-109 and Focke Wulf Fw-190 fighters. Chain Home could detect those aircraft up to 80 miles away.
RCS testing also showed that if the Ho-229 had approached England from France flying at 550 mph 50 to 100 feet above the English Channel, Chain Home would not have been able to identify it at all given the clutter coming off the water. This means RAF fighters wouldn’t have been scrambled until ground observers saw the jet flying overhead and it dropped its bombs, turned around and headed back toward France.
Now that the testing is completed, the flying wing will be donated to a yet-to-be-determined aviation museum.
Scale-Model Spitfire Labor of Love
Airplane modeling requires obsessive attention to detail and a steady hand, but to build exact replicas in 1/3rd or 1/5th scale takes an entirely different skill set. Every component of the original has to be reproduced, only smaller. David Glen of Cambridge, England, spent 11 years constructing a 1/5th-scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I. Now on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, his model is skinned with litho plate over a balsa core (left in bare metal to reveal the structure) and contains at least 19,000 tiny rivets. Reproduced from microfilm blueprints and workshop manuals held at the RAF Museum, as well as countless photos
Glen took while volunteering at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford Airfield, the miniature Spit is detailed down to the rudder pedals, control column, undercarriage control lever and instrument dials. Possibly to maintain his sanity—he had no means to blow a bubble hood—he copied the flat canopy of the early model Mk. Is.
Glen was close to shelving the project when an encounter with Michael Fopp, director general of the RAF Museum, strengthened his resolve. Fopp promised to put the model on display, offering a way to bring the project full circle. Glen said, “I don’t pretend the little Spitfire is perfect, but I do hope it has captured something of the spirit and incomparable beauty of this magnificent fighter— perhaps the closest to a union that art and technology has ever come.” He’s now at work on a 1/5th-scale P-51D Mustang.
Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.