Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Restoration!

A Labor of Love    by Dave Hansen
What would possess a person to go out and purchase a WWII bomber, you might ask? Well it might be that you could be the first on your block to say ...."I have a bomber!", or, "Honey, I just got a great deal on this bomber. It was on sale!" (They do it to us, ya know). Actually, it was none of the above.

After a casual conversation, while dropping off some aircraft parts at Chino, I simply asked the question "What would it take to get into a warbird ..... Like that one?" I was pointing at an old PV-2 that was sitting on the ramp with no engines, a total restoration project.The gent that I was talking to replied "Are you serious?" and told me about two aircraft that were just like that and were available. One in California and one in Buffalo, Wyoming. Buffalo was closer to where I lived in Utah, so off we went.
After the first visit

The initial price was doable, and the cost to get the aircraft back home was thought out and figured in. I could dress this pig up, and sell it for a reasonable profit. Great plan, but this however was not to be. The disease took over and I was going to be in for a ride. This was July 2006.

It took 9 separate week long trips (and a lot of work in between) over the course of 15 months to get the Harpoon in the air, so that it could be flown back to my home base of Heber to really begin the restoration. Generally there was only two of us, mostly myself and my boy, but occasionally I had the help of a couple of other individuals. During this time, I started to do some research on the history of the Harpoons, and the missions they flew. The malady insidiously began to take hold. I now 'owned' a piece of history, or so I thought. I was soon hooked. Instead of just a quick dress up, it was now obvious that the whole plane needed to be restored (meaning lots of stuff had to be found or reproduced), including all the internal components and equipment, bulkheads, work stations, turrets and other guns. Not very easy to go on line and order an operational turret, complete with twin .50cal machine guns.

Let's review...... "WHAT WAS I THINKING?"

A sad looking cockpit.
To give you an idea of what was done prior to it's flight home, here is a condensed list: Props were removed, overhauled and re-installed; all fuel transfer / boost pumps were removed, overhauled and re-installed; all engine accessories were overhauled; oil coolers were rebuilt; all three tires and tubes were replaced (who knew that one single main tire could cost more than $1000 - definitely not Wal-mart prices);   all fuel, oil and hydraulic lines were replaced; critical flight instruments were replaced; the rudders were removed, recovered and re-installed and all other control surfaces were inspected and bearings replaced;   new windshields; swing and service the landing gear; oil and fuel tanks flushed and the aircraft generally serviced. Lots of minor things as well, but I am getting tired of writing. After all of this, it still looked a lot more like an old mosquito sprayer, than a World War II bomber.

Arrival in Heber, Utah
Now on October 7th, 2007 it was ready for the 300 mile epic flight home. Fill 'er up; 115 gallons of oil, 720 gallons of avgas. For us it was exciting, but for the plane, it was uneventful, and apart from one aborted takeoff, it was just an ordinary flight (after sitting derelict for 20 years).

Phase Two Begins
As winter was approaching, the next step was to paint the plane to help protect it from the Utah snow. So before it would have the equipment that made it a bomber, it would be painted to resemble one. The chosen paint scheme was the tri-color version, with dark blue on top of the wings, horizontal stabilizer and fuselage; mid blue for the vertical surfaces of the fuselage, engine nacelles and fins; and white for the bottom of the aircraft.
Terry masking the 'Star and Bar'
The plane was painted to represent a member of VPB-139, a squadron that spent time operating out of Attu Island during WWII, and the name and nose art selected, 'Attu Warrior' represents all those aircraft that flew into battle from Attu (a mostly forgotten part of WWII). Dave Mueller, a local artist whose constant encouragement and attitude kept me going through the following years as the Harpoon took shape, worked with me to design the nose art and then painted it by hand on the bomber. The Harpoon finally had a name.
'Attu Warrior' is christened

Now a plan was hatched to remove the spray tank that took up much of the interior of fuselage. Piece by piece, the tank was cut up with a plasma cutter and passed out through the door. Once this was completed, the interior was slowly returned to original configuration. Now the workforce is mostly me. Over the next 3 years, thousands of hours were spent fabricating and installing all the many components of a working aircraft.

The Navigators station.

Any spare minute, when I wasn't making a living or taking care of my family was spent working on "Attu Warrior'. Funny thing was, she was no longer mine. I no longer owned a "piece of history", I was simply the caretaker. This aircraft really belongs to those who sacrificed to build it, fly and fight in it, and now to the families of the crews of all the aircraft just like it. These are the real owners. Now, as others continue to get involved with the Harpoon, we are just given the opportunity and responsibility to make sure that this incredible aircraft continues to be taken out to the public "that we might never forget".

If you would like to find out the real reason that any warbird owner/restorer puts in countless hours and who knows how much of their own money to be able to become a caretaker, it can best be described by the following story. It takes a bit to read it, but it explains everything
Although this is one particular story, we have all had similar experiences. You only have to meet one of these great heroes, and you are willing to put in all the time and effort it takes.

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