15th September 2007
Another milestone this week – Bluebird’s frame is now back in one piece.
I visited PDS on Tuesday.
They are indisputably the world’s leading authority on these record-breaking vehicle chassis’ but we had a precautionary pooling of knowledge ahead of the final act to be sure that the front end – of which the Bluebird-Project team have extensive knowledge – was properly aligned to the back end, which PDS have so expertly conserveered back to operable condition.
So with everyone smiling in agreement out came the TIG torch and we spot-welded some bits of scrap over the fractures to hold everything in place so the final repairs can be completed without anything moving a millimetre.
Here, Chris Woodcock from PDS leans over the top to blast a few stitches into our temporary repairs. I did the other side but had to do my Fat-Contortionist thing because I can’t TIG-weld at arms length.
Thanks to John Getty of PDS for allowing us to use these pic’s.
What we did was to ensure that the frame was perfectly true along its length then joined the lower tubes. They’re the important ones to get right because as we’ve mentioned in the diary before, K7’s whole structure meets at the floors.
Then I heard someone rap on a frame tube and a familiar voice ask, “Is this T60?”
I turned to find this charming gentleman enjoying a look-see. (The one on the left of the picture).
I’d met Glynn Bowsher before when he and John came to visit us shortly after we’d recovered K7. Glynn was doing something with the Quicksilver project back then and was particularly interested in Bluebird’s frame and how it had performed in the accident. He was also interested in the broken engine mount but that’s another story.
Glynn is perhaps best known for being handed the aerodynamic shape of Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC, as designed by Ron Ayres, then having to squeeze sufficient gubbins under the skins to actually make it go. His was the controversial rear-wheel steering arrangement too – worked, didn’t it…
He puts me so much in mind of the late, great, Ken Norris. Such an unassuming, genius of an engineer with a glittering track-record that he’s so modest about that you’d easily imagine he’d been a greengrocer all his life and we were chatting about the best technique for weighing a pound of apples.
I got to ask all those questions about SSC that have puzzled me for years – ten years to be precise. The original team are all off to the desert for a reunion sometime soon.
We also met the equally charming, Mrs. Bowsher who suggested
that not all of Glynn’s astonishing genius has been his own. She hinted that some of the ground-breaking flashes of inspiration that went into SSC may have originated from the ironing board rather than the drawing board…
And Glynn expressed his approval of our project, which means so much more than if, say, the Hapless Lottery Failure wrote to confirm that they’re all stupid then the museologists lit a huge, tweed bonfire that very evening.
High praise indeed from someone uniquely qualified to dispense it.
So after posing for a few pic’s and enjoying a good chat about engineering-type stuff we reluctantly bade him farewell and got back to K7’s frame where some small gaps remained between the shattered top tubes – here’s the fracture top-left at station 15.
But this is nothing, all things considered, and was soon dealt with by the guys from PDS with skilled assistance from the BOC formation welding team.
I got the call at 16:30 GMT on Thursday to say the frame was completed.
For those of an anoraky disposition, K7 was in two halves for 14,862 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes – or so I’m told.
Rachel keeps asking whether this accounts for leap-years…
The BBP team are now making arrangements to have the frame brought home. Won’t be long.
Things are returning to normal in the workshop too; if there is such a thing as a normal condition in our workshop.
We’ve been left short-handed this week by Rob and Mike taking their hols at the same time, how dare they, but at least we weren’t made to suffer the ball-chasing.
Rob did e-mail to say that his favourites managed a victory today so no doubt they’ve been allowed a plate of oven chips and a bottle of blue, fizzy pop.
Meanwhile we’re still commissioning some of our gear so Tony and Alain set about modifying the blast-cabinet.
It’s never quite had satisfactory extraction making its immediate vicinity very dusty – no good now that dust is not allowed – so they fixed the problem by cutting off the original exhaust and bolting a huge fan straight to the side of the cabinet but notice the muck on our new floor… It wasn’t there for long under our new cleanliness regime!
John-D and I, meanwhile, continued conserveering Donald’s cockpit seat back together.
Unfortunately, it’s made of some horrid, 1mm, springy stuff that really doesn’t like being mended in any way whatsoever. We have no drawings for it so we don’t know what it is.
Adding some additional internal structure to put back the lost strength and hold everything where Ken intended seemed the way to go so Alain took half an hour from wrecking the blast-cabinet to form some inch-wide channel sections of 2mm H22,
which John and I then used to beat half of the seat into submission, or should I say that we carefully added them to the structure to try and make it behave…
You can see one of Al’s channels running vertically up the right-hand side and more short sections welded transversely to the original vertical strengtheners. We took conserveering a step further today by actually welding original material to newly fabricated parts – next we have to paint it green and silver!
It’s still a reversible process so the museologists' underwear should be safe and in this instance it’s proven an extremely strong and simple fix.
Also, by doing it this way we can squeeze in an extra double row of rivets from the other side of the F-15 bulkhead straight into the shiny new 2mm section visible sandwiched between the old skins. That ought to stop it from moving about.
As a final test of our workmanship I then carefully balanced my rotund frame on one foot atop the finished article to assess it’s fitness for duty… it didn’t collapse!
So here’s the right-hand side of the cockpit seat after a few day’s tin-bashing.
Still a long way to go with these parts but they’re on the way; now just the other side to do.
There’s an identical section on the left of the cockpit and a curved seat-pan to be riveted between the two.
The foam-padded part of the seat, so often pictured lying forlornly on the jetty at Pier Cottage in 67 after the accident, was then fixed in the centre to stop Donald getting a cold bum and a battering from beneath.
Each side-wall consists of a pair of 1mm-thick aluminium skins spaced an inch apart by three, vertical, internal stringers to give strength to what would otherwise be a paper-thin and very weak piece of structure.
The completed side-walls are then riveted at the back of the cockpit directly into the F-15 bulkhead (where the boat snapped) and into the F-17 crossmember at their front edge (under Donald’s knees).
They fix into the floor too along their full length on both sides. Three transverse stiffeners are also riveted into the floor beneath the seat-pan so all in all it’s a strong design – or at least it used to be.
On another note, we made a bit of a mistake last week. Remember we hung four-year-old Zoë’s pictures on the wall and invited anyone whose little-uns wanted to do something similar to get in touch so we could have more pics for the workshop? Well the e-mail link was knackered for some IT-computery-technical reason that Alain explained as my eyes glazed over so if you mailed us your message has vanished into the bilges of cyberspace. Sorry about that.
I don’t just want to flag up the address because it invariably brings a flurry of unsolicited items. I know that folk mean well but what was I supposed to do with a Donald Campbell pillowcase!
So it’s working now.
22nd September 2007
Not long now.
Our good friends at PDS have pulled out all the stops this week, (never knew what that actually meant until I bought a pipe organ from a church (and made it into bookshelves)), ahead of the frame coming home. Well, sort of, because home is Coniston but we’ve a handful of rivets to put back before we send her back there.
It was almost as though there were two boats before, a little, short eight-foot job that came as a flat-pack kit and a sixteen foot hunk of scrap that was all stuck together and full of mud. But with all the tin-bashing of late we now find ourselves with a complete machine but back to that in a moment.
Work is still frantic as we try to get the finishing touches done in the workshops. Alain spent Saturday installing our new compressed air system.
And notice that some of our sponsor’s names have suddenly appeared on the walls.
Our calendar and some neat little tent-shaped cards in the Bluebird Café showing folk how to find the museum were produced by NB Group for us FOC. They’ve now done some spanking graphics for our walls.
I was actually looking for a good copy of the Ivanhoe logo after Phil at Ivanhoe Forge made our first-generation rollover jig. He passed me to his mate who runs NB Group as they had the logo.
NB immediately offered to help with graphics, printing and all that amazing artwork stuff that I really don’t understand.
John-D, or as we now call him, ‘John-Tidy’ certainly got stuck into hanging them on the walls when they arrived.
There are one or two more deserving sponsors to be added but there’s no doubt, and as we stood back to admire John’s handiwork it hit us squarely, that we are a very serious project.
And who’s the bloke on the right, you may ask…
Fred Blois – or as he once called himself in an e-mail to me ‘Fred Boils’.
Fred is a Bluebird-nut of the highest order and has long promised to come up and give us a hand so we stuck a kettle in one hand a brush in the other and set him going while we cracked on with the tricky stuff.
This is Donald’s seat as-recovered.
It’s the crumpled, brown mess behind the U-shaped F-17 crossmember. Its appearance didn’t improve when Rob took it apart either.
Enough to scare the crap out of conservator and museologists alike – but not the BBP crew, it’s only had a little tweak – soon have it good as new.
Apart it came and was then flung into our Hogwarts paint-stripper.
The cockpit seat seems to be something of a mystery. So far as we can tell it was never drawn, though I’d not be too surprised if the drawings turned up eventually.
It seems more likely, however, that Donald went to Salmesbury’s when the boat was almost done, sat in the cockpit and squashed a few cushions under his backside until he could see over the top then had someone poke about with a tape measure.
It never entered our heads that we’d not save the original so off we went with our usual enthusiasm and the partially rebuilt right-hand side appeared in the last diary entry.
The other side needed a little more work after we’d had to excise a big, knackered chunk from the sidewall.
It looked slightly better after a battering but a repair had to be made for the missing piece and this is where Fred finally got to show us what he could do.
The deal with newcomers is this. Firstly they have to sweep up and put the kettle on. Then, depending on how much dust they miss, or get airborne, and the quality of their brew, we decide what to do with them next.
Fred really wanted to do something on the boat so his mop and bucket fairly flew around the workshop. Nor was his tea too bad so we set him on making the repair pieces for the seat.
It’s a great deal, making new bits.
Do it right and your handiwork will forever be preserved as part our big blue boat. Do it wrong and we’ll chuck your failure away when you’re not looking and build our own replacement. That way, K7’s original structure isn’t compromised…
Meanwhile, remember I mentioned that Alain was chief-in-charge of the compressed air system and what fun it would be when he had to clamber into the compressor cave...
Someone had to mop the floors after him too when he decided to drill holes in the walls with all the doors open and a gale whistling through ‘Rob’s Passage’.
Work continued on the turbocharged blast cabinet too, it’s almost ready to go.
Told you they stuck a proper fan on the side. I think I’ve convinced everyone that dust is poisonous – or could it be that we’re all just sick to the back teeth of it after twelve solid months of coughing it up.
Fred Boils, meanwhile, proved most handy with a file…
Oh, the thrill of being able to weld everything in sight again!
Looks decidedly healthier now, doesn’t it.
Getting onto a roll, we were, so Fred was also thrown one of the seat-crossmembers to make a patch for too. It’s wonderful when someone else volunteers for the boring bits.
On a wildly different note, we had some absolutely tremendous news this week regarding our engine situation.
A good while ago I received a call from a bloke at the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust who’s been looking out for us since day-one.
Pete Pavey, he’s called, and whenever or wherever he comes across a decent Orpheus he gives us a shout.
He’d found one that until fairly recently had been flying and had since been stored in good conditions so I phoned the owners and asked very nicely whether we could obtain it to make our boat go.
They told me that their engine situation was a little up in the air (good pun, eh?) because the replacement engine they’d installed in their Gnat was found to have some pitting within the combustor-cans. That’s where the fuel gets burned, and if only they could find some decent replacements…
So I offered them the ones from our engine. After all, any replacement engine for K7 doesn’t have to fly so a bit of pitting in there would make little difference. It would also get the Gnat into the air – another good thing – and hopefully settle the issue with regard to us obtaining their time-expired engine.
Up north came a pleasant bloke called Paul Kingsbury – chief spanner-man for DeHavilland Aviation – who spent the afternoon peering down an extremely expensive boroscope at our cans. They were OK but before we could arrange to take them out DeHavillands new engine was given the all-clear and the panic was off.
But could we still have the expired engine?
Then came great news, last Thursday, the MD of DeHavilland called to say they were prepared to donate the engine to our cause.
Isn’t that a fantastic gesture… we’re chuffed to bits at this end. So much so that we put their logo in the best place we could think of. Though I’m not so sure they’ll be so impressed with all those ragged fan blades in the foreground.
We’ll do a proper piece on their generosity later and in the meantime you can visit them at www.dehavillandaviation.com.
And this leads to another exciting possibility.
Many moons since, we visited Rolls-Royce to see whether they could help us with our engine trouble. In a nutshell, they said that if we could turn up a decent Orpheus with a known history (something our present engine lacks but the new one has in abundance) they may re-rate it for 50 hours or so of ground running providing we could demonstrate our ability to handle the beast.
There’s also the possibility that we can operate under Rolls-Royce’s third-party liability cover.
It could be, of course, that this is now and that was then and no such possibility exists any more but we’ll find out soon enough. Fingers crossed.
We’re bringing the frame home on Wednesday 26th too. Fantastic, isn’t it, and we’ll do a proper piece on that too. Our press release has gone out today (Monday) so we’re waiting to see whether it’ll fizz like a damp firework or go off with a huge bang. It’s been a lot of hard work so maybe we’ll have a day off soon.
But back to the workshop where Fred cut and filed for all he was worth making perfect repair pieces so I’d not launch them into the scrap and start again after he’d gone home. I welded amongst Alain’s dust clouds then John-Tidy pinned everything together to see where we go next with Donald’s seat.
Hmmmm, not bad. I reckon it’ll fix from here. And Fred’s repairs got to stay.
27th September 2007
Almost a year since we sacked the Hapless Lottery Failure, showed the Tweedies the door and rolled up our sleeves – and we’re bang on target.
We always said a year to strip and clean what we recovered from the lake and despite losing four month’s worth of weekend sessions while we went looking for the missing piece of frame we’re still exactly where we said we’d be.
Wednesday was a triumph too. I took a call from John at PDS to say that the frame was awaiting collection so I called the local hauliers to see who’d be best for the job and was passed to a bloke called Phil Webster who runs Webster Plant Haulage and who’s more used to hauling JCB’s than priceless historical artefacts. He agreed straight away to help us out and promised that on the appointed day his truck would arrive promptly at PDS.
But it wasn’t simply a case of collecting our frame, oh no. Having K7 back together again after forty years was also to be celebrated with a press conference and photo opportunity so onto the coat peg went our painter and decorator’s overalls to make room for the press officer’s hat.
Just about everyone we could think of was pressed into service to spread the news far and wide. The release must have landed on every news editor’s desk in the UK and I even mailed some pics to a publication in Western Australia later the same day!
Unfortunately, about the only organisation not to receive our release at the time was the Ruskin because I mistyped their e-mail address, oops! Luckily they had my phone number…
Never mind, Wednesday came around soon enough and as Keith the cameraman was off work that day we shoved a movie camera borrowed from one of the divers into his hands and took him too. We were up by 5.00am to be on the road for 6.00 for the first press conference in Lancashire at 9.30. And having made good time with Alain, Keith, John-Tidy and myself stuffing the car to capacity we stopped at a greasy caravan for a cholesterol-butty where we demanded of the puzzled owner that he turned up the local news on his toy television in case we were on. Having stuffed our faces without making the morning news we then leapt back into the car and sped onwards.
We made the first press conference with a minute to spare because the traffic had multiplied as we ate but we still arrived in time for lots of paparazzi-type activity, news cameras and radio reporters. We all posed for photographs and answered questions until the media-types were satiated.
Gina was a star – as ever.
Then we performed a small ceremony.
As thanks to the team at PDS we gave them one of the framed paint flakes so beautifully mounted by Andy Griffin.
Paint flakes are one of the very few things that we really can’t conserveer back into the finished boat so we’ve made some of them available to those who’d like to own a piece of K7 and Andy has been instrumental in ensuring that their provenance is properly preserved. John did the honours by accepting our gift on behalf of PDS’ team.
He seemed as delighted with our present as Gina was with the amazing job that’s been done on her dad’s boat. Here also are two of the PDS’ dedicated crew. Chris Woodcock and Andrew Hindle who have done most of the knife and fork work on the frame.
Fantastic job, guys!
Then we had to get the frame onto the truck and on her way north.
Because of the step under the bow at F-19 we decided to turn the frame over and put the castors on what’s really the top to give extra ground clearance in PDS’ cobbled yard. It worked nicely and we soon had our masterpiece slung for lifting.
My camera ended up in the hands of goodness knows who but I think young, Robert Aldred took this one so the credit goes to him.
Then it was off to the North East for the second half of our press extravaganza. We were back on the road for 11.00am to be home for 2.30pm to prepare for the frame’s expected arrival an hour later.
The truck from Webster Plant Haulage arrived exactly on time to be greeted by another barrage of photographers and news crews. We all mucked in to get the frame off the truck and into the workshop.
Even Gina was on the tools – wielding a spanner to help us get the castors off once we’d righted the frame. She’s a lovely girl.
And then it started all over again.
It was more than a little cozy with two of us in that tiny cockpit but we had a great time and what a fabulous turnout by the media... we’re properly grateful to them for raising our profile.
You may have also noticed our tasty new overalls. They were supplied by Tritech International who dared let us loose with the sonar system that found the missing piece of frame.
Having operated many sonars over the years their amazing new digital system proved particularly impressive by being able to locate a piece of aluminium the size of a postcard seventy metres distant in the zero visibility world that is the bottom of Coniston Water. The overalls are nice too!
It was such a big day that my mum even put on a spread for everyone. The smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels were particularly splendid.
Gina and I did a final live piece for ITV news at about 7.30pm and that was that for the day. But what a day!
So there you have it, Bluebird’s frame complete once more. Forty years later and as well as being equally strong, if not stronger, than it ever was it’s also approximately ninety-eight percent original.
Where’s this ‘considerable loss of original fabric’, as suggested by the Hapless Lottery Failure, going to come from then?
It still boils my blood that we explained our proposed processes and techniques to the bureaucrats time and again only to be treated as though we hadn’t a clue. But what really infuriates me is that Ken Norris didn’t live to see any of this.
Sadly, the bureaucrats were too stupid to see a bargain when it was shoved under their noses and yet we were too stupid to sack them four years earlier so I got to spec’ the necessary modifications. But as an engineer I’m not worthy to carry Ken’s slide-rule…
Time to stop bitching, back to business – we have a boat to build and Saturday brought a good turnout in the workshop.
Strange, considering that the decorating has finished…
John-Tidy and Alain worked hard on the new compressed air system; threading pipes and connecting things together all day.
We now have clever widgets like moisture traps and oilers for the air tools now.
And Rob put on his grow-tall legs so he could swap out some cruddy light fittings that have been driving him crackers for months. Rob doesn’t like cruddy light fittings so we sneaked some replacements onto my dad’s account at the local wholesaler’s – not that he knows yet – then Rob stuck them to the ceiling.
Good shot for the sponsors, this one.
Later, Rob made a half-hearted attempt to warm up the ball-chasing wireless but we soon drowned it out with a twist of our superior volume control and last we heard his team weren’t getting their oven chips and blue fizzy pop again this week.
Mark Evans came over and apologised that he’d not made our last gathering because he’d crashed his car and landed in hospital – hooligan that he is. Thankfully he’s OK so we set him away stripping the F-15 bulkhead of all its rivets then getting the paint off with some lethal gloop that Chemetall-Trevor left us. It’s green, dangerous and eats paint for fun.
Having shifted the paint, Mark then asked how best to straighten the bent panel and being distracted at the time I wasn’t really thinking when I said, “You could try standing on it.”
No sooner said than done.
We quickly provided him a mallet and the bit he subsequently fettled came out really well. Still a long way to go but you know the score.
This is the bulkhead from the back of the cockpit – the one that got tangled up with the ROV earlier this year and came to the surface by accident.
Here it’s still wet on the jetty at Coniston.
Interestingly, the square hole just visible in the upper centre doesn’t appear on the drawings and was clearly opened later as some of the screws holding the cover plate had Bluebird-blue paint on their heads proving that they’d been used on the outside of the boat before they were ever used on the inside. It’s vital to save the improvisations made by Donald’s team rather than simply referring to what was originally specified in the drawings… Conserveering.
Mike Bull was on the case as usual.
Meanwhile, Novie was thrown in at the deep end. Remember how we were forced to weld the floor at K7’s bow with really soft rods because it kept cracking?
In case you missed that bit what happened was that the large, flat panel forming the sloping front surface of K7 where the ‘dragon’s teeth’ were fitted was being pulled into horrid shapes because one small corner of it was badly stretched in the accident. We couldn’t shrink it so we cut out the damage and the panel sprang flat again but welding the wrecked piece back in once we’d sorted it proved a nightmare because the material just cracks when it cools and obtaining data on what it’s actually made of is nigh-on impossible.
The problem is that back in 54 when K7 was built there were dozens of material manufacturers all competing to be the industry standard and blending exotic metallic cocktails each with subtly differing qualities in the hope that theirs was best. But as the various protagonists were bought out by larger concerns the material specifications were rationalised leaving the designers and engineers with less to choose from and having to solve the problems on their drawing boards.
Ken was lucky in that he got to design an all-metal boat with a spectacular buffet of material specifications on the menu.
It’s all gone now so Alan from Leengate was duly consulted – he has a collection of old books about welding that goes back to nineteen-forty-something – and he duly sent over a soft welding rod that did the trick but altered for ever the properties of the damaged part of the panel.
I’d had a fix in mind but hadn’t acted on it. Then I had that chance meeting with Glynn Bowsher so I discussed it with him.
Glynn reckoned my idea would work so feeling suitably encouraged I then discussed it with Novie who immediately set-to with cutting discs and files to make four small outriggers out of 2mm steel.
These will be welded directly into the frame (reversible process, naturally, for the tweedies) to support the damaged piece of alloy sheet when the water hits it again.
They’ll be welded in through the week.
Another of our mates came to visit this week though not in his Bluebirding capacity. Carl the diver was off to Norway to continue with our missing submarine project
We’re not good at giving up, either of us, so he dropped in last week (literally) to collect the GPS system we used last time along with a pile of data to be used in the ongoing search.
He just gets better and better, doesn’t he. Didn’t do much for my grass though!
We’ll let you know how the tin bashing goes as well as the under water op’s next time.
7th October 2007
Work is slowly resuming in the workshop(s) now that the frame has returned and as can be imagined we’re having to re-learn where everything is stored, especially after John-Tidy has had his hands on it, and fall back into a routine.
and had a go at making the 1954, Salmesbury Engineering strengtheners fit after we’d bashed them straight again.
The new stiffeners not only keep the bulkhead nicely flat they also put back all the lost strength. The original strengtheners will be fitted neatly over the top thus hiding our repair whilst allowing the original and somewhat battered material to have a day off.
17th October 2007 – Part One
It’s all coming back.
It seems that when we set about something, whether it be forensically investigating the lakebed a hundred and fifty feet below our survey boat, straightening bent metal or painting floors the job takes over our lives until it’s done.
So bringing the frame home before we’d put the finishing touches to her home led to a conflict that has only recently resolved itself.
Tony’s turbo-evacuated blast cabinet can suck itself inside out at the touch of a button. Alain’s compressed air system, with sponsorship from Thorite, now delivers air to every corner of the workshop and you can feel the panic these days if a speck of dust approaches the floor. On a less positive note, Mike Ramsay has announced that he’s sick of painting and wants to bash aluminium with a hammer like everyone else. We’ll have to see about that.
But what’s most important is that work to build our big blue boat has fallen back into the easy-going routine it’s enjoyed since we sacked the Hapless Lottery Failure exactly a year ago. Yep – we’ve been at the rebuild for precisely twelve months. No more meetings with career bureaucrats or idiots in tweed; just work to be done in a freshening breeze of common sense from sponsors and team alike.
We’ve also worked out where John-Tidy has stashed everything and learned to share the tools without issue even though we now have two workshops instead of one.
Work on the mashed remains of the cockpit seat continues apace but it’s a hell of a job. About the only piece that challenged us as much as this was the F-19 bulkhead and that went on for so long that even our most dedicated followers began to ask how much longer it was likely to take.
We’re building it from the portside (Donald’s left) across the cockpit to the opposite side so with one half more or less tamed and pinned in position we popped the F-16 stringers into the hole.
They weren’t too clever as-recovered.
Though they cleaned up eventually.
But then came a serious problem. There’s one thing that we just can’t beat if it’s taken a proper hold and that’s corrosion and the seat pan that fits atop those stringers has it in full measure.
We could straighten it easily enough but unfortunately it resembles a colander so like it or not we had to grit our teeth and declare it dead.
Argh! It won’t, however, go into the LOOF box because after all it’s a fairly iconic piece and so is worthy of a spot in the museum.
Having made the difficult decision we then had to make a new part because it’s kind of important that our new pilot doesn’t clatter through the lacework panel at a crucial moment.
And then, just as we’d accepted what had to be done, two larger than life Aussies rolled into the yard in a Mercedes and asked if we needed some help. Both claimed to have some experience with jet-boats though we soon discovered that they hadn’t a clue when it comes to metal as they prefer, much like the ancient Greeks, and the Romans, etc, slices of dead tree as a boat building material.
The big bloke, Ken-somebody, was immediately handed a broom (in the BBP tradition) and detailed for some probationary sweeping up. He claims to have a website too, www.KenWarby.com
His mate, Bayden, duly propped himself on a drum of something that Chemetall-Trevor left us on his last visit then spent the rest of the evening trying to fathom why us ‘Pommies’ were messing about with so much bent tin when the job could be easily finished in a fraction of the time using plywood, epoxy and a slap of filler.
Ken, meanwhile, passed his sweeping test so we let set him loose on the tools. He’s quite handy actually though John-Tidy kept a close eye on his workmanship.
Then between us we rolled a new seat pan and popped it into position. It needs fitting and fettling but you get the idea as Ken holds the knackered one above it for comparison.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend an evening on the tools with our mate Mr. Warby and we really did get stuck in with making that new seat pan, Ken arguing throughout that we’d be better off building it with slices of dead plant and mahogany welding rods.
Dare say he’s right but it was Bayden who summed things up most succinctly having been perched on his drum all night as he watched the tortuous reconstruction of Donald’s seat.
In order to fully appreciate his observation you have to read the following with a broad Aussie drawl…
Bayden shook his head and declared…
“Six thousand rivets, and that’s only to keep his arse in!”
We fell about with laughter and of course he’s right but that’s the way it was done in 54so that’s the way we’re doing it today.
It’s also important to point out that despite the laughs and light-heartedness not once did we forget where we were or what we were doing. I’m sure Donald would have laughed too.
Then having bitched all evening about ‘Pommies’, which repeatedly caused Rob to cough something that sounded like ‘rugby’, Bayden finally (and grudgingly) admitted that we were almost good enough to be Australian.
What a huge pleasure it was to spend a couple of evenings in the company of such great blokes where gales of laughter interspersed with serious work saw a tremendous amount achieved in one way or another. After all, we’ve never operated a jet-boat before while the Aussies claim to be quite good at it. They’re definitely better carpenters than tin-bashers though.
-End of Part One-
17th October 2007 Part Two
Having done their thing in the workshop for a couple of days the crazy Aussies left us and headed over to Coniston for a look about leaving us with our regular Saturday gathering to attend to. But this week we were to be visited by two gentlemen who would neatly tie up another small but important part of the Bluebird story.
You see, back in 1966, Mark Evans’ dad, Paul was in the Royal Signals and was detailed to go and sort out the radio com’s for what proved to be Donald’s final campaign.
Corporal Paul Evans goes down in history as the last person ever to speak with Donald and is ‘base’ in the recording of that last, fateful run.
As regular readers will know, his son, Mark is one of our team and word came to us that the corp’ wanted to do as he did back in 66 and supply the radio for K7. But Paul is no longer the young soldier he was back then so we offered to lend a hand and rallied the troops in search of a radio.
Now you’d imagine that a Murphy A41 MKII radio, as used extensively by the British army until relatively recently – I understand these sets were still in service during the Falklands war – would be a piece of cake to obtain.
They proved as rare as museologists in Giorgio Armani’s and even that global source of worthless junk, eBay couldn’t produce one. Various people tried and failed though the occasional MKI turned up; but no sign of the Holy Grail.
That was until I received a mail from a most unlikely source, our old acquaintance, Mr Graham Beech.
Now it’s no secret that Graham and I have failed to see eye to eye occasionally over the years but when push came to shove he was gracious enough to think of us during a chance meeting by the canal with a gentleman who knew about old army radios.
I was duly put in touch with a bloke called Brian who immediately offered to donate an A41 MKI.
It has to be said that I know as much about vintage army radios as I do about Harris Tweed but even I knew that this was the wrong set and that Mark and his dad had already passed up one or two similar examples.
This I endeavoured to explain as diplomatically as possible and was delighted to find Brian both undaunted and very positive because he believed he knew a bloke who had the right radio.
He’d call his mate that very evening then ring me back so when later I discovered a number of missed calls on my mobile with a Manchester dialling code I assumed it was Brian calling back.
It was too – only a completely different Brian, a good friend of the original Brian and with exactly the right radio. Several seconds of confusion ensued initially as Brian promised he really was called Brian but had no idea why I was calling him until the A41 MKII was mentioned.
Scarcely daring to believe it I listened as he offered to pop up on Saturday and donate said radio to the cause, both he and his mate Brian.
And so they did.
Mark accepts the radio from Brian whilst Brian looks on.
Got one at last!
The two Brians went to school together and share a passion for vintage radio sets. They told us all about the power supplies, battery packs and sub-miniature valves and in the process revealed that K7 almost certainly ran her radio from a dry-cell battery rather than the boat’s onboard power. It’s an education, this Bluebird-Project thing.
Next we need to work out how it was mounted in the cockpit because it’s far from obvious. We recovered a small shelf along with the left-hand cockpit wall, which the corp’ reckons was where the radio used to sit so we’ll bash it straight and have a look.
Thanks to Graham for thinking of us and taking the trouble to find contacts for Brian, likewise to the first Brian.
Brian Wright, is his name, who then passed us to Brian Collier who so very kindly donated his radio set; two great blokes whom we’ve invited to visit us again when the radio is installed.
See what this project can do…
But the time had come to move on again and we had to discard our overalls, pile into the car and dash over to Coniston for another date with the Aussies.
All pic’s in this section by kind permission of Mike Bull, by the way.
-End of Part Two-
17th October 2007 Part Three.
We were Coniston bound because what happened is that Fast-Ken had called a fortnight earlier to say he was heading for the UK with a bag full of goodies we could auction off to raise money for the cause and an offer to ‘talk some Aussie bullsh*t’ if anyone wanted to listen.
Figuring that one or two probably would I called up our social secretary, Mr Novie Dzanorak and his equally efficient partner in crime, Paul Hannarak.
They’d risen magnificently to the task of organising a fundraiser for Ken’s last visit in 2003 and as I didn’t have a spare minute I chucked the whole issue their way in the hope that they’d be up for doing it all again but without realising I’d got the dates wrong.
This gave the guys only a week to get things squared away, which they did, whereupon I was corrected by Ken as soon as he saw the announcement. This gave us all another week in hand but caused me to suffer Novie’s wrath, which definitely isn’t what you’d call wrath for beginners…
Despite this, he and Paul put the gig together brilliantly, so having wished the Brians all the very best and thanked them once more for the radio we got changed, piled my car full of BBP goodies and audio-visual equipment for the presentations and set off for Coniston.
Also joining us on this trip was Mike Bull who’d taken a few days to come up and have a laugh with the lads. His DVD covers and cartoons have been very well received and Mike was most welcome for the weekend. He’d never been to Coniston before and by the time we arrived we’d already missed Novie’s 4.00pm deadline.
It seemed a little unfair to get so far without giving our new guest a quick tour so we nipped over to Donald’s grave where we were first accosted by an old moaner who thought bringing K7 home was a bad idea because the village would fill up with tourists; then a gaggle of women from Manchester who wanted to take our photograph.
Having negotiated a fragile peace with the moaner and performed our civic duty for the ladies we dashed up to the Sun for a quick re-enactment from Across the Lake by searching for the key above the door then we ran back down the hill again to the Ruskin for a peek at the tail fin. What we found there left us helpless with laughter.
You see, it’s become something of a tradition amongst the BBP to take the museum a gift every fourth of January.
In 06 we hung the tail fin on the wall then in 07 we mounted the engine intake on a wooden plinth and presented that too. But we knew they’d ask us what it was called in order to put a suitable label on it.
Interpretation they call it in museological circles. It’s where we, the public, are told to think what the museologists think we ought to think. So being of a fiendish nature we told a small fib.
Laugh – we nearly choked!
And the beautiful irony is that visitors will assume it has to be right because it’s on the wall in a museum… or at least it was last Saturday.
Having picked ourselves off the floor and wiped our eyes we fairly flew down the lake road to Torver where our events managers were in full stress-mode. In fact they didn’t relax until everyone was sat down and fed.
First on the menu was a video of Ken’s new jet-boat, Aussie-Spirit in action – man it’s fast! You could’ve heard a pin drop… had it been louder than the roar of Ken’s jet.
Then I presented an update on the BBP including some previously unseen pictures of the cockpit section pre-crash. They just heckled me then having seen our treatment of some of K7’s conservation issues, Vicky added insult – and I mean serious insult – to injury, by suggesting that I was turning into a museologists!
If she’d been a bloke we’d have settled the matter in the car park.
Then it was Ken’s turn again with a fascinating lecture on why so many WWSR boats have crashed with disastrous result. He’s a wise old owl.
Throughout all the beer flowed and the hospitality at the Church House Inn at Torver was superb – as was the food.
Then a bombshell – Ken made an announcement. His new jet-boat, Aussie Spirit was to be retired. Ken has held the record for thirty years and the new boat was built to defend it but no credible threat exists or looks like coming along in the foreseeable future so that’s it – he’s called it a day and retired. Hmmmm.
That all seemed well and good, after all, with no one to compete with but himself why take the risks? And Ken has plenty of other boats to keep him occupied at weekends.
But we weren’t finished with him. You see, there’s the small matter of who will bring our big blue boat back to her points when the time comes. Our team can spanner an engine in there and connect everything up. We can make sure that the water stays on the outside and the systems all work but none of us are qualified to drive a jet-hydroplane.
Can anyone think of someone better qualified then Ken, who not only holds the record but also still races immensely powerful boats on a weekend, to ease K7 back onto her planing shoes?
We asked him if he’d like the drive and he accepted. It’s all a long way off but you never know…
Then with all the scandal overwith the evening began to relax a little and the usual suspects became our official auctioneers once more. It’s worth attending one of these bashes just to witness such a quality double act. They’re hilarious.
‘What am I bid for this grubby, old pair of welding gloves?’
Novie wrung every last penny out of the audience.
Ken’s exclusive DVDs of his boats went down very nicely too and all for a worthy cause. Ken also tells me that we’ll soon be able to offer a few extra copies via the website shop so look out for those because you’ll not be able to get them anywhere else.
All in all the evening was a mighty success and we raised a healthy few quid for the project too.
Huge thanks to the Aussies for their support and so many gifts for our auction; and thanks to our chief anoraks for pulling a great little event together in such a short time. Oh, and to Alain for the pic’s.
I leave you with a few words from Mike.
Folk are often invited to write for the diary but very few take up the challenge…
A Brilliant Weekend
By Mike ’Cartoons’ Bull
(Aged only 35, thus rendering all of the following opinions utterly redundant)
Well, here I am back in Wales after EasyJet hauled my not-inconsiderable backside back down South following a brilliant weekend spent in the company of Bill, some of the team, and the world of the Bluebird Project in general.
Bill and his other (and of course, considerably better) half Rachel were extremely welcoming, and I soon found myself getting the big tour down at the workshop premises. I felt no need to cross myself, fall to my knees, whimper, worship at the Church of Campbell or generally do anything else unmanly when I saw K7’s frame; rather I found it to simply be very impressive; impressive to have come through everything it has and still be there, original and once again in one big strong piece, positively raring to go again. Great stuff.
Far more affecting was being shown the layout of all the material that is still as-recovered; tangled, blue, each piece telling its story, each piece waiting to be untangled and to go again. Which brings me to a point I definitely wanted to take this opportunity to make- we all lap up the entries in this diary, and we mostly see before, during and after photos of the various panels etc coming back to a useable life, but know this- the amount of work that actually goes into each of these pieces is phenomenal, which probably explains the miniscule size of the ‘Loss Of Original Fabric’ box. Trust me- these guys are working little miracles in that workshop.
The moment I’d kinda been dreading then arrived, when I was set loose with some bits of metal! I can be reasonably handy with many things, and I pointed out to Bill that I’m somewhat ambidextrous (that is, equally crap with both hands) but that my metal working skills are schoolboy level at best, though the simple curved template I got to snip out and file first seemed to go okay. Next thing I know, Bill’s there with a piece of the real deal, instructing me to take a hacksaw to it!!! I felt the blood fall out of my face and something else fall out of me lower down, but I went for it anyway. Various other bits of cutting and filing came my way, all to do with the three cross members that run under the seat pan, so at least any mess I made of things will be out of sight!
That evening I had the pleasure of meeting Alain, who is a great bloke also; seemingly the butt of many a joke, but enormously good-natured with it; some drinking may have taken place, though I couldn’t possibly comment. Next morning at the workshop I got to meet Rob- well, he was down there somewhere, anyway- and Mark. Found myself going all Dusty Springfield by singing ‘The only one who could ever teach me- was the son of a corporal man’, though thankfully not out loud.
Big relief- today the proper boys get to do the work, and I’m on sweeping duty! I was perfectly happy with my broom, though those mucky boys would insist on creating more and more mess! As Bill will have related more fully, some kindly folk then arrived to donate a radio for K7, and the look on Mark’s face was a picture! So that was nice to be present for.
That afternoon we set off for the evening with Ken Warby- which I’d no idea was taking place over in the Lake District until I’d flown up! The journey there was great fun with some good banter, though I can’t help but think that the Mclaren F1 team should have hired Bill Smith to drive for them rather than that Lewis lad, but I digress. Still, it did remind me of something I wanted to alter in my will.
Next thing I know I’m in Coniston, though time was running short- Novie was expecting us at the venue, so my tour kind of went like this- grave, Sun, tailfin, leg it! As a first-timer I really appreciated that little detour though; thanks guys.
It was brilliant to meet Novie, he’s a total force of nature and a real star. The dinner with Ken Warby was wonderful- good food, great company, money raised, job done. Others will relate the details better, I’m sure.
So I’m back home in the quiet now, with a few more ideas for some cartoons, and certainly a better feel for whom I’m extracting the urine from. Strangely, there’s one last thing I’ve found that I’ve come home with- an inclination to say everything in a Geordie accent!
That was the weekend of a lifetime for me, so thank you team, and by hook or by crook, I’ll be back up to sweep up after you all again.
We put Mike back on the EasyJet on Sunday and I don’t know about the rest of the guys but I went straight to bed for some rest!
Next week it’ll be back to the boring old tin-bashing as we continue to sort Donald’s seat then do some more detail work on the frame.
Until the next time…
26th October 2007
We’re cooking with gas as they say; lots of spinning plates whirring madly.
We’re hopefully off to Bournemouth next week to collect our delicious new Orpheus engine donated by DeHavilland Aviation. They’ve straightened the details with their museum so we’re going to do a swap – our Orpheus for theirs. The difference is that theirs has a known history and so will be less likely to explode and kill dozens of visiting school kids when we light a roaring, great fire inside it.
I made the call to Rolls-Royce this week too and found the same people still at their desks just as willing to help though last time we had discussions was back in the Hapless Lottery days so things will have to be initiated from the ground up again.
I keep thinking there’s plenty of time but it’s a year since we put K7 on that rollover jig and took the floor off…
Obtaining materials to build new sponsons has been high on the list this week too. The trouble is that no matter how much money you have – and we don’t have much – this stuff is simply not available off the shelf. Imagine trying to build a pair of twelve-foot long boxes a foot square with a top, bottom and two sides pinned in place by an angle bar running down each corner and twenty-four small bulkheads six inches apart along the full length. Then insist on a crucial alloy that went out of production fifty years ago and you’ll get the picture.
Fortunately, it turns out that my old mate, Ken Norris sent me a drawing with the missing secrets scribbled in the corner many moons ago and I hadn’t realised until I went sifting through everything in search of clues. It’s almost as though he knew what would happen in the future and set up the job ahead of time.
Watch this space for news of the replacement sponsons and in the meantime we’ve been doing some more seat-bashing.
Poor Tony Dargavel has done nothing but feed battered aluminium through our blast cabinet since he joined the crew and Mike Ramsay, though he joined more recently, hasn’t had a paintbrush out of his hand since walking through the door.
We decided to abandon the mundane and have a tin-bashing jamboree.
We all got stuck in firing pins into the right-hand wall of the cockpit seat. Remember how we elected to build it from left to right – well we’ve almost beaten the fight out of it all the way over to the other side.
Then Tony and I spent ages setting up the new seat pan with bits of wood and weights.
No, there hasn’t been a terrible accident; it’s just that the half-wrecked seat defied any attempt to make it obey a ruler so the only way to get it right was to settle for it looking right.
Then we rolled the joggles so the new pan can be riveted flush into the original vertical walls whilst fitting neatly around the original stringers that Mike Bull and I fixed last weekend.
It looks great now and only needs one or two tweaks before we can build the seat properly. There’s still lots of fettling to do on the original panels – damage to weld up here and there then a good run around with a sanding disc and a file but the springy seat is quite docile these days.
As anyone who’s visited our workshop will testify, every panel requires a stupendous amount of slow and steady work to put it right and that seat has been a real bitch of a thing even to get this far. But making the replacement centre panel gave us a taste for working with new material especially as our mates at ThyssenKrupp sent us a present last week.
One of their trucks rolled into our yard and disgorged a feast of shiny, new alloy. Enough, in fact, to just about see the front end of the boat finished.
Thanks to Dean and Chris at ThyssenKrupp for looking after us again…
So when Alan Dodds came over for a therapeutic day of hammer swinging we decided… bollocks to all this scrap metal that Donald mashed for us, let’s build something new.
Out came some of Ken Norris’ drawings and we discussed the building of a replacement bulkhead for F-20.
This bulkhead was fitted at the rear face of the front spar, it’s where the steering box was mounted and the original was recovered in 67 by the navy divers so it’s now well and truly lost.
Corporal Paul Evans (right) is carrying it in this shot. Can’t remember where I got this pic so if we shouldn’t be using it then please speak up.
If you look carefully you can see the inch-wide strengtheners running vertically down the panel, which lies across Paul’s middle. This is the only bulkhead from the front of the boat where these are used so this is definitely F-20 – we had to make a new one.
The big difficulty was folding the strengtheners. They’re small and fiddly and we’d not figured out a way of making them with the equipment available last time we looked at this job but the problem eventually yielded to Alan’s persistence after he’d partially dismantled the bender to get the folds where he wanted them and soon had three new parts on the bench.
We couldn’t stay long in the fabrication shop, however, because Rob put a shovelful of coal into the ball-chasing wireless, spun a large, brass handwheel on the back of it when the steam pressure came up and filled the workshop with the dreary whining of some managerial type explaining how all the ball-chasers had to do was learn from last week’s abysmal failure and they’d have blue, fizzy pop this week – yawn. Can’t be bothered with whiners…
Alan and I crept next door to play with our new panel
and it wasn’t long before it fitted snugly into the hole – much easier than straightening bent bits. I had a hangover that morning whilst Alan was sharp as a tack so after about half an hour of getting everything wrong I declared myself apprentice for the day and rode Alan’s long experience until I felt better.
“Do you like apples?” he asked without a hint of why he might want to know.
“Yes,” I replied, slightly puzzled.
Alan, being a master blacksmith, was one of a number of similar craftsmen who were invited to make motifs for the gates of London’s Globe Theatre. He made a gorgeous bunch of crab apples that will grace the gates long after we’re all gone and I admired them greatly but hadn’t thought that when Alan next had his forge fired up he’d make a couple more.
They’re formed from steel pipe with the ends turned in and as a fellow fabricator I can see what’s gone into making them. I will treasure my steel apples.
But back to the aluminium - next we folded the top edge and added the strengtheners.
Alan had to head home soon afterwards; he’s not a fan of crossing the A69 to Carlisle in the dark. I’m not a fan of the A69 in daylight! So the final fitting and fettling was done by John-Tidy and me.
When that heavy, Burman steering box was brutally ripped from the front of the boat on the 4th January 67 it took not only the F-20 bulkhead but also the steel flange-plates that attached it to the main frame – the only example of such a failure on the entire boat.
In the case of panels that were stripped off by impact with the water it was invariably either the aluminium or the rivets holding them that failed.
The F-20 bulkhead is different. In this instance it was torn out forwards like a page from a book as the boat stopped suddenly and the bulkhead carried on with the steering box shoving it from behind.
If you further study the pic of the wreckage being carried up the beach it’s plain to see that the steering wheel has failed in the opposite direction you’d expect to see had it been damaged by someone crashing into it. Slightly less obvious is that the bulkhead itself is dished away from the pilot’s seat rather than towards it as would have been the case had it been blasted by inrushing water.
And while we’re analysing scrap from forty years ago, the long thin section the diver is holding is the longitudinal sub-structure from the right-hand side of the cockpit opening. It extends from F-15 (back of the cockpit) all the way forwards to F-19 (front step) and supports the canopy rail. We have the other one in excellent condition so that’ll go back once it’s conserveered. The only mystery in that shot is what the corporal is gripping in his right hand. Haven’t been able to identify that piece but as there’s an appreciable amount of material unaccounted for from the right-hand side of the cockpit it could be one of any number of things. Maybe it’ll become clear later.
Anyway, John soon had some new plates cut, filed and ready for welding.
Next a dab of hot, metal glue…
And now F-20 has a new bulkhead – what a relief it was, knocking that together after so much seat-torture…
But here’s something interesting.
If we’d recovered that panel in a squashed condition it would have taken hundreds of hours to put it back into useable order yet we built its replacement in an afternoon.
This suggests, seeing as we’ve pretty much sorted all the scrap bits, because we’re increasingly working with new material productivity can only increase.
Chucking crumbs into the LOOF box has peaked too so that’s another well deserved slap for the Hapless Lottery Failure.
There will not be ‘considerable loss of original fabric’; it simply isn’t going to happen.
And what was Rob up to all this time, you might ask.
Well, after building the new sponson assembly bench,
all fourteen feet of it, which we quickly covered with crap, he spent the afternoon building a material store for our new sheets of aluminium. Good lad!
Let’s hope it’s not in there for long.
4th November 2007
Sorry for the long delay, it’s been a few extremely busy weeks as you’ll soon discover but despite all that‘s been going on we’re still grafting away with our big blue boat.
The plan is to build virtually everything from about F-14 forwards (back of the main spar) to be sure that there’s nothing left to do to the frame then take everything back off and have the frame painted and inhibited against internal corrosion.
One job needed on the frame was the insertion of some sleeves into a new section of tube welded in by BOC and the guys at PDS. These sleeves carry the bolts that hold the main spar in position and prevent the frame tube from squashing when everything is tightened up.
We gave the job to Mick the Drummer.
What happened was that Cameraman-Keith asked whether having a band practice in the room above the Bluebird workshop would be OK. Keith plays drums and was in a band some time ago. They’d gigged for someone’s birthday years previously and now that person was retiring and asked if the band could reform to play at the retirement bash.
Next thing we know there’s a makeshift band thrashing away above our heads and after a few hours they sounded really tight. Keith brought everyone downstairs later to meet us after they’d rattled our brains for most of the evening and so we made the acquaintance of Mick the Drummer. He’s from an engineering background, very handy on the tools and can even operate a left-handed vernier so we invited him to sweep up for a few weeks before allowing him to spend the day extremely slowly, carefully and methodically marking off the frame tube to accept its new sleeves. We then held a meeting, checked everything a dozen times and then Mick drilled the pilot holes.
At 3.2mm, the size of most of the rivets on K7, the holes can be easily welded up again if necessary but no need this time – they were absolutely spot-on so Mick went on and drilled them for real.
The holes need reaming out to accept the sleeves but otherwise they’re good to go.
Mick lives somewhere near Mark Evans so they’d shared a ride up to Tyneside because Mark wanted to look at re-installing the precious Murphy A41 MKII.
Remember we mentioned a small box recovered with the left-hand cockpit wall that we believed had something to do with the radio…
It was a bit squashed – but we soon had it somewhere-near and found the holes in the F-16 and F-17 bulkheads where once it was fastened. The makeshift brackets that attached it were still riveted to the box so we cleaned those up too and hung everything in place.
I’d be very curious to know what the tweed-types would have done with this piece. Did we destroy history by bashing it flat with a hammer thus forever removing evidence of K7’s crash – or did we add to history by being able to put a unique piece of (probably) Leo Villa’s handiwork on display in its proper surroundings?
However, it’s such a shabby bodge-job that I quietly thought we ought to throw it away because it’s making our beautiful new cockpit look untidy but the museologists in me…
…knew deep-down that it had to stay.
So Mark did the honours.
Here it is again but with a couple of extra interesting pieces of note.
Not only is the radio in place but Bluebird has grown a cockpit rail. That’s the next great conserveering exercise. The rail is fine but the longitudinal stringer that supported it is thoroughly mashed at its forward end. We’re going to construct a slightly smaller but stronger version then build the original onto the outside of our replacement so that future students of K7 can be sure that what they’re studying is entirely faithful to the original whilst being equally strong and serviceable. Reversible too, for any concerned tweedies in our audience.
The opposite stringer can be seen in the previous diary entry being carried up the beach by a diver in 67 so we get to make a new one for that side (phew!) but at least we have the other one to copy.
Speaking of new bits and wreckage carried up the beach, I’m fairly sure that the piece of scrap in the corporal’s right hand is the remnants of the F-18 bulkhead. So we made a new one of those too. You can see it below spanning the floor ahead of the crossmember where the seat-pan is mounted in the form of a flat, marked-out sheet.
It began as slice of 1.5mm H22 donated by ThyssenKrupp that after a spot of tinkering began to look like a bulkhead.
More tinkering and some welding in the corners had it looking halfway reasonable.
Mark then took it in hand, while Chemetall-Trevor’s miraculous paint-stripping bath (yes, it still works) soaked the paint off the radio box, Mark then cleaned up the welds.
The further we get with this job the more I wonder just how it may have turned out.
The HL-effers cried constantly about our lack of public access whilst ensuring that we had nothing whatsoever to offer the public because they warned us that any work carried out would herald the start of our project without them in control and therefore disqualify us immediately from their grant process.
Then they tutted and shook their heads (as they did most of the time anyway) when we simply promised to put everything on the website when the time came.
I mean, what better public access can you offer these days? They obviously never saw what was coming with the Internet… are we surprised?
So we’ve been as good as our word. The only way you can get closer to this project is to turn up in the workshop and have a sweeping brush thrust into your hands.
And what about the tweedies?
They wanted a separate room (though building it, they assured us, meant poor value for HLF money) for wet coats because the display of a dead K7 they proposed would be so boring that no one would visit until it was peeing down outside (people do not visit The Lake District to go indoors) and the resulting, imported dampness would ruin their expensively managed humidity. Again, paying to operate the dehumidifiers would represent poor value for HLF money whilst my, ‘give it a decent coat of paint’ idea was laughed at.
But six years later they’d now have inherited a conservator’s nightmare as galvanic corrosion devoured K7’s aluminium with the relentlessness of an aggressive cancer.
Fortunes would eventually have been spent on a materials expert who would say, ‘time to do something drastic if you want to save it… it’s the only way’.
Something similar happened with Holland 1, the Royal Navy’s first ever submarine. After it was salvaged the museologists tried a quick, non-interventive fix then almost lost their object…
Galloping corrosion eventually had to be sorted by someone who knew what the hell they were doing and ended up costing a fortune because the entire submarine had to be encased (without moving it) in a fibreglass tank full of sodium-carbonate ( I think) to leach the chlorides out of the steel.
It was in there for about five years and cost goodness knows what. I attended a fascinating presentation by the conservator who ran the project as did a room full of museum types who ought not have been so fascinated as it’s their job to get these things right in the first place.
All they had to do was ask any wreck-ferret. All us young, keen wreck divers risked life and limb early in our diving careers to lift an old ship’s anchor or a cannonball only to discover that all we’d really earned was a relentlessly crumbling garden ornament.
And what about SS Great Britain… that’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship; now put together with Philips screws and MDF mouldings to impress the wedding parties – fine by me as it ensures a long term future for the object but please don’t ever breathe the word ‘conservation’ near it.
They slapped paint, fibreglass and silicone sealant all over her for years but to no avail. Now she floats atop an incredibly expensive glass sea with de-humidified air washing her keel in an effort to delay the inevitable.
Once again the object was being lost to museological correctness where what was needed was an engineer to tell the tweedies what’s what.
Likewise – had the bureaucrats consulted with the average Land-Rover enthusiast with regard to K7’s original fabric they’d have learned very quickly about the corrosive danger of bolting aluminium to steel then getting the whole assemblage soaking wet.
Do you suppose that museologists reach for the herbal ointment when they break out in malignant melanoma?
Admittedly, K7’s conservation could be a little more museologically-friendly but as those (supposedly) in the know either turn their noses up at the mention of our name or demand extortionate payment for their opinions the best we can do is encase all that conserveered, original material within layers of state of the art paint and polyester powder coat for the enjoyment of the present public for whom it’ll remain stable until us heretics are all long dead and it becomes someone else’s problem…
Where were we?
Has anyone ever seen a jet- powered Transit van?
There’s loads more to tell so we’ll get another update posted soon.
16th November 2007
Found some more time for writing…
We acquired our first Orpheus engine back in 2001, the intention always being to rebuild the boat using as much original material as humanly possible, which we’re doing, but the core engine is absolutely shot to pieces so we needed a new one.
This was achieved fairly easily by swapping a pair of redundant aircrew seats with the local ATC who conveniently had an Orpheus lying in their back yard – as you do.
This was fine so far as it went as it allowed us to prove to many people that we were serious about bringing K7 back to life but as engines go it was far from ideal. The biggest problem being that we had no history on the unit. We knew nothing of its past service life or how many hours it had flown so asking Rolls-Royce to support it was a non-starter for a multitude of obvious reasons. There’s no doubt, however, that it would have done the job. It turned beautifully and the compressor was immaculate but it would always have been a slightly embarrassing and unknown quantity in a project where the science and engineering has been researched to the last detail.
What we really needed was a good, time-expired engine with a known history so we could operate it responsibly and with professional support.
We’ve been casting about for six years for just such a lump but without luck. That was until I was called by Pete Pavey.
Pete is with the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust and since the early days of the BBP he’s been on the lookout for what we needed. He’s pointed us at several engines over the years but they’re like the ends of a rainbow. You can see just how things ought to work out but putting your hands on the crock of gold is proper b’stard of a job!
This time was to prove different. This engine was flying until it ran out of hours in 95 whereupon it was removed from the airframe and placed in the aviation museum at Bournemouth airport.
I phoned up and asked whether we could have it – or to be more precise – swap it for our identical unit to go into the museum so we could have the runner for our boat.
The engine proved to belong to DeHavilland Aviation.
Before reading on go back and have a good troll through their website, it’s amazing, as are the fabulous aircraft they keep in the air rather than allowing these iconic machines to slowly rot away as most aviation museums are forced to do.
We obtained a definite maybe on the museum engine only because the problem seemed to be that the Gnat’s replacement unit was causing mild concern and some bits may have been needed from the old one in order to fully meet the incredibly strict criteria by which these ex-military aircraft take to the air.
‘COMA’ Commercially Owned Military Aircraft – now that’s never going to be straightforward, methinks.
We immediately offered the use of any useful parts from our engine at this end because we don’t have to fly and if we could help in any way to get one of these priceless pieces of heritage back off the ground then that’s what we’d do, so in due course, Paul Kingsbury came North with a clever boroscope to sniff about inside our burners.
But before anything else happened the flying engine issue was found to be a false alarm and word soon reached us that we were free and clear to make the swap.
So Rob and me set off on an epic journey (by UK standards at least) from Newcastle to Bournemouth in a Ford Transit tipper with noisy, front wheel bearings.
It got us there too where Paul proved as helpful as anyone could ever be, as was everyone we met at DeHavilland.
And what a laugh too…
Rob, Paul and me simply nicked an Orpheus from the museum collection – or at least that’s how it felt – but some of the staff turned up presently to watch us raiding their display (no smell of tweed in there) and wished us all the best with our new engine.
It wasn’t long before we had it in the car park where Paul sealed everything up for the homeward journey with miles of cling-film and gaffer tape.
Another interesting thing standing in the car park was this…
The world’s last flight worthy Sea Vixen…
28,000lbs of aircraft with twin RR Avons producing 22,000lbs of thrust. This beautiful creature can go supersonic; she’s immaculate and fully ready to go. She’s also without a sponsor for this season but irons are firmly in the fire to have her flying again soon…
And then our jet-Transit was re-engined and declared roadworthy – just.
It took what seemed half a week to get home, the A1 being solid from J26 to J32 where we thankfully took our leave of that dreadful strip of Tarmac and meandered North amongst those only interested in a few pints of real ale before bed time.
Next morning saw our precious new engine wheeled into the workshop and the van returned to the hire company with seconds to spare because the staff were all rushing off to watch our, North-of-the-Tyne lot and Rob’s favourites legging it after a ball while Derby somehow got involved too. I didn’t quite follow that bit as I thought you could only have two lots of ball-chasers on the grass at any one time…
Rob later informed us that everyone got blue, fizzy pop so it must’ve worked out.
Our engine deal certainly did and what can we say to all at DeHavilland Aviation and the museum except, sincere thanks, and we’ll not let you down.
The same could be said and meant with equal feeling to our visitors later that day when Malcolm Hulme paid us a visit with his friends and family.
For those unfamiliar with the bigger picture, Malcolm is the eldest of Donald’s nephews and as circumstance had placed him in our vicinity that day the opportunity to drop by was seized.
Malcolm and his better half, Linda turned up with a crowd of interested friends and associates so we all spent an hour poking around the boat and chatting about the project rather than doing any work.
We’re all hugely (and quietly most of the time) proud of the work we’re doing but a clap on the back from folk so intimately involved in the legend made us all feel warm inside.
We were soon back on the tools because Saturdays are in short supply so the cockpit rails next received our attention. I remember one of the HLF ‘experts’ looking at the boxes of mud extracted from within the hull and saying, “Ooooh, an archaeological dig in miniature…”
I was more concerned with the conglomeration of galvanic cells on a grand scale that was quietly fizzing away behind her but those words echoed as we began to investigate how the cockpit rails and foredeck were constructed.
Here’s the left-hand cockpit rail as-recovered and balanced on the frame where it was originally fitted – well, as near as can be achieved considering the damage to it. We only have one side in useable condition and what we have of the other side is incomplete. The plan was to conserveer as much of this section back to life as possible – that’s the rules – then have it teach us about K7’s construction and evolution in order to get the other side right too.
‘Archaeological dig in miniature’… we went from the final, 67 spray baffle arrangement, seen hanging in ruins in this shot, to the original 1954 cockpit rails buried deep in its structure; absolutely fascinating – to an aluminium anorak such as myself.
Where were we? Ah yes, cockpit rails…
The rail is running left to right but notice that short, vertical section in the centre of the pic? If that had not remained clinging to the shattered rail the entire construction of the cockpit would have become a mystery and left us with a puzzle that we’d never have solved…
21st November 2007
The cockpit rails were always going to be a tricky one. For a start we only have one of them – not too much of a drawback as long as we can extract every rivet hole’s worth of info from that which survived but it was so badly mashed that we weren’t sure what could be learned.
Job-one was to have it into bits so John and I set-to with a drill.
In the foreground you can see one of the pieces we’re after, separated from the rest of the scrap; and here it is on its own.
That is actually half of an open topped box section that runs all the way down the left-hand side of the cockpit opening from F-15 at the back to the top of F-19. There is (or rather, was) an identical section on the other side and both tapered in towards the front of the boat rather than running parallel – that’s an important detail so remember it for later.
The other half of the box section looked like this. (Foreground)
Notice again the small vertical piece riveted onto the main rail; another important detail.
These two parts were looking very sorry for themselves especially when we hung them back in the cockpit for a look-see. You can see the wrecked rail running down the right-hand side of the cockpit.
Nothing daunted, we started on the usual resuscitation process. First thing, get the paint off and pin it straight to see where the stretching, tearing and corrosion is then deal with the problems in order of severity.
John is especially clever in this dept. and it didn’t take him long to have the inner half of the rail somewhere near.
We had a good turnout of volunteers (as we usually do) that Saturday and they all stood deep in discussion while John skirted them carefully with his piece of battered tinwork.
We did eventually put them all to good use – great team players that they are – and we even let Stuart (Anorak) Bird loose with a file and a hacksaw.
Same rules apply – sweep the floor, make the tea then fabricate a new bit and if it’s no good we’ll skip it when you’re not looking, but so absolutely determined not to have his handiwork scrapped was our Stu that he spent a whole day on a small repair section, which proved well worth the effort because it was spot-on.
Similar repairs used to take us a whole day too but Rob and I whispered smugly as we knocked together three or four similar pieces in the same time. Just goes to show how far we’ve come.
Stu’s repair proved well worthy so it was signed off and welded in.
This rail is unquestionably the longest piece of trashed aluminium we’ve so far tackled, the biggest outrigger being no more than a couple of feet from end to end. This section is a shade over four feet long and it was obvious from the start that even if we brought it back to the correct shape it would have zero residual strength.
Not that it did much in the first place, and this is where we’re so lucky with K7. Most of the strength is in the frame, there’s some meat in the spars and floors too and the sponsons are tough cookies too but a cockpit rail…
The underlying cockpit structure is to K7 what the foil cup is to your Mr Kipling Bakewell Tart.
Still, we can’t have it moving about or, worse still, the occasional whiner suggesting that it’s not up to the job when Bluebird returns to her natural environment. So we went all belt-and-braces again and sorted the problem.
What you see here is the end of a box section beam that we’ve constructed to fit where the rail goes but built to the inside size of the rail itself.
It’s 2mm thick on the sides and 4mm thick top and bottom where the channels double up (The original rail is 1.6mm throughout). The two channels fit inside one another and are welded together, it’s mated to the frame at F-15 and F-19, it’s totally bombproof and the old rail is now built around the outside of it rendering the original fabric structurally redundant.
Notice also the condition of the front spar, which can be seen in the background. It’s so good that we’re not even going to repaint it.
It’s important to understand the motivation behind rescuing all this wrecked material. It would have been so easy to roll out the drawings and make new bits but the sad fact is that museological thinking has permeated the project (largely thanks to Chris Knapp) to the extent that very odd and non-engineering thoughts occur increasingly frequently. Things like, here’s a small fragment engineering history within the bigger picture that was almost lost but for our insistence on saving everything.
That small vertical piece on the cockpit rail – any guesses at what it might be? No, we had no idea either, until we repaired both the rail and the F-18 bulkhead only to discover that nothing fitted together properly. Putting it down to crash damage initially we chased a 6mm gap up and down the cockpit without resolving anything. Then we realised that answer lay in that small vertical piece.
They’d built the bulkhead half an inch wrong at day-one and inserted a quarter-inch spacer at either side to take up the gap.
Half an inch!
If we’d not found it we’d have been flummoxed ’til the end of time, built the cockpit as a best guess and felt guilty about having perhaps done it wrong.
I keep reading on Ken’s drawings things like, ‘seal any large gaps with filler’, yet despite intense scrutiny I’ll be buggered if I can find where he’s drawn any large gaps…
What did he think was going to happen in manufacture?
Wasn’t British industry making supersonic aircraft at the time?
What an absolute nightmare… we have a crashed boat with not only a frame that was built three-eighths of an inch cock-eyed but bulkheads half an inch away from the drawings. It often takes weeks of intense detective work on a single piece of twisted metal to work out exactly what went where then another battle to make it go back from whence it came whilst engineering the strength back into it but is it worth it?
27th November 2007
We’ve had a sudden influx of visiting dignitaries at BBP headquarters this week. It started with Robbie-Robinson.
Robbie needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the Bluebird story but for anyone who isn’t, Robbie’s folks kept various hotels in the village of Coniston, which Rob and his lovely wife, Liz do to this day (Coniston Lodge Hotel http://www.coniston-lodge.com/) where the best breakfast in the known universe is to be had as long as you don’t ask for tomato ketchup to go with it. I’ve discovered that ‘sweet tomato condiment’ works much better and the breakfast plates are placed before you with hardly a murmur.
Liz also bakes the most amazing cakes and the restaurant is full of homemade jams, chutneys and puddings – it’s gorgeous.
Donald stayed with Robbie’s folks on all of his record attempts and Rob became part of the team, finally finding himself on the safety boat with Leo Villa when K7 crashed.
Thinking that Rob may have been able to help us with our quest we first stayed at his place back in 96 when our hunt for Bluebird’s wreck began but it was a long time later when we all began to wonder just where that damned boat had got to. Rob’s suggestion that we catch a baby pike and train it to sniff out aluminium was typical of his dry sense of humour, completely useless and makes me chuckle to this day.
I remember when we finally found the wreck and took a small piece of the portside spray baffle ashore to show Rob…
“Well,” he said wistfully, “you earned that.”
It was October 2000.
In November 2007 he came to inspect the rebuild with son, Chris.
Chris is an airline pilot so naturally we got talking about the engine. Ours makes 4500lbs of thrust whilst Chris captains two modern units that produce 41,000lbs – each!
We chatted about Bluebird’s instrumentation and how to set the thrust for a run, which I explained was achieved using a big pedal under Donald’s right foot.
I’m told this is not how it’s done on a commercial airliner. Shame, what fun that would be…
And something else I’ve noticed of late… As Bluebird waited patiently under a shroud of dust and corrosion with her front end deemed unsalvageable by those paid to know better the mood of interested visitors was invariably quiet and sombre. They’d shuffle about, just looking mostly, without saying much.
But there’s a whole new aura about K7 these days; extremely positive; perhaps an echo of her glory-days with Donald.
People see her in a whole new light now that she’s back in one piece. But it was there all along, just waiting to be resurrected as K7 clung to life awaiting the day she’d feel tools working once more on her metal skin.
Interpretation – that’s what museologists call it – and speaking of which…
We felt those positive vibes again a few days later when the big cheeses from the Ruskin, Vicky and Anne, arrived to inspect their boat.
It’s all very nice to raise a small fortune and start building a big shed onto the side of your museum but for all they knew we were making a complete arse of the rebuild at our end so I insisted they came over for a look.
Vicky keeps calling me a museologists knowing full well that I’d rather be mistaken for Gary Glitter but I guess it takes a museologist to know one so I suppose it’s a back-handed compliment really.
Michaela turned up in her new role as a radio reporter too and got no sense out of me whatsoever. This really is her story as she’s always been the closest media type to the action since the very beginning but when armed with notepad and pen she could easily edit out my silliness. Not so easy in a radio interview…
And it’s just been one laugh after another up here lately.
Alain turned up on a week day, slightly unusual but not unheard of, but being pushed for time he didn’t get into anything long-winded, choosing instead a relaxing evening of light maintenance on the compressed air system.
Under the bench he crawled, hemmed in at one end by the small compressor that feeds the main workshop bench and trapped at the other by Chemmetal-Trevor’s drums of gloop. Behind him, a wall, and above him the underside of the bench, whilst effectively barring any easy escape to the front was the immovably heavy box of tools donated by Mike Bull.
Having wedged himself into such narrow confines – and Alain doesn’t do narrow confines – he began to enthusiastically unscrew things from the back of the compressor.
Now, for those who don’t live and work with compressors, what happens is that they breathe in moist air then squish into a smaller volume where the water then comes out of suspension and collects in the bottom of the air receiver in a filthy, rusty pool that needs to be drained periodically. You can see where this is going already…
“Is there any tank pressure?” came a muffled and slightly puzzled voice from beneath the bench.
I popped across the workshop and confirmed that the system was full.
“Strange,” said Alain – perplexed look on face – as he held up the drain bung from the receiver.
“Hang on,” said I wickedly. “I’ll fetch you a welding rod.”
The flow of thick, rusty water began as a trickle then swelled into a roaring blast in about two seconds.
Alain, completely trapped on four out of five sides and severely restricted on the fifth, thrashed like a netted fish, blinded by the deluge and unable to do anything but splatter about in the mess until the compressor had divested itself of every drop of rusty water.
Sadly, cameras could not be brought to bear in time due to tears running down our faces, but the immediate aftermath tells the story.
Notice the bunch of keys awash in the middle – Alain has a small torch on there that he was using at the time. The whole lot was abandoned in a hurry.
But we digress…
We were discussing cockpit rails last time and glad to report that they’re there or thereabouts. We’ve not had a big couple of weeks in the workshop for various reasons but work continues. Most of the guys have been tied up with other things for a while. It’s always been the same. We push the domestic envelope as far as we dare for as long as possible then have to yield for a week or so to wives, kids and essential maintenance around the house. Oh, and Christmas is coming too…
Didn’t stop John from defeating that cockpit rail though… It was to aluminium what an angry Geordie with ten bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale in him is to a cocktail party but John handcuffed the thing to the new longitudinal beam and made it behave.
It fitted back in the boat too and gave up all its long-held secrets so we could get the other side absolutely spot-on.
We don’t have the capability to bend a two-metre length of material but my mate, Austin from Unicorn Sheet Metal just up the road certainly does and he made some sections up for us that John soon knocked into a new rail.
Then Alain supervised the installation.
Meanwhile, Rob was working on a new top for the F-16 outrigger – he’s an expert at sticking new corners into those fiddly, little panels but a new challenge awaited. We gave him a chunk of material bigger than himself to work on. Not difficult really seeing as he’s only the size of an outrigger himself…
It’s a ‘flap tray’.
Well that’s what Ken calls it on the drawings and as he no longer calls me every Friday I can’t ask him why. But I’m assuming that as the plans date to 1954 and Bluebird was designed with power-assisted ‘flaps’ where the spray baffles used to be these panels were associated with where the flaps used to live when retracted.
They’re small decks that run down either side of the cockpit and, indeed, evidence suggests that they were home to the powered baffles.
They’re also one hell of a lot more complicated than the flat blank that Rob is holding so there’s a heap of work to do if we’re to get them right at the first attempt…
2nd December 2007
Another year almost over but what a year!
I’ve been chomping at the bit since November 2001, when Gina decided that K7 needed to go back together, to get stuck into rebuilding this boat and now we find ourselves poised on the very brink of starting the final reassembly work.
The team are tighter than ever, our sponsors and supporters are providing all that’s needed to keep the job running, and some of the best engineers in the business are contributing their expertise.
Carl the diver came by a few weeks ago (in his new Aston Martin DB9, which I borrowed to go for a bottle of milk (first shop I found selling milk was in Berwick) to have a look at our big blue boat that he last saw as the wreck we all worked so hard to extricate from the lakebed.
He stood in our immaculate workshop and observed half a minute’s silence…
“You know something, Smithy,” he finally said in that inimitable Brummie accent of his. “You might just pull this off…”
But at this time of year we turn our attention away from tin-bashing towards another BBP tradition. It’s become part of our annual ritual to place a piece of K7 in the museum every year on or around the fourth of January.
In 2005 it was the tail fin (conserved of course). Then in 06 we hung the ‘bell end’ on the wall. This year we want to go all ambitious and take the wrecked engine home.
At the same time we need to start prepping our new Orph’ for ground-running so a swap of engine stands seemed a good idea.
Job-one was to get the knackered, old lump off our splendid, Rolls-Royce transportation cradle where Alain once again demonstrated his ability to be useful whilst doing bot-all. The C of G of the old engine is not where it ought to be due to the front end having dissolved so Alain clung to the jetpipe to be sure it didn’t nosedive into the concrete and knock off all the blades – for about an hour.
Then with Donald’s old engine safely on the floor…
…the guys scared the life out of me by suspending our precious, new Orpheus several feet in the air…
…while they shoved the good cradle beneath it.
It fitted exactly as designed so now we can start installing the systems in preparation for lighting the fire.
The dead engine then went onto the museologically-friendly frame from Bournemouth where we can close it in with Perspex to stop people from nicking souvenirs or having their kids injured on the sharp bits then we’ll ship it over to Coniston.
(Good riddance to a big chunk of scrap if you ask me!)
Alain, Rob, Novie and Andy Robinson – the engine moving gang.
This, meanwhile, is the flap-tray gang.
Remember the big panel that Rob was holding? Well here it is being made into a part for our boat. It goes all the way from F-15 at the back of the cockpit to F-22 at the front of the front spar and it not only has the outer edge folded down through ninety degrees it’s also gracefully curved in towards the bow of the boat.
Obviously we couldn’t fold a curve with our bender so another solution was needed and here it is…
You’d be quite right to ask what on Earth we’re using here. It’s like something from Scrapheap Challenge. It’s made of old timing gears from a car engine and an ugly conglomeration of scrap metal.
But it was made for us by Alan Dodds and as Alan is a piece of living history we were damn-well going to use his contraption on our boat.
I thought it best to take it to pieces and have some of the bits trued-up in the machine shop but otherwise it’s as he made it so what you do is this.
Place Rob in the middle to wind the handle (very slowly) then put Alain and Mike at either end. Then you roll the wheels along the carefully marked curve on the panel whilst applying a gentle bending force to push the edge over.
Repeat several times…
Next, flatten the panel by shrinking the turned edge a fraction (rolling the curve causes the once flat panel to go slightly banana-shaped) and you’re ready to go.
Next – shape the inboard edge to marry up with the cockpit rails.
But notice the slightly battered but original rail on the left-hand side of the cockpit…
We could build this boat so that it would look spot-on but we’d never be sure whether the cockpit opening was too high, or too long, or too narrow. Saving that one strip of crumpled alloy allows us to be correct to within a millimetre everywhere.
Because it gives us a longitudinal and vertical reference for the whole cockpit area.
The outriggers can tell us all we’ll ever need to know about the vertical dimensions of the frame and outer skins whilst the floors can pin down the width and longitudinal data for the underside but how were we to properly position the cockpit opening, the foredeck and the new nose?
So far as we can determine none of these parts were drawn except as a profile and all the internal structure and formers seem to have been made up on site to suit. Then there’s no guarantee that the drawings were followed with any accuracy anyway.
That one strip of metal can be used to cultivate sufficient information that the entire cockpit opening and surrounding decking can now be built to within half of a 3/32 of an inch rivet hole in terms of accuracy. That’s 1.6mm!
Conservation led approach – remember? We’ve conserved the old cockpit rail, which allowed us to conserve K7’s original dimensions. OK it involved a certain amount of violence but it’s conservation nonetheless – or should I say, conserveering
And while we’re on the subject of Hapless Lottery Fund suggestions – the one about people under forty not being interested was seriously put to the test today when I returned to my old school to make a presentation for a gathering of people so young that they weren’t even born when I left the place!
My presentation had a bit of everything chucked in. Diving, underwater exploration, a dash of history and a brace of dead bodies.... and Bluebird, of course.
They seemed to like it.
I certainly had a great time even if it was poor value for HLF money.
But back to the tin-bashing.
We soon had both flap trays firmly pinned in position but after the joy and relief of working with new material for a day or two we had to delve back amongst the mangled scrap.
Spend a while studying this one – I certainly did. What you see is the remnants of the after end of the portside flap tray as-recovered. In the background is the outer skin, built above the original as part of the mod’s that included raising the front spar. The later bodywork and left-hand cockpit rail can be seen in the background. It fits on top of the nearer piece of wreckage.
Study the closer section – in the centre is one of the formers that supported the raised deck. It’s two inches high and fairly intact.
To the left is another – this one is two and a half inches tall (or it was before inrushing water flattened it) whilst on the right can be seen the wooden blank, which we believe is where the actuating linkage for the power operated spray baffles used to come through the panel.
In the foreground you can see that a strip of aluminium angle is attached to the outer edge of the flap tray and the failure of the underlying aluminium skin has occurred at the left-hand end of this angle-section, as you look at the picture. It’s the same on both sides.
Time to extract as much info as possible from this little lot and work it into the rebuilt boat.
First thing – graft old onto new then listen carefully to what it has to say.
9th December 2007
The Christmas effect is making itself felt now –forced tours of crowded shops with the wife, whilst at work suppliers breathe a sigh of relief and apologise…
“Sorry, Mate, you’ll not get that ’til after the Christmas now.”
But the plus side is that business is unavoidably slowing so there’s an opportunity to grab an extra hour here and there in the Bluebird workshop.
Visitors often ask when K7 will get her new nose as though this will somehow symbolise her return to power and grace.
It’s all very well to ask about the nose but from a tin-bashing perspective the pointy end is a simple enough piece to build. The cockpit rails, on the other hand, are a total horror story.
Those nasty panels that form the bottom and inner faces of the jet intakes then run up and forward to the finished deck-height and shape the cockpit opening and outer rails.
Here’s the one from the right-hand side as photographed by the late John Lomax. And here is the same panel today – a sorry sight indeed.
But, believe it or not, it’s an out-and-out treasure trove of information about how K7 was modified after those inauspicious outings with her spar in the lower position.
At some stage Ken Norris decided to raise the height of the engine intakes by two inches so what those tin-bashers of old did was to simply erect a series of formers along the length of the flap-tray ten-inches apart starting with a two-inch-high example forward of the engine intake and finishing with a pair of larger formers forward of the cockpit that span the entire width of the boat and rise to finished deck-height, (nine inches above the frame in the centre and eight and a half at the outboard ends), placed between the cockpit and the front spar.
They then formed the outer skins over these to create the distinctive shape but how were we to put it back as it was? We have no drawings and it’s likely that Ken did little beyond designing the shape in profile, which we know he did on more than one occasion, and leaving it to the boys in the workshop. We don’t even have his profile drawing.
The two smallest formers were soon rescued from the left-hand flap tray, straightened and pinned in their correct positions as described in the previous diary entry.
The second smallest (2.5 inches) example from the other side was also retrieved from within the mashed skin and soon reinstated along with a replacement, smaller brother recreated by copying the one we already had.
That gave us four of the formers – two from each side and three of them original fabric but what of the rest?
Then a surviving example of the next size up was salvaged from inside the torn skin.
It was squashed flat but not quite dead. Nor was the following – half of the next former and first of the full-width examples.
With the paint removed and some of the harsher damage eased out it looked like this,
which we then patiently bashed into a rough semblance of its former self and used it as a template to recreate its missing, other half. Well, it’s not missing, as such. It’s just so hopelessly squashed amongst a ball of aluminium from the left-hand side that we’d need a crowbar (literally) to get it loose and then it would likely be hopelessly wrecked anyway. That piece will end its days in the museum without being conserveered back to life.
Another spell of careful work then ensued until we had four formers down each side.
Not looking bad at all as the old girl gains a little shapely weight on recovering from her long illness – a mixture of old and new with the distilled information shared between the two sides… but then another problem became apparent.
We’d numbered the formers in order of size starting with the smallest so by now you’d assume that we had one to four, inclusive, but no… What we actually had was one to five with number-four missing. Neither of the number fives came up with either side’s wreckage. We knew it existed because of the rivet holes where once it attached and the clinging, ‘Yak-shit’ sealant but the formers lie lost in the depths of Coniston Water and are ever likely to remain so.
Time came to hark back to my A-level art lessons and make a small paper sculpture…
It wasn’t that small, actually, and took up most of the kitchen island that Rachel imagined I built for her.
Ha! What a selling job that was… a workbench smack in the middle of the kitchen. It proved invaluable when rebuilding that LP boost pump…
The number-four former was quickly revealed to stand seven and three quarter inches tall – another problem solved that enabled us to make a pair of replacements.
Then another crushed, half-former was dragged, barely breathing, from the wreckage along with a short, longitudinal strengthener that ran between the pair of full-width formers so we rushed them to the emergency room…
Right-hand side – almost entirely original…
…left-hand side – almost entirely new.
But it’s dimensionally correct and that’s what matters.
Conservation-led approach… we conserved what we had then built new from its example.
Just for the curious, the short, vertical lines you can see all over the edges of the new panels are caused by the stretcher / shrinker donated by Frost Tools. An invaluable little piece of equipment, which as you can see, is getting plenty of use.
Another detail worth noting is that Donald’s old components are being assembled with yellow pins whilst the new parts are put together with red ones. This is because the original rivet holes are all 3.2mm but we’re drilling the new ones to 2.4 mm just in case anything needs to be repositioned slightly on the final build when they can be drilled out to full size in their altered position.
Next, we have to slap some of ThyssenKrupp’s aluminium sheet over the top and see whether it falls somewhere close…
We spent a fortnight examining how the tinwork in question was built in 56, or whenever it was, and kept coming to the conclusion that it simply had to be built in several pieces because there’s no way on Earth you can make metal do what’s been done in this case without adding or gaining big chunks of it here and there.
We could’ve simply plunged the wreckage into the paint stripping bath and settled the matter once and for all but as we can’t include it in the rebuild what kind of a museum piece would it make with all of its blue paint dissolved?
In the end it took days of study, lots of educated guesswork, and the experience of several lifetime tin-bashers to decide where our ‘archaeological dig in miniature’ ought to carefully dissect through the paint in search of the welds we knew had to be there.
We were exactly right but what caught us out is the incredibly high standard of the welds – quite simply the best gas-welds I’ve ever seen on any material (especially aluminium) in my entire life. They weren’t filed or dressed in any way yet they weren’t visible through the paint! Whoever produced them could name their price these days and how I wish we had that craftsman with us in the workshop today.
Having seen what was going on we then decided a small comfort zone might be advisable so an e-mail went off to the guys at Thyssen’s. It read something like; we don’t think we’re good enough to get this right at the first attempt so could we please have an extra couple of sheets of material to practice on? It arrived next morning.
This is going to be a tough act to follow…
Oh, and another thing, an expression came to mind this week when I was gently reminded by an old acquaintance that I may have done someone a great disservice.
‘The fog of war’, where regrettable mistakes can be forgiven and heroics overlooked – only in this case it wasn’t so much fog and war as splatter and bulls*it’.
Over the distance of time it’s now clear to any sensible observer that the HLF ‘experts’ proved as suited to the role of assessing our application as a short-sighted hedgehog squaring up to cross the M6. But there was an exception – an unsung and, until now, forgotten champion of our cause…
It’s always been strict BBP policy never to name names – there exist only bureaucrats, museologists and HL-effers (to the unspeakable relief of many) – so the identity of this individual will not be revealed but read on because the following was actually presented alongside the ‘under-forty’ and ‘loss of original fabric’ nonsense to those dummies at HLF-central who wasted good (public) money on being misinformed.
‘Restoration would seem the logical choice [our heretical expert wrote] and given the vast experience of aircraft restorers world wide, a structure of the nature of Bluebird, which essentially follows contemporary aircraft practice [it doesn’t because it has a steel frame that makes our rebuild possible but let’s not quibble] in its design and construction would be relatively simple to deal with.’
Considering that no HLF ‘expert’ ever actually clapped eyes on Bluebird until their forced, token visit in the face of our second, and highly public, application it’s understandable that errors would creep in but at least sufficient vision existed in this individual to see the big picture without worrying unduly about the details.
It gets better…
‘One can cite numerous examples of wrecked WWII aircraft being recovered from the wilds of Scandinavia, Finland or Russia, often from the bottom of lakes, which are being restored to flying condition. It can thus be suggested that restoration [a very dirty word in museological circles] is practical.’
Imagine what might have been had the Hysterical Lottery Failure appointed a full complement of such ‘experts’…
We’d have been able to pay professional ‘sheeties’ from Airframe Assemblies (as was our original plan) to bash metal into exotic shapes in a fraction of the time we’ve spent clawing our way up a near-vertical learning curve.
‘Once restored, the museum should implement a planned maintenance routine that should be designed to prevent any further degradation of structure and engine. Such routines are familiar to the aircraft industry and could be readily adapted to Bluebird.’
So far as I remember we proposed just such a practice in both of our applications… But here comes the best bit by far because, at the time, and under a low cloud-base of bureaucracy, I’d never have dared write anything so controversial. And yet, in our darkest hour, as the HLF’s near-total eclipse of common sense approached, the following actually appeared in one of their ‘expert’ advisors reports.
‘It is probably a familiar situation in any engineering restoration, [that word again] when the team feel the urge to “give it a whirl”. This is an essential component in maintaining interest in the work. If this were intended, then Bluebird would have to be removed from the museum building. The volume of jet efflux produced, even at low throttle settings would severely damage anything in its immediate path and rapidly fill the building with smoke and fumes. The noise in such a confined space would undoubtedly be considered a health hazard and the vibrations induced by such noise levels could damage the building’s structure.’
It seems that way back then an HLF ‘expert’ was actually able to see beyond the terrifying prospect of old, Mrs Miggins’ cat being frightened by the noise and wonder what in hell would happen if we lit a fire inside our Orph’ without pulling K7 out of the museum – quality!
Please, HLF ‘expert’ in question, accept a much deserved and lamentably late presidential pardon from the Bluebird Project and keep up the good work.
14th December 2007
It’s bloody freezing in our workshop! We even nicked the heater from next door today but it’s like urinating on a forest fire …
Fortunately, our old friend, Carl who runs the world’s greatest heating and ventilation company, is coming over shortly to install a serious heating system so we’ll let you know how that goes.
There’s nothing worse than working with cold metal – it sucks the heat from your fingertips but we suffered it last winter so we’ll do it again this time. At least the workshop is clean these days and water has stopped dripping from Bluebird’s frame. What it must’ve been like under tarpaulin in January at the side of Coniston in 1967 can only be imagined.
We’re still working on our ‘dry-build’ of K7’s front end. We’re going to make up all the missing bits before having the frame painted just in case we discover later some detail that requires welding or cutting of our beautiful frame.
Meanwhile, we’ve had to get our collective head around all those formers on the flap-trays then make up the missing examples because the time has come to start putting the old girl’s clothes back on.
We’ve tried to recreate the new skins as faithful copies of the originals using the same techniques (with the exception of the welding process because I can’t gas weld aluminium to save my life, and I’m the resident welder) so what you see here is the best recreation we can achieve of what was built when K7’s spar was raised and the deck height lifted.
Two things to note in the following pic…
Firstly, we’ve partially repaired the original, inner cockpit rail and pinned it in place. It’s to the right and represents the later evolution built for the sliding canopy. We’ve already dealt with the 1954 rail design, which will soon be buried deep within the structure never to be seen again as was the case last time until we dug it out again a few weeks ago. The above section is a bit battered but considering what it’s been through we’re lucky to have it at all and, crucially, it can tell us the precise height and angle of the cockpit rails as of January 4th 1967 so it was conserveered without delay.
The other piece worthy of a mention is at the left side of the pic lying lazily on top of the formers. You can see a new panel with its nearest edge rolled downwards – the first replacement piece of bodywork for our big blue boat in over forty years.
Next, and armed with info extracted from the recovered rail, Rob cut a millimetre-perfect, plywood profile of the cockpit opening, which we then set up at precisely the right height on sturdy, steel uprights so it’ll stand any required knocking and banging. Of course, its upper surface was immediately populated by teacups and tools – as you’d expect – so here’s a pic of it in its virgin state.
The addition of fresh tin was required – the shapes and sections coming together in the following pic’s are as faithful as we can measure to the ones created back in goodness-knows-when.
Having made a new piece of deck, on went the vertical side for an initial fitting.
There followed some tapping here and there with a hammer until the two pieces began to look as though they may actually work together one day. The tricky part of making such shapes is that as you persuade the edges around all those graceful curves the newly formed metal must be either stretched or shrunk depending on which way the shapes run in order to keep the panel flat overall. Try it with a sheet of paper and you’ll begin to appreciate what’s involved. You’ll need to tuck the paper in some places (shrink the metal in our case) and make small rips (stretching the metal) in others to achieve the shapes required.
So far so good, but still a hell of a long way from completion whilst a thousand opportunities to get it wrong wait to catch us out…
No going back now though so on went the next slab of shiny aluminium…
…to be carefully pushed here and there until it too looked about right.
At this point – and this is a serious question – are we building a replica? It’s been suggested in the past that this we must do if we’re to effectively resuscitate this iconic craft… or have we successfully preserved the soul of K7 (as we’ve tried so very hard to do) and are now simply re-clothing her to make her fit for purpose? Fire your feedback at us – we can take it.
These panels either side of the cockpit are unquestionably the most difficult task we face in rebuilding Donald’s boat. Look at them, compound curves in all directions and no assembly instructions!
We marked out another sheet and battled onward.
This one is the vertical wall that forms the outer skin of the left-hand cockpit rail. There’s an inner and an outer skin with a half-inch gap between in which the Perspex cockpit slides. The outer skin also forms part of the inner wall of the jet intake.
More shrinking, stretching, wheeling and cursing as the metal occasionally went the opposite way to that which we expected – we’re amateurs, don’t forget – but we got there in the end.
By this point it was becoming impossible to work on a collection of loosely pinned panels because if you moved one it shifted the others and nothing remained constant. The easy, though somewhat scary answer, due to the level of commitment, was hot metal glue!
It never fails – and it soon stopped all those bits from moving around to the touch… We gave the welds a rough dressing-off then breathed a sigh.
So far so good and sensing that perhaps the worst was behind us, we decided to get brave with some more conserveering.
Below you can see the original… erm… what would you call it?
It’s a strip of 16swg BB3 with its upper edge rolled to slot over the top of the outer skin presumably to provide a safe, rounded edge whilst contributing a modicum of extra strength. It’s a twiddly-bit without a name but it was riveted right through to the inner rail so the rivet-hole alignment was something from which we could extract a crumb of info. We straightened a small ding at its front end then pinned it in place.
What we actually achieved was to set the angle of the new, vertical (almost) panel helped by measurements from the crushed air-intake assembly, which currently resides in one of our storage containers, then we drilled a couple of holes through the new outer skin but in line with original holes in the inner panel.
This not only set the required angle perfectly but it located the twiddly-bit to within less than a quarter diameter of a rivet hole.
OK – so it looks like an acupuncture class, but there’s only one piece of slightly corroded and blue aluminium pinned to our newly fabricated cockpit and the two red pins you can see holding it up are actually inserted through holes drilled from the other side in line with those already drilled in the original inner panel. So with the height and angle thus perfectly determined it became a simple job to trim the new panel (we make everything half an inch oversize then trim it in as we go) then fit the twiddly-bit.
It was actually quite spooky allowing everything to find its level and height from the old parts salvaged from the lake. It’s almost as though K7 was rebuilding herself that day with everything falling neatly into place and the only assistance asked for being the drilling of holes in her new material when and where required.
I had someone ask last week why we straighten every single piece of bent metal…
The reason for this obsession is that by pursuing K7’s shape and form from rivet hole to damaged rivet hole we can be sure of ultimately getting her absolutely spot-on whilst incorporating as much original material as it’s possible to save. Simple…
So with a complete cockpit rail in position the rest of the picture became simple – sort of. Top of the list was a new curved section for around the front of the cockpit opening. It’s a tricky piece to make (when you’ve not made one before) because if you simply turn the edge of an otherwise flat piece of material you end up with yet another banana-shaped failure so the curved edge has to be pre-stretched so that turning the edge pulls it flat again. (At least that’s how we did it)
We made up a special tool to form the ten-inch radius, shrunk the material where appropriate then whacked it with a hammer.
Again, notice the vertical scratches. They’re from the stretcher and we’re probably supposed to do something clever to prevent them from appearing in the first place but they polish out easily enough.
It was trimmed to size and glued in – almost there – only a small gap left to fill and fettle.
The final piece wasn’t too tricky; we made up an insert then fired up the glue-gun again.
Then Mark got stuck in with the sanders, files and all the other paraphernalia that we use to make everything look smooth and beautiful.
By dint of careful, slow and methodical work we’ve somehow reproduced an unbelievably complicated, 3D sculpture in 1.5mm aluminium to the exact dimensions and shape crafted by skilled craftsmen over half a century ago.
We’ve had to learn the behaviour of the material, design bespoke processes and make up and polish special tooling in order to recreate a one-off from nothing but flat sheet, mangled scrap and a handful of photographs so we’re kind of pleased with the result…
This is more than just tin-bashing for beginners…
Conservation-led approach… yes, I think so. Just have to build the same for the other side now. Argh!
Going to tidy this little lot up then build that long-awaited nose.
I received fax confirmation on Friday that our sponson materials are on the way too. That saga is a diary entry in itself. We could’ve built the sponsons from commercial grades of material and rationalised the sizes into stock, metric lengths and thicknesses straight off the shelf – or we could’ve insisted on precisely what was used in the original design even thought it’s commercially unavailable to the point where the mill didn’t even have the required tooling to make what we wanted. Any guesses?
We’re working hard to give our annual gift to the Ruskin on January 4th too. Rob has been modifying the cradle under the old engine so we can make a clear, plastic cover to go over the top of it to keep folk from the sharp edges and keep trinkets from vanishing into anorak pockets!
Gina gave us a huge bottle of champagne the other day so we’re all going to Coniston to install the engine in the museum display then have a few drinks to aluminium and rivets.
Merry Christmas one and all and we’ll see you in the New Year.
Bill & all at the BBP