Out with the old and in with the new. Happy New Year! And so sorry for the long delay. People often imagine I live and breathe this Bluebird thing but try it with a three-year-old in the house and Santa Claus will win every time.

Having done the Christmas thing the team made its usual pilgrimage to Coniston for the 4th though not bearing museological gifts this time. We’ve been too wrapped up in the rebuild plus there’s to be a grand opening for the Bluebird Wing later this year so we’re saving it for then. Instead we scoffed a plate of food and downed a dozen ales around the Sun Inn’s log fire and toasted Donald until we were chucked out.

 

Pic © Mike Bull 2009.

This meant none of our lot joined those keen folks who got up at daft o’clock next morning to stand on the jetty contemplating the 67 accident but, as I explained to one person who invited me to attend, I contemplate it most days whilst digging aluminium splinters out of my fingers. Instead the team met for breakfast at the Bluebird Café then made our hungover way home in time for tea. Our laughing-muscles took a little longer to recover, however, from what has to be one of the most hilarious evenings any of us have ever known.

I’m worn out from not resting over the holidays but we’re still on target and, joy of joys, the rivets are still going in. We knew the day would come but it’s always been something we’d do tomorrow when tomorrow never seems to arrive.

Not any more… and now Mike and his life-partner, Henry-Hoover, have to contend with rivet tails as well as mice invading their hoses.

Did I ever mention Mike and the mouse?

Long before Mike ever took up a pair of tin snips he contentedly vacuumed around our workplace between trips to the kettle. Then events waylaid him for a week or two so poor Henry-Hoover lay unloved as none of us felt inclined. On Mike’s return he set-to and Henry sucked for longer than usual before Mike turned him off.

Immediately the motor spooled down a terrified mouse shot from the hose, cannoned off his hand and dived beneath the nearest cover.

I’ve never in my life seen such a fright or the crew in hysterics for so long. Seeing it from the mouse’s perspective was funnier still. It’d adapted Henry’s ingested dust and detritus into a comfy suite of furniture then dined out on some toffees we’d left lying about. It must’ve been a most contented mouse until Mike intervened.

I could picture Mousey chuckling at our muffled voices safe within his plastic penthouse until he was blasted out of bed. He’d go for the exit only to meet a shrapnel-laden hurricane coming the other way.

Safe to assume an hour inside a running Henry worked mousey into quite a state but imagine when the storm broke and he dashed for freedom only to crash headlong into Mike. Poor Mousey must’ve thought he’d died and scampered straight through the gates of Hell.

For weeks afterwards Mike peered down the hose before switching on. These days he’s into his tin-bashing having made dozens of patches for the bulkheads and outriggers though he does take Henry for the occasional waltz.

 

John is another master of bulkheads and on this occasion he’s owed an apology. You see, his thinning hair was inadvertently caught on camera whilst showcasing his innate skill and he wasn’t amused. So this time please ignore John’s follicular deficit and notice that he’s actually making a splendid job of replacing the F-21 bulkhead.

 

Ironically, Alain made two attempts the night before but not only is F-21 an awkward little blighter from a portion of frame that narrows from all angles it’s also a part of the frame that was built wrong in the first place so the drawing is useless. Al’s first bulkhead was scrapped so he had another go. The next went wrong too but the following day, John picked up the failures, studied them then nailed it in one. Alain didn’t comment except to question John’s lineage.

Here’s another thing… I’m forever being asked to explain where F-this and F-that is on the frame.

Buy the bloody rebuild DVD – it’s all in there!

It’s getting complicated in our workshop at the moment as we try to learn the black art of rivetology. We went back to school some time ago where Brian Dixon, who runs an aerospace course at the local college, tried educating us.

 

Although we learned how to put rivets in, what we never got was how to select the correct rivet in the first place. Have a think about how many aeroplanes have been made to how many designs for how many roles then ponder the galactic diversity of rivet types.

‘It’s simple,’ Brian said when I called him last week. But it’s not flippin’ simple at all despite what he says as Rob and I found out whilst trying to stick F-20 together.

(F-20, by the way, is situated below the aft face of the front spar). The original F-20 came up in 67 so it’s not available.

 

We buggered about with various rivets and snaps (they’re the things you plug into the rivet gun to bash the rivet heads) and bucking bars / reaction blocks (the heavy, shiny lump of metal you hold against the other end of the rivet to flatten it. It was ages before we got the hang of it.

But having worked it out we spent the rest of the afternoon blasting rivets in by the dozen. Over 250 in that panel alone and that’s without attaching it to the rest of the boat.

A few went into F-15 too. (Back of the cockpit).

 

You can see a line or two below as Rob countersinks another hole.

 

We’ve only riveted every other hole for a good reason that’ll be explained later. You may also notice that the rivet lines are all cockeyed. That’s because the F-15 bulkhead, as you know, required much tin-bashery resulting in the wonky lines. We could’ve welded and re-drilled them but why bother when we can use original holes even if they are a bit crooked.

But back to F-20

 

That’s what it looks like now but glance to the right and you’ll see another interesting repair. Remember the forward floor? What happened was this. A southern bloke mailed me one day to say he was a bit handy with a welding torch and could he travel north to make a piece of boat, please? We get lots of this but often the limit of the enquirer’s fabrication skills is squashing empty lager tins. But this lad knew his onions so having travelled miles for the pleasure he chose the most difficult task we had on our list and went for it.

In Chris’ own words…

*

‘After a very generous offer to help with Bluebird; myself and my good lady, Jo, made the journey from deepest Essex to Bill’s workshop. In my usual work role, I carry out bespoke aluminium fabrications for race cars, but this was an altogether different challenge. Bluebird has always fascinated me, not just for her place in history, but also the whole spirit that went into creating, and saving her. When given the opportunity to help on the project, it’s no exaggeration to say that I felt like a young lad who had just had a reply from Jim’ll Fix It.

Given the choice of two jobs on the day, an easy piece, or a not so easy, I decided that I would take on the more difficult task. Not one for shying away from a challenge, I wanted to come away knowing that I had achieved a significant goal. Plus, I was in the mood to “Jolly well overcome all obstacles”, so we set to work on K7’s lower section of the bow.’

*

This was the problem Chris was brave enough to tackle…

 

The inner floor was a bit bashed at the pointy end but worse still there was a big patch of corrosion where it got bent. Not much we can do with rotted tin so we chopped the good bit into two manageable portions that we pinned, minus the surgically removed corroded part, to the frame to see what we had to work with.

 

As usual, what you can’t see is that it’s a coiled spring and the only thing making it look normal is it being nailed down everywhere. But at least it’s better than it was. Chris selected a piece of tin and got bending.

 

Having already made one or two repairs for K7 I didn’t want to dampen his quest for a sub-millimetre-perfect repair by pointing out that none of it was that good in the first place. It turned out a lovely job and as he explains…

 

*

‘The structure at this point is comprised of an inner and outer skin, sandwiching a corrugated strengthener. This middle section has suffered a fair bit of abuse, it’s fair to say, and had corroded badly in one area. Objective being to repair, not replace, I set about forming the necessary repair section. Basically, a series of folds in opposing directions to replicate the corrugations of the original panel. Not too difficult in itself, but to maintain the profile of the original, each fold would have to be bang on. Just half a millimetre out on each fold could potentially add up to the panel being 8 mm or so out. It took a while to get the panel looking right, and it would be a bit of a fib to say it was absolutely perfect, but Bill was on hand to offer his support.

“Aye, that was always going to be a reet bugger, that!”

We had a bit of a fettle about, and Bill certified my repair panel within tolerance. What with the distortion caused by welding, it was always going to need bashing afterwards, and dressing off. With the corroded section cut away, we offered in our new piece, cut it back and butted it up to meet the original. With the pieces of panel held in situ by an army of rivet pins, it was time to get tacking. On with the welding shield, I began to make these bits of panel become one again. I reckon I’ve spent the last five years sat at my welding bench, but the first time I approached Bluebird with the tig torch, I was a bit nervous. OK, I’ll admit it; I was shaking like a wet dog.’

 

*

‘Reet bugger’ or not we trimmed and fettled until Chris was able to don his welding hat and become only the second welder to tackle K7’s aluminium. And very neat and expert welds they are too. I’d be jealous but it was so obviously beginner’s luck…

 

The patch is now in for good and another original panel is saved. That front floor is actually a very clever design but that’s another story… Chris and I had a great day until beer o’clock crept up and we had to shut up shop but our mission was a grand success.

 

 

*

‘Come the end of our day, and with Bill hopefully pleased with my efforts, it was time to down tools. I’d had a great day in the workshop; we got on with the job, and had a good laugh while we were doing it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the repair completely on the day, but I know work has continued on it and the assets/images/diary/2009 I have seen since look promising. Thanks go to Bill, not only for letting me loose in [the BBP] workshop, but for putting up with my suvven accent and for making Jo and myself feel so welcome. I hope to see you again soon, Bill. All the very best, Chris and Jo.’

 

*

And to you guys – it was a pleasure… So with Chris heading south for a half of warm shandy and a bowl of jellied eels we soon had the floor under control.

 

There’s a new bloke appeared in our workshop too.

 

We’re not sure where he came from but he’s making something to do with the cockpit seat so we’ll let you know what’s what when we find out.

We’ve started on the next piece of floor too. This is the section from F (which stands for ‘frame’, by the way) 15 at the back of the cockpit all the way forward to F-19 where the hull is stepped on the underside.

 

 

 

You’re looking down on what was once the inside skin of the cockpit floor with the front of the boat to the left. The tear in the upper-right edge extends inboard to a point beneath the pilot’s seat. The right hand edge marks the back of the cockpit. I’ve thought long and hard about what initiated that rip in the floor and never come up with a satisfactory answer. I remember Steve Moss saying something like, ‘In any accident there’s always a piece of wreckage where you think, how did that get there?’ and this seems to be ours. There’s no rhyme or reason why that floor should be torn there. No rigid structure lay outboard that could’ve been slammed inboard. In fact, everything went the other way as the impact was on the left side of the cockpit so you’d not expect damage to propagate in the opposite direction. It remains a mystery.

Then Bettablast took the paint off and it looked even worse.

 

Unsurprisingly it’s another exotic material. Everything on K7 is so weight-critical that she’s made of layers of 1950s supersonic aircraft.

You just have to look at what happened in the crash to realise it’s weird.

 

You ever see aluminium fail like this? It’s shattered like porcelain. Pieces are missing and a splinter of it spent best part of a week inside my finger after I investigated without gloves. It’s incredibly strong and springy and it doesn’t weld easily either as it won’t elongate but with a bit of experimenting we got some patches in. We could have easily chopped the whole corner out and sent to America for a new bit as we had to do with the sponson materials. But, like last time, we’d have had to convince their state dept. that we’re not building cruise missiles before we could purchase the damn stuff. (That happens to be true, by the way)

 

One patch is welded in left of Novie’s fingertips as he prepares to let another into a hole between his hands. There’s more damage to his left awaiting repair.

Meanwhile, we’d been bashing the corrugated inner skin back to life. One half was generally OK but the other was both mashed and torn in two.

 

Not good – but veteran, Doddy eagerly beat the crap out of it.

 

Now we had both the inner skin and the corrugations to a point where we could make something of them.

By the time Doddy’s arm fell off we had a result.

 

Despite several days on the tools what you see is still only a starting point for the rebuild of the cockpit floor. There’s much to do but you’ll not see any of it in the LOOF-box anytime soon. Each section is a project within a project but the by-product of forcing all these parts to play the game is that every grain of historical authenticity is reinvested in K7’s final build.

Yet another day on the hammers and the corrugations came to where you can see it’s going to work.

 

 

Its other half needs fettling but the skin pins have started to go back in, which means things are beginning line up again.

 

Coming along nicely... It’s stood on bits of wood because it has skin pins on both sides.

Parallel to this is an ongoing study of where strength and weight are traded in K7’s original design with a view to an opposite trade in the rebuild to offset our obstinate conservation of tired material.

K7 is going to emerge into her new role stronger and better built than ever she was by careful conservation, meticulous engineering and the inclusion of up to date materials and processes. How I wish Ken Norris still called every Friday…

Another part that’s been making good progress is the front, inner floor.

The time has come to bring its behaviour inside a millimetre so Mike has been dancing with it for a week.

 

It mattered little that only half the pins would go in before but now every hole counts so we’ve been fettling like madmen as one of the most challenging and difficult components is readied for the paint shop.

 

It’s come a long way.

 

Ten thousand words and a hundred pic’s couldn’t detail what we’ve been through with this bitch of a panel. It almost stumped the UK’s best welding technologists because it’s about as weldable as a broken teacup and even an elaborate combination of pre-heat, post-heat and fancy welding rods barely got the job done. But what you can’t see is that if any part of the panel is so much as a millimetre adrift we have a problem. I’m having a beer when the rivets go into this one!

 


 

8th January 2009

 

It’s extreme conserveering time in our workshop…

For those who’ve just joined us, conserveering is the term we invented for our particular brand of museology, which, in my vocabulary at least, means anything to do with museums. Traditional conservation practice, being a museological cornerstone, was of little use on K7 for two reasons. One – it wouldn’t work. Such were the metal problems that a more aggressive approach was needed if the thing wasn’t to eventually turn to powder; and this led to the second problem. Museum conservators seem to pick away all day with scalpel blades, glass-bristle-brushes and cotton buds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one wield a welding torch so we wouldn’t have got the front back on our boat any time soon, would we…

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not denigrating an honourable profession – and we’ll need a job-lot of cotton buds to conserve the tin we can’t put back – it’s just that if you split yourself in two in a car crash and end up holding your liver in your hands a herbalist isn’t quite going to be enough, is it…

On the other hand we certainly didn’t want one of those fake Spitfire restorations –an absolute though unfortunate must if the aircraft is to fly safely – where all but the data plate goes in the skip; so we needed to somehow blend sound engineering practice with conservation to achieve the desired result.

Here’s an example we’re working on. This is F-13 or, as Gina insisted we label it, F-12a.

 

In accordance with museum practice all new material must be clearly distinguishable from the original hence the awful, mucous-green. Don’t worry, it’ll get a dusting of silver so only the most dedicated museological anorak will ever find it. What you’re looking at in the centre of the shot, held in position with an orange clamp, is a doubler to save the original material whilst returning its strength.

The boat has a transverse bulkhead at this point that picks up the inner floor that’s extended outboard of the frame by a pair of outriggers. Now look at the vertical edge of the silver painted bulkhead and you can see it’s full of holes. The bigger holes are meant to be there with some rivet holes camouflaged amongst a lot of rot. This is because those bigger holes allowed three stainless steel control rods to pass down the hull. The fabled Bloctube controls. High and low pressure fuel cock and the throttle linkage. Then three and a half unscheduled decades underwater led to the inevitable dissimilar metal trouble. The stainless won.

Rather than cut and patch great sections of bulkhead and outrigger we’ve fitted a doubler instead to pick up good material either side of the damage. It also rivets into the frame so with a splat of chocolate sauce it’ll be a good, solid fix. Rob will be bashing the rivets in next week so we’ll be sure to let you have a look at the finished job.

The new bloke is still battering away at his seat thingamabob and it looks good.

 

It’s extremely light and strong but as he never speaks we’re not sure where he’s going with it. You may also notice the original cockpit floor lurking at the bottom. It’s still awkward and battle scarred but it now fits where nature intended thanks largely to the rebuilt corrugations beneath. The torn in two section – by far the worst damaged of the cockpit floor – glued back together nicely but part of it was rotten.

 

So it had to go.

 

No time to grieve its passing though. A new piece was soon fashioned and slapped into place. Following much tin-bashing and welding our corrugation was good as new.

 

Now just imagine how much fun it’ll be making all those rivet holes line up again. Oh yes, they have to line up. Can’t get the rivets in otherwise. Speaking of corrugations and rivets, Mike’s pet project is almost ready for the paint shop. All holes line up here.

 

Just a few minor welding and fettling op’s on this one and Rob can rivet it back from whence it came.

John, in the meantime, is working on the cockpit outriggers. Everything depends on everything else in this tin potpourri so we need the sides to meet the floors to meet the crossmembers, etc.

 

There’ll be a fair amount of green down this side, unfortunately. Because of the way the boat hit the water most of the right-hand outriggers were KIA. The one John is working on, F-19, is original though.

Stay tuned – multitudes of rivets going in next…

 


 

22nd January.

 

 

Cracking on at this end and we’re loving it. BettaBlast are painting our finished panels and we’re bashing them into place – what a reward for all the hard work everyone has put in over the past two years.

Much of it is ridiculously simple. Take F-3, for example – removed in 2006 amid clouds of dust and debris.

 
 

Then put back again in 2009 in our clinically clean workshop…There now, that’s better.

When you consider that all we have to do from the back of the boat to the back of the cockpit is take it all to bits, stop the corrosion, paint it then put it all back together again it’s difficult to imagine where the Hapless Lottery Failure (or HLF as they prefer) dreamt up their ‘considerable loss of original fabric’ nonsense.

Meanwhile, Rob’s been working away at F-12a, which, as mentioned earlier, has been treated to a pair of doublers to make it plenty strong without losing any originality. It’s looking good and when visited by the professional rivetologists from the local aviation academy this week they signed off Rob’s work as being somewhat better than some of the workmanship they’ve seen on flying aircraft. It was a bit grubby when we started.

 

But it’s looking much happier these days. Only a few rivets to finish off and a good wipe down with solvent to remove excess chocolate sauce.

 

Interestingly, there are two yellow pins in the green doubler but there’s another stuck in the edge of the outrigger and if you look closely you can see it’s holding a thin strip of material. It’s a shim from 1954 because the Samlesbury boys made the outrigger about 1.5mm too small. They used this fix all over the boat, which suits us just fine because it provides an authentic means to get over our minor errors as well as allowing for some fine adjustments at the cockpit end since it got un-crumpled.

There’s still plenty of conserveering to go at too. Good old Doddy set about the F-2 bulkhead with his hammers the other day.

 

It’s an intriguing little panel that sits right down in the back of the boat under the jetpipe and if you look closely you’ll notice those slots that look like a hungry caterpillar has been munching on it have actually been torn through the metal. That’s because the lead ingots cast by ‘Robbie’ Robinson to get K7 planing in 66 were bolted either side of it and it all moved in the crash. Such examples of original damage will be conserved as some of Bluebird’s more poignant battle scars.

Here it is before removal in 06.

 

If you look at the top of the pic just beneath the curved lip and above the F-2 bulkhead you can just see half of Robbie’s lead ingots. The four rods are steel studding that passed through the ingots then through the panel then through a second set of ingots so that Robbie could clamp everything together with hefty nuts and washers. How the hell he worked in there I’ll never know. We had to take the engine out to get at it.

But the reason you see the second half of the ingots stuck behind the panel was because we couldn’t see a way to get them out. These were the days before we could drill rivets. We’d negotiated a deal with the Hapless Lottery Failure to dismantle in order to stabilise and clean but not to be too destructive or put anything together again because that meant we’d forged ahead and you can’t have their money if you’ve already started. Being fearful of overstepping the mark we left well alone until our museological mentor, Chris Knapp, next came to visit – the grand poobah would know what to do.

On his arrival we showed him the problem and pointed out how the panel had been displaced and jammed in such a way that there was no way we could get the ingots out and thence at the mud beyond. “Do you have a crowbar?” Chris asked.

 

The second lot of ingots came out easily once the bulkhead was shifted. Robbie reckons he cast them in the lid of a biscuit tin but has always remained a little vague about where he obtained the lead.

Three years later we fed F-2 to Chemetall-Trevor’s Hogwarts paint stripper then Doddy whacked it for an hour or two until it was straight again.

 

He’s been bending his cutlery into clever shapes again too. Our wrought iron sign is now complete.

 

We’ve also been hard at work at the pointy end. We mixed a tube of chocolate sauce last week then made sure we used the lot. As well as the F-12a and F-2 bulkheads we glued up just about everything that was ready to go so Rob already has a riveting agenda he’s unlikely to make any impression on for some time to come. John set up the cockpit outriggers while Novie worked on something completely different.

 

He brought the wheels, bearings and hubs from Predator’s trailer into the workshop and cleaned them up. We’ll soon be back on the lake to collect a piece of treasure we located back in 07 but didn’t recover so we need our trusty survey / salvage vessel back in fighting trim.

The new bloke has finished half of his seat whatnot too.

 

It seems to be an internal strengthener for the original cockpit seat formers, which are made of very flimsy material and buckled to the point where most of their strength has gone. There’s also some loss of strength in the original cockpit floor but this new addition spans from F-15 to F-17, picks up on both frame crossmembers at those stations and ties into the floor to put all the strength back into everything it touches. Very clever… Maybe we’ll find out how it all goes together next time.

What else? Ah yes, the forward floors…

 

We left mending the floors to last for various reasons. They were always going to be the biggest challenge having received massive damage that we’d have to adequately repair were they ever to resume their unenviable responsibility for keeping the rest of the boat together and the water on the outside.

We simply didn’t have the skills needed to tackle them in the early days so we’d have ended up making a mess of them. Not now though. As you can see, half the corrugations are now fitted beneath the cockpit and the outer floor is in place up at the pointy end.

But there’s a chunk missing, I hear you say…

 

Er, no. In fact the patch is made and ready to be welded in. But things are never as they seem with this job. The problem here is that such is the angle of attack of the bow and the forces needed to get K7 onto the plane that the forward panel must be immensely springy and strong – so, you guessed it – it’s made of clever metal. This time it’s a Duralumin, the only piece on the boat, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duralumin). Think about it. K7 doesn’t plane until she hits about 65mph because that’s how much speed she needs for the forward surfaces to lift her up. Her frontal area is very small for aerodynamic reasons so trying to lever two and a half tons of metal out of the water on such a small area means you can’t slap any old grade of soft aluminium down there and rely on it not to fail. And that’s without the massive punch in the face it takes when dropping back off the plane… It’s packed with wood too, thought of everything, did those Norris boys.

So to make the repair we had to locally anneal the original skin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annealing_(metallurgy) as well as the patch to make it all soft and workable.

 

It’s simple enough to do. You rub some cheap soap around the bit you want to anneal then blast it with a high temperature blowtorch or oxy-acetylene flame until the soap goes black – then you let it cool. It can get tricky with an oxy flame because the metal heats too quickly and it’s all too easy to melt it but the blowtorch is just right. The metal is quite soft once it cools but you have to be ready with the repair because it’ll harden again before the week is out.

The worst part of the process is the stench of roasting soap!

The copper/manganese welding rods have to come from France even though we’re assured this material ‘isn’t suitable’ for welding and when it’s all glued back together (hopefully) it’ll be stress-relieved then re-heat-treated to restore its former properties. We have a few tricks up our sleeves to get this stuff to weld effectively and it’ll receive extra rations of rivets and glue when the time comes to assemble for real.

We’re having the main floor, which runs from F-19 all the way to the back of the boat, annealed too (that’ll have to go in a bloody big oven – it’s way too big for the blowtorch) because it’s now in two parts that need sticking back together.

While this has been going on John has set up all the outriggers along the starboard side and pinned a strip of material lengthwise to check the shape.

 

They’re OK. They’re made of 1950s Land-Rover, thank goodness, so they’re comparatively easy to work. They’ll be off to the paint shop very soon.

And, finally, another quick word about the Hapless Lottery Failure because, you see, they’ve been at it again. Our National Motor Museum down at Beaulieu (http://www.beaulieu.co.uk/education.cfm) has a problem with its roof. It’s a bit leaky. In fact, they have buckets catching the drips in places; yet beneath is housed a priceless collection of vehicles including Donald’s land speed car, CN7. The displays could do with titivating too so a bid went to the lottery flops for a chunk of money to preserve yet another slab of our vehicular heritage. One which has been given awards for its heritage education prowess, no less.

Now those in the know will tell you how HLF is skint because the Olympics are greeding all the money. This process really kicked in shortly after we sacked them in 06 and seems not to have improved, a fact to which several disaffected applicants have testified recently. Being aware of our struggle with the lottery failures they often make their tired way to us for advice on how to pursue a bureaucrat-free existence.

It seems the HL-effers still smile in all the right places and offer unbounded encouragement but aren’t ashamed to pull the rug on everyone’s time, effort and expense at the last second.

It’s therefore probable that a similar fate befell the National Motor Museum who’ll doubtless be hanging onto their buckets and hoping for a dry summer.

Not so for whoever it was who wanted to keep this…

 

Our chief of rivets, Rob, lives just down the road from this monstrosity, viewed almost universally as an eyesore and a well known as a hangout for under-age drinkers, drug abusers and graffiti ‘artists’. Local residents even worked up a petition to have it demolished. But no, great news for lovers of late 1960s cast concrete – HLF have just given £336,000 to have it restored to its former ugliness. You can buy a lot of roof for that sort of money…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Pavilion

But then these are the people who once stated,

‘The HLF believes the crash is the most important aspect of the boat's history’

Absolutely, and the highlight of Elvis’ career was dying on the bog…

See you soon.

 

 


 

4th February 2009

 

A quick diary entry to appeal to all you loyal followers out there.

As you know we’re asking the Lake District National Park for permission to operate Bluebird K7 above the 10mph speed limit during her proving trials. We’d like to see this event take place next year and in a perfect world we’d prefer to do it on Coniston Water, Bluebird’s spiritual home.

But to achieve this we need a modification to the local bylaw as the current law precludes us doing what we need to do. There’s an exception if you’re going for a record but we’re not. Running during Record’s Week has been suggested too as this takes place annually on Coniston and maybe the rules could be relaxed but it’s a big risk. The chances of getting a good enough forecast in November for us to even mobilise is slim indeed and it wouldn’t be fair on the records people either to have us keep interrupting an event they’d planned all year. We’d likely have to leave K7 in her workshop until spring and have a go somewhere else.

We want to run this event sensitively and professionally with ever an eye to the environment and amenity of the local folks but we’d like to make it exciting and informative too so here’s what we need. Follow the link below and complete the form. We’d like to run sometime when the weather is likely to be kind and spend perhaps a week gradually working K7 back to fighting trim before she goes on display. And as she’s such a powerful inspirational and educational tool we’d also like to keep open the option to run her again sometime in the future. Thanks in advance.

www.lake-district.gov.uk/bluebirdconsultation

Now here’s the other thing you need to do. Go to the following website - http://www.vulcantothesky.org/default.asp - where you’ll find the team who worked so hard to return Avro Vulcan XH558 to full flying condition. The aircraft is ready to go. She’s fighting fit with a passionate crew just waiting to show her off but she’s also an expensive beast and unless they have our support – and let’s face it, the powers that be are too short-sighted to nurture this national asset – she’ll end up grounded once more.

What a tragedy that would be! I want to take my kids to see a flying Vulcan rather then one of those sad and slowly corroding examples to seen outside of aircraft museums. So go and pledge them a fiver or a tenner and let’s keep this icon in the air for future generations…

 

Bill Smith.

(Bluebird Project Director)

 


 

Friday 12th February.

 

I’m not often swayed by charity. I’m not saying there are no worthy causes but there have been moments when my quivering bottom lip was cancelled out by rising eyebrows as the plot unfolded.

I once watched Ant & Dec appealing for clean water for a village somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Fair enough, if water meant a three day trip but what was once a perfectly lovely stream running smack down the high street was now six inches deep in toilet paper and… well, the reason they needed all that toilet paper in the first place. It was disgusting. Something Ant & Dec correctly pointed out whilst standing before a fabulous backdrop of healthy rain forest.

A new water main, I think not. They’d get a shovel from me. After all, it’s good enough for bears and there’s certainly no harm in fertilizing a little extra rain forest these days.

And what about all this ending world poverty nonsense? Not a chance. Get one lot comfy in their beds at night and you know what they’d get up to, we’d be overrun unless, of course, a convenient epidemic took a hand in thinning the population.

But that’s no use either because someone seems to have decided that homo-sapiens can’t be culled by nature like the rest of the animal population. Every few years our local bunnies wander blindly under moving cars because their eyes are swollen shut with myxomatosis but you won’t find Sir Bob Geldof fronting Rodent Rock, or whatever clever name he’d come up with for their benefit gig were they human-shaped.

Global warming – yesterday’s news.

It created Bonneville Salt Flats and made lakes of Cumbria’s glaciers thousands of years ago and now we’re getting another dose. Live with it, because if we recycled our entire island nation and declared lights out after ten o’clock we’d still make no impression on what we’re told is causing the problem. About the only thing we can do if we’re really bothered is to lead by example. But that’s harder than ever because as a nation we’ve not much going for us these days.

Nelson did a handy job at Trafalgar but we wore that out as our empire crumbled. Our heroes have been replaced by coiffured youths with only enough brains to run after a ball, something any respectable dog can manage effortlessly, and we’ve been stealthily invaded from every direction sixty years after Winston Churchill promised we’d fight such a thing on the beaches.

But a few quirky reminders remain. We have a queen, for example. Another thing the do-gooders would put paid to if only they could. That’s right, do-gooders, we don’t really want the world’s most beloved and longest serving ambassador on our side, do we? We’ve not long lost our fabulous Concorde either and getting it mended ought to be a matter of national urgency.

We have the Olympics coming up too but we’ll doubtless make an arse of that. I mean, let’s face it; we’re never going to put on a show like the Chinese, are we.

A more autocratic leadership style is what’s needed for such undertakings and the Chinese have it in full measure. Our lot will end up so bogged down in risk assessments and committee meetings they’ll get half of it wrong, most of it late and all of it over budget with millions wasted on senseless bureaucracy while our athletes scrimp to pay for inadequate training.

We’ve about two years to make an impression so here’s a mad idea.

How about we give all the money to the athletes? Pay for the very best coaches, nutritionists, personal trainers, physios, facilities and food. And not just for the mainstream stuff like running and jumping but the obscure pursuits too. If we have a Team-GB tiddlywink team they need carbon fibre tiddlywinks designed by Lotus and tested in the McLaren wind tunnel. Pampering our athletes is a winning formula; we dabbled in it last time and it worked so let’s keep going.

Next, have the army erect a canvas village and mark out a running track in the middle of the Otterburn firing ranges here in Northumberland (http://www.otterburnranges.co.uk/).

Our athletes won’t care because skipping over unexploded ordnance in such beautiful surroundings will have a certain curiosity value as they win every event.

The other competitors may look askance at being billeted with the army but there’s little chance of Osama kicking off with a thousand patriotic squaddies yomping through the tundra so the cash saved on counter-terrorism can be better spent on commissioning a brace of Concordes to fetch everyone to the venue. The Chinese put on a magnificent firework display but not even they could lay on a taxi service at twice the speed of a rifle bullet.

What we need here is a dollop of national pride and with a bit of luck we’ll get a small taste of it should this Coniston byelaw job go our way. The response so far is fantastic with mails arriving daily from people who’ve not only completed the questionnaire but have then forwarded the details to everyone in their address book and to every forum they can think of. We really do thank you all for your support and look forward to seeing you on the beach in Coniston. Don’t forget – if you’ve not yet signed up go to…

www.lake-district.gov.uk/bluebirdconsultation

…and fill in the form. We don’t want to run at records week because it’s not fair on us or the speed freaks and the weather has a chance to be crap in November anyway, which would finish our efforts and we’d be back under wraps until spring. Other than that we’ll settle for just getting wet. It’ll take about a week to safely work the old girl up to fighting trim so bear this in mind as you tap away at the keyboard. And thanks again.

 

*

But first we need a living machine and turning one out of our workshop is becoming all technical nowadays with myriad, small projects within a project as we conserveer like crazy.

The forward floor is coming on nicely. It’s a 1950s Duralumin and one of the big problems is that it was particularly susceptible to corrosion due to its high copper content. It may have got away with it had the ‘dragon’s teeth’ not been fixed to the underside.

 

You can see them here, those alloy blades bolted left to right.

The corrosion issue with copper / aluminium alloys was often tackled by rolling a thin layer of pure aluminium over the surface of the material during manufacture but our floor wasn’t accorded this luxury so it had a thirty-four year fight with the blades and lost. Look in the centre of the panel and you’ll see it’s heavily pockmarked with patches of white corrosion. Observe too that down the left there’s a vertical band where there’s little or no corrosion Close-up and cleaned the rot looks like this.

 

Here you see all three stages in its subsequent repair. The centre is untouched. You can see that the corrosion pits are easily halfway into the 3mm thick skin. Now look top left and you’ll see a shiny area ground out with the die-grinder to shift all trace of corrosion. Then at bottom right there’s a patch that’s been mended then dressed back to make it smooth again.

The process is this – Die-grind out any corrosion from an area about three inches square cutting right back to fresh metal wherever rot is evident. Next, pin the prepared area to the underlying corrugations so any distortion caused by localised heating is minimised then locally anneal the site. Before it cools – so that in effect the metal is pre-heated – weld up the ground-out regions with a suitable filler rod being careful not to blow too deeply through the panel or pile too much filler on top then allow it to cool.

You’d imagine that would be that after a bit of grinding and filing to get things flat again but K7 is a contrary old bitch and nothing is ever simple with her. There’s an underlying problem in that the panel was stretched in the crash. It hit the water first and is slightly dished inwards but even a small stretch goes a long way. This particular stretch was communicated to all three skins but we shrunk it from the inner 3mm thick panel using a pair of shrinking dies in a huge Eckhold power hammer then cut and shut the corrugations until they were flat too so the outer skin is the only one affected nowadays. It wouldn’t shrink in the power hammer because the dies have to grip the surface of the metal to gather it together and it has virtually no surface where it matters, on the outside at least. The inside is immaculate.

The solution seemed simple though because welding the corrosion pits causes shrinkage to the point where the panel has to be wheeled to stretch it back to flatness and that works perfectly but look at the pic below.

 

Here you see the outer floor before it was cleaned up but after the ‘dragon’s teeth were removed and the extent of the corrosion is plain to see. It’s relatively clean down either side and notice again the band of unaffected material along the upper edge. You can see where the corrosion ends and that it’s clearly circumscribed by where the ‘dragon’s teeth’ used to be. There’s nothing to mend above the rot-zone but there’s the same amount of stretch to deal with and this is the result.

 

We’re the other way up now but look at the bottom edge and you’ll see it’s anything but straight. You’ll also notice that the corrosion pits have gone too and it’s once again a smooth skin under there. Problem is, the stretch has been eliminated from everywhere except its last stronghold in that non-corroded band, and it’s getting angry in there. Yet another coiled spring; so it ended up on the Eckhold for a spot of superior shrinking. This brought it almost under control but the shrinking dies begin to lose their effectiveness after a while. They bite ever so slightly into the surface and gather the metal together each time the hammer strikes but after a while the surface begins to powder from all the hits and the dies stop working so well. The panel was close enough by this point so we pinned it for a look-see.

 

See the gap? It may not look like much but you could stand on that piece that sticks up and it wouldn’t budge. We could force it down with clamps and rivets but it would retain all that stress and either corrode, crack or both in the fullness of time. A technique that works extremely well on this material is heat shrinking. What you do is confine the stretched area so it has nowhere to expand to. Notice above that the stretch is corralled with pins. Then you put a bit of soap on the area you want to shrink and heat it until the soap turns dark brown. The material grows into a big blister as it expands against the pins and can’t go anywhere but upwards. Then just as the soap is about to blacken you whack the blister with a mallet until you see its height reduce a smidge then quench the whole lot with a wet rag being careful not to end up in the local burns unit from the resulting blast of steam.

What happens is that the material expands and softens with the heat so that when you hit it all it can do is squash back into itself and become a bit thicker. Then when you quench it, it gets a nasty fright and shrinks a bit more as it quickly contracts.

After one treatment it was almost down. Notice that some of the skin-pins are a little drunken with the heat.

 

It’s best to let it completely cool after each round of heat shrinking just to see what shape you have when everything reaches equilibrium. It’s too easy to shrink past where you wanted to go leaving a tight spot that’s as bad as the original stretch and difficult to differentiate from it. So with everything cool again it got its second shrink.

 

Got it! Flat as a flat thing and no residual stresses; all it needs is a good tidy up now and it’ll be ready for crack testing and heat treatment.

You know, those museum ‘experts’ told us repeatedly that every tweaked piece of metal was a ‘snapshot in time’, a piece of history that would be irretrievably lost should we attempt to rebuild K7. Can’t imagine many of them would’ve ever spotted our stretch had we displayed a heap of junk. I think sometimes it’s more intriguing and educational trying to eradicate history than preserve it …

We’ve been reassembling the top rail extensions onto the frame too. The whats?

 

You’re looking at the rear, left-hand corner of the boat with the main planing wedge clearly visible beneath. Now notice how the upper edge of the boat slopes upwards gradually then suddenly steps vertically about six inches before continuing forward on the level. Very odd, is all of that, because the underlying frame doesn’t do likewise. For reasons we’ll likely never know those Norris boys did this.

 

They added these things, alloy triangles riveted into the sloping upper frame tube and supported with vertical stanchions seen here still riveted in place as Tony lifts the panel off back in 2006. For some reason I wasn’t looking forward to putting them back because they seem to have about a hundred different types of rivets as well as an array of captive nuts to hold the tail fairing down. Ah well, it had to be done so first in went the captives.

 

These are the original captives cleaned up and put back. All we did was tickle out the threads with a first-tap to avoid damaging the Nyloc facility. Otherwise we just dabbed a blob of choccie sauce on the back and fastened them down with 3/32nd countersunk rivets.

To the untrained rivetologists 3/32nd rivets are scary, wee things as they’re only about as thick as a panel pin and setting them at the bottom of a hole is tricky to say the least.

 

But we made a decent job of them in the end though I’ll confess to a couple of failures that were duly drilled out and done again. The end result was spot on for a very simple reason. What’s our excuse for doing anything less?

 

I mentioned that the experts – and these are people who know what the hell they’re doing, not to be confused with ‘experts’ who usually work for the Heritage Lottery Fund and are clueless – from the local aviation academy came to visit and inspect recently. We had them check out our early efforts then graffiti all over the panel any reminders they felt were needed.

 

So now all we have to do is compare our jobs to F-20 to get a gauge for whether we’re in the ballpark. We’re learning fast.

John soon had the little turrets fastened back onto the upper faces of the frame tubes.

 

As with all the parts going back onto the boat they’ve been blasted with glass bead or aluminium oxide, acid-dipped to kill any corrosion once and for all then chromate primed and polyester powder applied. It’s all 100% original in there, only with the latest paint on the outside. Incidentally, many people have commented worriedly on the use of powder coat. Just about everyone seems to know of someone who had an item powder coated only to have rust or corrosion get beneath and lift it off again. Well it will if you don’t apply some kind of corrosion protection first.

The number of times I’ve been at Bettablast and watched someone save a tenner on painting their motorcycle frame by not choosing the zinc option. They never learn… People see powder as different to paint too and it’s not really. K7 was originally covered in cellulose paint. A solvent based coating where the solvent flashes off to leave the base and pigment behind but we’re using polyester powder, which is exactly that when applied, but it’s then heated until the included resins melt and flow and eventually flash off to leave the polyester behind. It’s just paint at the end of the day. But perhaps the best part is that it’s applied electrostatically. You charge up your work piece then charge your powder the other way and, hey-presto, they fall instantly in love and become inseparable to the point where some incredibly awkward shapes can receive a superb covering – but back to the task in hand.

Rob built the rail extensions with all their captives and fiddly bits…

 

…then we kicked, punched and battered them into place. Honestly, they’re nowhere near in terms of fit and finish. Most of Samlesbury’s work is first-rate but they must’ve had the apprentice make these parts on a Monday morning. Not to worry – we got them back from whence they came, eventually, and nailed them down with a pin or two. (And my tin-bashing mallet that seems to have remained in shot).

 

Rivets next – ah, what a feeling!

 

You’ll notice a few pins remaining and that’s because of what I said earlier about all the different rivets needed here. Where those clusters of pins are, the holes are countersunk so something, most likely Beryl related, obviously passed very close to the panel at that point. We’ll fill in the blanks as we get the appropriate rivets but all in all a nice job, we thought. Incidentally, fitting those two rail extensions took three of us a whole day. But they’re right.

Finally, before someone rightly points it out, the whole choccie sauce thing is a little over the top. Every panel already has a corrosion protection and paint system that’s second to none with only rivets passing through aluminium into steel presenting any hint of a dissimilar metal threat. But every rivet is first dipped in choccie sauce before it’s set so the whole corrosion protection philosophy is a ‘belt and braces’ approach. Even this isn’t the end of it and each frame tube will ultimately be vacuumed out and treated to a splash of Ardrox to protect its inner surfaces. The chance of rot setting in is remote indeed.

What the sauce does is seal and protect all the joints from the ingress of moisture and dirt as well as lending its considerable adhesive qualities to the overall strength of the finished job. And that’s not a bad thing all things considered.

 

 


 

 

10th March 2009

 

A reporter called me last week to ask the single most frequently asked question of them all.

“When will Bluebird be finished?”

“No idea,” I said.

That puzzled him so I explained how it very much depends on when we get to give K7 a good shakedown so we can declare her as she was a minute before that fateful run in 67 as per Gina’s original wish. We’re still on target to have a boat next year but if it looks like we’re going to miss the weather we’ll pace ourselves over the winter and run her in 2011 rather than risk collective divorce. We’re volunteers, after all, with families and jobs and we enjoy our big blue boat project so there’s no hurry.

“But what if you can’t get the bye law amendment? What will you do then?” the gentleman of the press wanted to know.

“Well, remember back in 06 when the Hapless Lottery Failure cocked things up,” I reminded him. He remembered only too well because he’d wanted to know what would happen then too.

“We’re no strangers to running plan-B,” I offered.” He was audibly surprised. He’d not considered that applying to run on Coniston Water was merely our ‘gold medal position’ and other arrangements were in the pipeline just in case. I mean, hopefully K7 will run there but if all goes pear-shaped we may end up on the phone to the Dumbelyung Park Authority for permission to run in Australia. We’ll also have to spend a month or two raising the funds to complete our engineering trials so there’s no chance of us gambling our budget on less than ideal circumstances. We’ll just have to wait and see. But one thing is for damn sure – I’m not getting into another epic battle over it, there have been enough of those, it’s the shortest and sweetest route to our objective from here.

 

*

There now – that’s that out of the way and, well, it’s about time I came out about something else. You see, of late I’ve had to come to terms with being a closet museologist…

I’m sorry but I can’t fight the urges any longer. Though it shames me deeply I occasionally feel the need to dress in tweed and hang around in places where museologists can feel safe amongst their own kind. Nor are we talking museums here with the unclean public coming and going. Oh no – there are clubs and bars you can go to.

 

Here’s one such place hiding behind a huge Whomping Willow.

 

Inside, I took only one photograph before a bouncer (in tight black jeans and tee-shirt, I kid you not) shot up through the floorboards and told me firmly that photography was forbidden inside this museological haven.

 

Weird place or what?

It’s actually West Dean College in Sussex. (http://www.westdean.org.uk/site/) where I was asked to demonstrate the subtle art of whacking bent metal to fellow musos from as far afield as the Smithsonian.

 

Needless to say mine wasn’t your usual presentation and included the obligatory rant followed by lots of slides of squashed tin. Later we enjoyed a pleasant lunch and a good natter about conservation and the like. The result being that the BBP is now seriously looking at rebuilding a crashed plane for a major museum. Well, we need something to do when this boat is finished.

We’ve had an important visitor too. Allow me to introduce Flat Maddie…

 

Because she’s flat, Maddie is travelling the world by post and last week she stopped off at the Bluebird Project via Australia and Italy and is now on her way to Canada after which she’ll continue her journey through the USA finally destined for Washington.

Our philosophy is that visitors are given something to do so Maddie soon found a hammer in her hand.

 

Next she inspected our work…

 

…then, being flat and able to go pretty much anywhere, she took a trip back to 1967 to watch Bluebird in action.

 

Donald seemed a bit grumpy when we had Maddie stop by to check a few details for the rebuild but he graciously stopped the job and indulged us for a moment, gentleman that he was.

 

And so, after a busy day, young Maddie Jones was once again tucked up and readied for the next leg of her extraordinary journey. Destination Canada… I called her dad to say she was safely on her way.

http://www.lesliefield.com/other_history/saga_of_ron_jones.htm

 

Bon voyage, Maddie.

*

Remember all the wonderful work we’ve been doing on the forward floors? Well forget that. It’s been abandoned. Because, you see, when you start trying to recover an utterly trashed piece of tin there’s nothing to lose. As I’m fond of saying, ‘you can’t make it any worse’, as someone starts nervously unbending something to get in with a scrubbing brush in the paint stripping bath or whatever. But as it starts to come together and a few decisions have gone your way each new move assumes greater risk. After forty or fifty hours on a single piece you find yourself trembling at the thought of annealing its left-hand corner so you can weld up a crack. What if it all goes wrong now?

That’s the time to shove it in the corner and leave it until you don’t care anymore. In its place you pull out a part you spent half a lifetime on last year and start bashing it closer to the finished article; all the work gone before now forgotten.

The third part of the cycle – or is it the first – is to find an even more impossibly wrecked piece and begin the process all over again. Remember this? It’s the left-hand cockpit rail as-recovered.

 

That straight edge along the top is where the cockpit canopy used to slide. Regular readers will recall that we eventually grafted the outer skin back into the rebuilt panels. Reverse-conserveering I call this for my fellow museologists. What you do is take an original piece that’s lost its shape and build a brand new replacement that you know is correct. Having crafted a beautiful piece of tinwork you then graft a warty, old piece of scrap into it. It’s soul-destroying and rewarding at the same time.

 

If you look closely you can see where old meets new. So far, so good but that left a piece of underlying material that we knew belonged to the irrecoverable left-hand flap-tray. Now they’re called flap-trays on the drawing so I’m not about to argue as it seems the name comes from the original 1954 design when K7 had power operated ‘flaps’ to keep the water out of her engine. These flaps along with their operating mechanism soon disappeared in the interests of weight saving but the name persists on the drawings. We made new ones.

 

Here they are, those broad panels either side of the cockpit. And that’s how matters rested until recently when we re-evaluated what our developing skills would allow us to save and began taking a second look at what remained of the originals. The left-hand side of the cockpit fared best in the crash because it hit the water first and the outer skins were squashed against the frame tubes and supported there albeit in a slightly dinged state. Whilst much of the right-hand side was just blasted to bits and remains 150 feet under water, which is why you see more green down that side on the rebuilt boat. We dragged what remained of the surviving flap-tray out of the scrap pile and weren’t encouraged.

 

Still, things usually look better with the paint and mud removed so we gave it a chance. That crumply bit on the left was beyond anything we’d tackled with a view to saving it. We’d unravelled similar pieces but only to steal their secrets and initially this is all we hoped for.

 

It wasn’t until we bashed it roughly flat and laid it in its correct position that we realised it was actually the greater part of the original left-hand flap tray.

 

It’d been ripped roughly up the centre and as we had the cockpit outer skin and a full set of outriggers from that side it seemed inconceivable that we didn’t have the rest of the flap-tray somewhere. Sure enough, it turned up amongst the scrap. This is the left-hand cockpit wall – the first piece of wreckage we ever lifted.

 

Now look at the crumply piece on the left extending part way along the top. Here it is again after Rob went after it.

 

The missing piece of flap-tray. If there’s one thing going for this project it’s that once you get the muck off at least you’re working with decent material. All that’s then needed is to undo its hitting the water forty years ago.

 

We bashed it as far as it would go and balanced it beside its other half but still it didn’t look like it could offer more than a few clues as to what went where.

 

The seed was sown, however, and the sight of a genuine flap-tray pinned to the frame was more than we could stand. It either went back to the scrap pile or we added a weld here, a patch there. Some heat-shrinking to take the pain out of it then a spot of hammer and dollying to push the edges and corners somewhere near…

 

Faffing about with the flap-tray has probably put a month on the timetable and will likely add another as it’s still nowhere near where we could paint it and rivet it in but what else could we do? That part will now sit for a while. For some reason if you pin all this bent metal back together hard enough then leave it awhile it’s not half as keen to fight with you when it comes off again. There’s plenty to go at in the meantime and our mate, Chris from Essex came back up at the weekend for another dose of tin bashing and Geordie humour. He’s a superb fabricator and welder and what a joy it was on Saturday to have the welding set blazing away all day and not be anywhere near it.

 

I vacuumed the floor and made a brew for everyone while Chris slaved over a hot TIG torch.

 

Another work of art… There’s a bite missing from the aft end of the cockpit floor corrugations. I’ve been looking at it for weeks then doing something easier so guess who collected the job when he walked through the door.

 

No problem. But we were attempting to stick new, springy stuff to old, springy stuff with a dash of corrosion here and there and it’s flippety-blinking tricky. Every corner had to be tweaked in with a hammer and dolly before sticking a spot of weld on it. Even with the corners stuck there’s still only one approach to welding in these repairs – slowly, slowly.

 

Even Chris, a full time professional aluminium fabricator and TIG welder, found himself taxed by this stuff but it went together eventually.

 

Then, like giving the dog a biscuit, we rewarded his sterling efforts by handing him the only job in the building using all new metal. The new bloke’s other seat whatnot.

 

No difficulty there… but the new bloke did appear as if by magic and, borrowing my hat, silently studied the welding process. He seemed enthused afterwards so you never know we may soon find ourselves with a new welder.

 

In the meantime, Doddy and I were sent completely around the bend by the cockpit rails.

 

This is our second duel with these bloody things! They were built wrong by Samlesbury in 1954 in the first place, we know this because the 6mm thick spacers they used to fudge a repair were still riveted to the outer skin of the rail, so we had to build them wrong to get them right. And that’s just for starters. We know the pointy end of the frame was built wrong too but we’re not certain we’ve built it wrong enough to make it right – if you see what I mean. Then the wonky frame got broken and still carries a small twist here and there. We’re talking millimetres here but when the average material thickness throughout the boat is only 1.5mm you don’t need many stray millimetres to end up confused.

We think we’ve bottomed the problem but next week we’ll know more. We’re also very close to finally riveting in the accursed F-19 bulkhead.

 

I refuse to write another word about the horrid thing so if you want to know about it have a trawl through the diary archive. Put it this way – it never had a father!

And more good news. We’re about a fortnight away from releasing Rebuilding Bluebird Part 2. It includes footage of the x-ray testing of K7’s frame as well as both press conferences on the day we brought the frame home from PDS Engineering in Lancashire. There are interviews with John Getty, CEO of PDS, and Gina Campbell while a fat Geordie bloke provides endless, inane commentary. None of it has ever been seen before and it’s an hour and twenty four minutes of totally professional work by Keith the cameraman.

His cast’s ability to memorise a script, however, wasn’t so impressive…

 

Lots to tell so back soon.

 

 

 

 


16th March 2009

 

I reckon we should have a Bluebird Project awards ceremony every year where those who’ve done something brilliantly clever or blindingly stupid can dress up in tuxes and pretty frocks and have their achievement celebrated.

Last week’s reporter from The Observer would win a gong for asking questions cleverly researched from our website stretching back several months. That almost never happens.

“Are you still prepared to replace any ducks you break?” she asked. What a fantastic journalistic question… I wonder what they’d print if I said no.

A well written and accurate article promptly popped up in the Observer.

The TV producer that called later, on the other hand, wasn’t so well read so no prizes for him but as it’s something that happens fairly often his pitch is worthy of a mention.

“Congratulations!” he gushed. “We’re coming to make a documentary about you.”

I shook my head and thought, not again.

“You’ll be on TV, perhaps even Discovery Channel…” he enthused.

“That’s very interesting,” I said. “What’s the last thing you read on our website?” The caller was from some small-time production company and had he spent an hour he’d have discovered we already have a cameraman and miles of footage in the can. This I politely explained.

“Fine, fine,” he said dismissively, “but it really needs to be broadcast quality and professionally shot. Now here at Thingamabob Productions we can…”

I listened politely then explained. “We have a Sony Z-1 for everyday stuff and we hire a Digibeta for the arty shots. We have radio mikes and tripods and our camera guy has been in the trade for over twenty years and is one of the best.”

What he should have said was, “Hi, I’m calling from Thingamabob Productions because we see a lucrative documentary in the making. You do all the work, we’ll turn a tidy profit and you’ll be so bedazzled by being on the box in front of all your mates you’ll not notice or care.”

But this week’s runaway winner – the deserving recipient of the Bluebird Project equivalent of a Darwin Award for the most ill-conceived plan – is the author of a thirty-thousand word trilogy mailed anonymously – or so it was cunningly imagined – to the Lake District National Park Authority. (The average BBP diary entry is around 2000 words)

This masterpiece would have comprised only three short chapters of a thousand words or so were it not written in the most excruciating English that sought to labour again and again the inevitability of K7 veering off course into ranks of tightly packed women, children and disabled people unable to make their escape. The resulting fireball would kill and maim so many that total collapse of the emergency services would quickly ensue. And that was only when the boat was running! In the downtime youths would become drunk and lark about for the cameras before falling into the lake or committing crimes then could be neither rescued nor apprehended because police and fire crews would still be picking body parts out of the trees following the earlier accident. Naturally the park would be entirely to blame and the litigation frenzy would keep the lawyers fat for years. The fantasy was rich with pictures of crashed hydroplanes, statistics and even a short bio on a poor lad run over and killed by a speedboat on his holidays complete with a photo of his grieving parents. (That part was in extremely poor taste, actually).

As you may expect the documents were issued with a stern warning that neither the BBP nor the museum was allowed to see them. Nor was any address or telephone number provided for the self-aggrandized, ‘group opposed to running of Bluebird within the Lake District National Park’ [sic]. But had the architects of such a laughable sabotage plan understood anything of how the various partners in this endeavour are intertwined they’d have realised that neither was possible. So our lot enjoyed a good chuckle. Not at the content because we’d considered all of it years ago. No – what made us laugh was that this shadowy organisation won’t be joining the ranks of feared terrorist movements anytime soon. First they must learn to edit the file properties of their Word documents to remove the author’s name before e-mailing them.

Needless to say, our byelaw request continues merrily as we ride a quiet wave of solid support. Another important meeting in Coniston recently saw us spend most of the evening trying to balance the needs of lake users, Coniston’s existing annual attractions and what the weather may throw at our proving trials.

Of course, none of this would be happening without our ‘Operations Department’. Secretive, special agents trained not to crack under intense bureaucracy. Such is their mental and physical preparation for this mission that they can hold their tongues through an entire parish council meeting. They speak thirty different types of reasoned argument and have the ability to prepare answers to questions so far off you’d need the Hubble telescope to see them coming. Best leave them to it…

 

*

Okay, it’s been a strange week, and, though I promised I’d not write another word about the devil’s own satanic bulkhead, I have; so those not wishing to hear any more about F-19 can start scrolling now. People are forever asking which frame is what so here’s a quick sketch.

 

Remember the boat snapped at F-15 from a severe blow to the left front. The forward spar glanced off the water and carried on a further 120m to the north whilst the left-hand cockpit frame broke off forward of F-17, rolled skin-side down and also skimmed back into the air flying an astonishing 200m to the north east before splashing down after the main hull had come to a standstill. Remember this famous shot. (Not entirely sure who owns it so if we shouldn’t be using it please speak up and we’ll remove it forthwith.)

 

Some folk say what you see splashing down here is the front spar but that actually landed out of shot to the right. There’s another splash between the hull and the cockpit frame and that was the steering column, F-20 bulkhead and the right-hand cockpit rail recovered by divers in 1967 and subsequently scrapped.

It was this missing piece of frame we went in search of in early 2007 and bugger-me did it take some finding! You’d imagine it would be easy to find a chunk of wreckage six feet long considering what we’d already accomplished: no chance. It wasn’t until the 4th April 2007 that we finally located it in 140ft of water. Carl was promptly chucked overboard towing a rope with which to recover the treasure.

 

This is the actual ROV footage of the discovery, Carl’s arrival and the first class job he did of securing the piece to be lifted, which drifted into view several minutes later as the mud cleared.

 

 

 

That’s a lovely stretch of frame tube with a rope around it and simple deduction said we’d found the missing piece because the rest was languishing in our workshop. Hauling it from the lake’s grasp was like convincing parish councils you’re trying to hand them a win on a plate – a sustained, vein-popping heave eventually rewarded with a smooth rush to the surface. We caught our breath once this dripping heap lay on deck.

 

 

Yes, yes, I know, you’ve seen all this before, but bear with me. See the brown coloured section in the centre? Recognise it? That’s the piece that was sticking out of the mud. The only piece visible to the sonar and the reason it was such a bitch of a thing to locate. Our sonar can resolve targets as small as 40mm and even its designer, who came out with us once or twice to field-trial his creation as ours was a prototype, was amazed at what it could do. But a piece of A4 sized aluminium in that wasteland was challenging. “Got it!” I wrote in my notebook.

That piece of discoloured aluminium is the left hand end of the F-19 lower panel and here, at last, is the long awaited diagram of that too. The rectangular opening in the middle is where Donald’s feet went. You’re viewing this looking forward from the cockpit seat, by the way.

 

The brown shaded portion is what you saw under water in the video (turn it 90 degrees anti-clockwise as the frame landed flat and skin-side down). The grey part can be seen in the pic below wrapped in a ball with the right-hand outrigger, complete upper panel and the steel, lower crossmember from the frame at F-19. (The un-shaded part of the lower panel is still in the lake somewhere.) Inexplicably, this bundle of wreckage lay 36 metres south of the main impact site and all we can think is that a char fisherman snagged it – fishing line was tangled amongst it – and dragged it south before losing it again. At first we ignored it as unlikely to have come from K7 having first sighted it in the data from one of our early sidescan sonar surveys. This image was shot with a 675Khz Tritech sonar and you can see the target (ringed) mostly embedded in mud.

 

But it proved well worth lifting and with it came the throttle pedal seen here in Rob’s left hand. ‘The part that did all the damage’, as someone remarked.

 

The left-hand outrigger came up with the missing piece of frame.

 

The frame is lying with its upper edge lying along the jetty and that piece of metal poking down onto the timbers used to secure the raised front spar. So now we had just about all of F-19.

Fast forward several weeks and we weighed our prize as a diamond cutter might study a rough stone. The piece discovered poking out of the mud had suffered badly but wasn’t (quite) past redemption.

 

Once reunited with its severed mid section it still looked more like a reconstructed air accident than anything we could use.

 

This is the crucial stage. What to do next? Back to the scrap heap or keep moving it forwards? We built a new end for the lower panel and glued it on.

 

Next we performed some mild unravelling on the upper panel – it being the worst affected in terms of crash damage.

 

It needed extensive work including a new upper, right-hand corner but didn’t look so bad by the end. These parts suddenly seem to reach a stage where you look and think, that’s going to mend.

 

Then we bashed the outriggers somewhere near and clashed it all into the frame.

 

The holes in the centre of the upper panel, by the way, were for the pipes that fed the airspeed indicator whilst those on the right allowed electrical wiring to pass through. The story didn’t end there though. F-19 was always going to be a concern because it passes from inside to the outside of the boat and must keep the water out. Despite our ministrations the original, lower panel, whilst being almost completely original, fell short of the sort of condition we’d accept for a stressed component. In the interests of effecting a bombproof repair we added a 2mm steel bulkhead behind it. Laser cut from digitised 1954 drawings and fully welded into the frame it provides absolute peace of mind even if the aluminium panel falls off completely.

 

Fast forward another couple of years and all this tinwork was pulled back out of storage for its final fettling. This is the part we could never convey here. Not, that is, unless you’re prepared to read tens of thousands of words and sift through dozens of assets/images/diary/2009 of the same corner of the same panel for weeks on end until we ultimately elect to paint it, rivet it in place and fix anything we’ve missed retrospectively.

 

Suffice to say another hundred-plus man-hours separate the above pic from the one below.

 

At long last the F-19 bulkhead along with most of the left-hand side of the cockpit made it into Bettablast’s oven. This batch of parts was especially gratefully received because Bill, Debbie & Co have been overhauling much of their factory at the start of the year resulting in long hours and my status being downgraded from nuisance to severe nuisance.

Amid much excitement we dry built it.

 

Notice also the part-new, part-original spar-box ahead of the wonderfully rebuilt F-19. Next came the most liberal splattering of choccie sauce we’ve thus far attempted. This bulkhead has to keep the water out, remember? Not a chance of it leaking on our watch.

 

It fitted quite well, we thought.

 

And then the mess began.

 

The sauce oozed out of everywhere but that’s what we wanted and the more rivets we put in the more sauce came out.

 

There was, however, several rows of rivets we can’t put in because the forward floor is tied into the structure at that point and it’s not ready to go yet. To be sure everything was as tight as possible ahead of the rivets going in we applied a gentle clamping force then a bead of sealant around the edges. Nothing too involved, you understand.

 

That’s it – F-19 is in at last. Located on the lakebed, salvaged, repaired, painted, bulkheaded for extra strength, glued, riveted, sealed against water ingress and finally off the ‘to do’ list. Phew!

We almost have a full set of outriggers aboard now. The portside is virtually finished and is totally original apart from F-23 right up in the bow. Just a few more weeks of riveting and we’ll be onto the inner floors. Then it’s the outer skins to do followed by the outer floors and she’ll be ready to come down off the rollover jig

 

In the meantime, we’ll keep on riveting.

 

 

 

 

 


 

30th March 2009

At long last, and we’d hoped to have this ready for the last entry but you know how it goes, the second of our DVDs is finally ready for public consumption.
Again, Keith the cameraman has edited an hour of first rate footage into the next chapter of our story, which includes the x-ray examination of Bluebird’s frame and post-processing the data at Argos Inspection. Next it takes us to Lancashire and the headquarters of PDS Engineering who made such a fine job of rebuilding the frame. The well attended press conference includes interviews with Gina Campbell and John Getty, CEO of PDS, before the frame is loaded onto a truck for its journey north to sunny Tyneside. There a second, busy press conference took place after the frame was safely returned to the workshop and tucked up for the night.
In a change of format two of our long-term project members, Alain Douglas and John Barron step before the camera this time to present the frame’s homecoming and the second half of the DVD, a pleasant aside to our usual work when current water speed record holder, Ken Warby, came to give us a hand in the workshop. Ken is a hands-on guy so we spent the evening fabricating a new seat pan for Bluebird’s cockpit.

 

Then we had another thought. These DVDs form an appreciable part of our fundraising effort as well as being collectable items and we try to provide a quality product so we came up with a way to improve on it for all concerned.
As you probably know, we periodically auction off small fragments of paint or metal to help fund the project and every time we do that a flood of mails arrive from enthusiasts and collectors pointing out that they’d like a piece as much as the next person but can’t afford the high prices they fetch; fair comment. From our point of view we can’t go parting with material in any way that isn’t totally fair to all and open to scrutiny so we do so through Ebay and that way the collectors fix the price. But here’s another idea.
We have thousands of tiny paint chips about the size of a pin head. They are literally just crumbs but they’re still original Bluebird-blue paint from the boat so we thought we’d offer everyone the chance to own one. If there’s sufficient interest we’ll have a batch of small certificates prepared and signed by the team verifying that the chip thus attached is genuine paint from Bluebird K7. But this is not to be an ongoing thing. What we propose is that all discs ordered in April 2009 will come numbered, signed and with a paint chip laminated to its own certificate. The package will cost £25.00 and at midnight on the 30th April we’ll stop accepting orders for them. At that point we’ll then pop all the discs, which are being professionally burned for us this time rather than making them in-house as we did with DVD1, into their envelopes number and sign everything and laminate the cert’s with their paint chips inside.
To do this we’ll need to set things up. We’ll need a cert’ designed for starters and a tweak to the DVD cover so you know yours is one of the April 2009 ones. We’ll need to have the discs burned and covers printed so we’d like to judge the level of interest before we commit money already raised to holding stock we may take forever to sell.
If you’d like just such a disc send us a quick e-mail to Paintchip@Bluebirdproject.com and we’ll come back to you when we know more.
I’ve also meant to do this for ages and keep forgetting and that’s to thank those who order prints for their (sometimes extreme) patience. Those prints can take forever to be printed and signed simply due to the fact that so many people are involved and pinning everyone down is never straightforward. It’s a similar story with clothing. We can’t afford to hold ten of everything in every size and hope it’ll sell; we don’t have that much money. So we have everything embroidered to order. And you might guess, sod’s law dictates that if you have a run on XXL sweatshirts and therefore chance holding a few extras as spares you can bet the next people to order will be macrobiotic vegans!
So thanks one and all for your patience. There, done it.
In the meantime – let us know about the discs and if it’s a goer we’ll make a start. Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.

 

 


2nd April 2009

 

Strange but true, the job is quite stressful these days.

I don’t do stress at all. In fact my bank manager once came to see me because I’d forgotten to pay my mortgage for five months and another time the credit card company reduced my limit to £130 because I forgot them too. I stopped living by a diary when I turned forty and rarely get to my office before 10:00am unless a pretty girl from one of our suppliers is due to visit; but put me on a steep and greasy learning curve and you’d think I’d just developed barbed wire haemorrhoids.

Thankfully the build is looking fabulous but there’s still a catch. What I’d always imagined to be the easy bit, firing rivets like machine gun bullets into sparkling panels whilst final acceptance of our credibility greased the bureaucratic wheels, is actually worse than anything that’s gone before.

Our work simply has to be right at the first try and instead of, ‘it’ll fix’, I can these days, be heard muttering, ‘No deadline, no budget, we are the customer…’ No longer can we hang a piece of tin in place, contemplate it awhile, and then declare it near enough. Now it has to be perfect in every detail before the rivets go in. And they’re a pocket nightmare too. Many are in awkward positions so we’re making up tooling on a daily basis to get at them and some of the holes are damaged either from the crash, corrosion, or (dare I say it) the dismantling process. These must be drilled oversize and larger rivets fitted to ensure uncompromised strength. Then the choccie sauce must be both precisely mixed and then applied after every panel has been accurately set up to be sure that K7 ends up the right shape. John has become an expert at sighting in the outriggers with strips of aluminium clamped to the sides and can spot a half-millimetre deviation along a twenty-odd foot length of boat.

In a parallel universe our byelaw application has so far progressed with exceptional smoothness and now we await a decision from the park authority so we can decide what to do after our boat is finished. The plan has always been to leave K7 in full working order in the hope that getting her wet will become an annual or bi-annual event where the team can get back together, relive the excitement and top up the village coffers; but there’s always a chance that after her proving trials she’ll be home-ported and that’ll be that. It would be a crying shame to lose such an opportunity but ultimately it might come down to what the old girl has left after her next outing. Anyone who’s been involved in a project lasting several years will have experienced that awful feeling of emptiness when it’s finished. Unless you’ve been there it can’t be described. It’s not like football where they just do it year in, year out and you might win a cup sometime soon. These projects have an objective, and when it’s achieved you’ve done yourself out of a job, for ever. We’ve batted dozens of options around but we keep coming back to just going straight into another boat.

Let’s face it; we’ve got more than we need; a fully equipped workshop with an expert and enthusiastic team supported by our world-class sponsor base and a reputation for getting things done. We have all the data and engineering support we need to build a world beater plus time we’ve been offered in a virtual wind tunnel and the very latest CAD and simulation software and a training package to go with it. We’ve made so many contacts in the aviation game we have the pick of just about any engine ever built and imagine how rapidly we could throw something together from new material instead of having to mend everything first. I know where there’ll be a pair of sponsons built to full aerospace standards that we could borrow too. It’s certainly worth considering and we could entertain ourselves for years with our new toy. Then again, maybe I should consider going back to work…

In the short-term we settled for taking the plethora of clamps off the F-19 bulkhead. The choccie sauce is meant to harden to a stiff, rubber-like consistency in 24 hours but that’s 24 of Airbus’ temperature controlled hours so we allowed 72 of our slightly chilly March/April equivalents to be certain. It was how I imagine an orthopaedic surgeon must feel when the pins and stitches come out of a patient’s once broken limb and all is whole again.

 

There’s no describing just how utterly bombproof that bulkhead is now. Honestly, it’s immovable and once the excess sauce was cleaned off with a dab of Chemetall-Trevor’s solvent it also became apparent that the waterproofing is spot-on too. The chromate-primed and painted alloy skin is now bonded and riveted to the brand new steel bulkhead beyond, which will also pick up the floor sections either side when the time comes.

Speaking of floors…

 

This is the worst of the lot. The floors are divided along the boat’s length. There’s an especially strong, sloping section from the tip of the bow to F-19 and, apart from a chunk missing from its forward end, it popped off in one piece and sank and is now almost repaired. Same happened to the cockpit floor, different in that it has an inner skin presumably so Donald didn’t have to stand on the corrugations. It too is looking very good these days. That section extended aft from F-19 to F-15 and then there’s a short piece from F-15 to F-11 followed by two long sections that go all the way to the back of the boat. It’s that short piece, or the ‘middle floor’ as we call it, you can see above still attached to the frame as Rob wonders how to get it loose.

Stripped away and dismantled it was a sorry sight (below). Notice the flat panel at the top of the shot. That’s what the fuel tank sat on and it was originally riveted over the area where you see very little damage to the corrugations at the top of the pic. It’s an unremarkable piece of metal in isolation but take a closer look at the corrugations and you’ll see that where that flat piece was attached they’ve survived in good shape yet below it there’s an extensive failure.

 

 

We’ve seen many similar examples around the front end of the boat. All it took was a few extra rivets or an additional skin and rapidly propagating damage would set off in another direction in the face of resistance or simply stop dead at that point. What happened in this case is that the water blasted aft separating the inner and outer floor skins but was prevented from getting any further at this point for two reasons. One, it met the tray that held the fuel tank, which effectively doubled the material thickness making it much more difficult to peel the skins apart and, two, stronger rivets were used aft of this point due to a simple question of access when setting them. Thwarted in its attempt to strip the outer floor from the corrugations the water changed direction and cut upwards into the void beneath the main spar.

Closing the rear of this void is a steel bulkhead punctured only where control runs, pipes or cables pass through. Above is the main spar and a tougher piece of structure would be hard to find in K7, but in front lay the relatively flimsy F-15 bulkhead. Water exploded into the sealed box in a nanosecond compressing trapped air that blew F-15 out forwards like a bomb going off behind the pilot’s seat. Here’s F-15 on the day we got it back and consider that you’re looking at the cockpit side where the seat was once attached.

 

Now go back up to the pic of Rob looking at the floor and this time you’ll see exactly where the water cut through the corrugations. That floor has actually caused us problems from day one, here’s a quick sketch.

 

When we first lifted the forward end of the wreck (the yellow lines represent the lifting strops) the front came up easily because the boat had landed almost tail first, buried itself deeply at the stern and then flopped down onto its flat underbelly. But the floor (shown in red) was torn from the frame and bent downwards so that its lower extent remained deeply speared into the lakebed. Here it is the other way up on the day we tested the first rollover jig – see what I mean?

 

 

At the rear of the hull we’d shackled the lifting lines into the tethering points used for static engine testing. We already knew that anything preserved in mud remained pristine so they could be trusted. To these we attached a two-ton lift bag that could single handedly raise the wreck.

For peace of mind we fixed a second bag at the other end to strops wrapped around the root of the main spar but we knew the steelwork was threadbare there so its residual strength was an unknown. To counter this our intrepid commercial divers – there at the behest of the BBC who needed someone to carry the can in the event of an accident – decided what was needed was another strop under the hull at the front end. The problem was that it had to go through the tunnel formed by the underside of the hull and the torn floor. Rigging it in those circumstances represented a stupid and unnecessary risk so the BBP divers took a step back and the strop was fixed much later once the wreck was clear of the lakebed; the only purpose it ever served being to demonstrate its pointlessness by sliding along the hull one afternoon when we inflated the bags unevenly leaving the wreck wholly suspended by the forward bag.

And still that floor wasn’t finished with us. The downward curving piece next frustrated our efforts to get K7 onto her recovery cradle. The lakebed drops away very steeply once you get about twenty metres or so off the beach and we had doubts about being able to pull the trailer back out if we let it fall over the edge but the water wasn’t quite deep enough otherwise. We used ratchet straps, a chain-pull and a five pound lump hammer to mash the bent floor back up against the frame so we could get the boat out of the water. It’s amazingly resilient stuff, is that floor. The second we took the weight off the cradle years later the damn thing sprang back to exactly how we’d found it.

Yes, we’ve had fun with it, and then we had to seriously consider whether it was past redemption. Doddy checked out the inner corrugations when they came back from Bettablast,

 

and performed some sensitive disentanglement.

 

Pics © Alan (Doddy) Dodds, by the way.

But it’s corroded as well as squashed. Squashed we can handle and we can manage localised corrosion but an expanse of both is challenging to say the least. We had a go at it though. After all, we are the customer.

On a more positive note we’ve just about got the front spar boxes good to go. They’re another mini-project that keeps popping up. It’s a case of, what shall we do next? I know, the spar boxes, floors, cockpit rails, etc. Here’s Tony scrubbing the more intact, portside example.

 

They’re a throwback to the original 1954 design, water baffles to seal the root of the front spar that were skinned over and left forgotten in the structure when the spar was raised. We could have chucked them and no one would ever have known. We could have slung ’em in the museum and knocked new ones together in an afternoon but no. We cobbled and cut, welded and buggered about…

 

Most of this one came home on the missing chunk of frame in 07 and the rest turned up riveted variously to the flap tray or the F-20 and 21 outriggers. It was meticulously pieced back together and stuck with hot metal glue.

 

Finally we closed several hundred rivet holes with hard welding rods so the part is plenty strong when we re-drill it. Ready for the paint shop.

 

And you know what’s really annoying… It doesn’t contribute a damn thing to the strength or looks of the finished job. It’s completely redundant but we’ll know it’s in there so we’ll be able to bore the pants off museum visitors when old BBP team members are wheeled out to regale future generations with our stories of how we rebuilt K7.

The riveting is going splendidly too. Rob and Mike really have it sorted, which is only fair considering how many old rivets Mike salvaged from the floor sweepings after Rob had drilled them out.

 

It’s taken them a few weeks to hone their skills but in that short time I’ve gone from constantly fretting about quality control to occasionally asking the riveting department how it’s going to give the impression that I still worry about them. They’re doing a beautiful job.

 

Fewer skin pins every day.

It’s not all work, however, and we especially enjoy teatime. One of the neighbouring industrial units is home to a pizza delivery service and once in a while a hot snack turns up.

 

The banter is hilarious as is the practical joking. Mike, on the right, has learned tin bashing like wives learn PIN numbers so he made some snazzy, little brackets last week. They only measure a few inches square and needed a weld a couple of inches long. What this means is that the whole thing reaches a ridiculous temperature and becomes highly dangerous. With a large panel there’s always a ‘cold end’ by which it can usually be handled immediately but small pieces are burning hot all over so I warned Mike and plopped it onto the bench. Two minutes later he cursed and jumped when the edge of the piece branded an angry weal into his arm as he reached for something else. Having suffered a nasty burn and a bad case of ‘told you so’ the second bracket was placed well out of reach after welding and forgotten about. Half an hour later it was cold to the touch and as Mike was proud of his handiwork I passed it over saying something like, ‘nice job’. But as Mike’s fingers closed on the bare metal – presumably without noticing that my fingers were bare too – I said, “It’s hot, mind.”

Quarter of a second elapsed before, with a startled shriek, the bracket was flung skyward. As it arced gracefully, Mike realised it might be damaged if it clattered onto the concrete so he instinctively caught it in the other hand. Another quarter second, another yell, and the thing was airborne again this time crashing most satisfactorily onto the floor, thankfully without damage as Mike blew on his unscathed finger ends. Laugh – we nearly choked – while Mike glowered and muttered though he did see the funny side too.

Our workshop is a wonderful place where we use the good, earthy language that men so enjoy and laugh at the most atrocious, politically incorrect jokes but when it gets serious it gets serious. We went back to those floors.

First stop was another trip to Kirkdale 2000 who make rotational moulding tools and are the most amazing tin-bashers different from us in that they tend to use quarter-inch steel plate.

 

Boss-man, Drew West, kindly allowed us some time on his 80-ton hydraulic brake press to re-form the corrugations and brought his considerable expertise to the party though I can’t help feeling he’s slightly bemused by what we do. Unsurprisingly his press didn’t struggle at all with the 16 gauge aluminium and using a knife-sharp blade in a V-shaped tool those floors had their corrugations back in an hour.

 

Pushing the bends again put most of the strength back but didn’t solve the torn metal or corrosion troubles. That needed a different approach, one which we’ve developed and pretty much perfected of late. Corrugated patch repairs. What you do is cut a hole…

 

…shove in a piece of crinkly tin …

 

…firmly affix with hot metal glue, then repeat as necessary.

 

Quite a way to go but you can see where we’re headed. It’s incredibly time consuming though. Each of those patches is a ‘W’ shape and it takes hours and hours to fettle and weld just one of them into place as the panel fights for its right to stay trashed. In cross section they look like this.

 

You can see how laying them side by side and opposite ways up will build the corrugated profile needed to mend the inner floors. Several advantages lie in doing it this way. The patches can be kept small and localised to minimise the amount of original material sacrificed and it’s considerably easier setting up one corrugation at a time. But perhaps the biggest plus is that even a small patch like this has six bends. Assuming a typical tolerance of +/- 0.25mm per bend you’ve a chance to be 1.5mm adrift by the end of it and even without crash damage a similar tolerance is to be found in the floors. Statistically the tolerances should work with you… one bend may be 0.25mm long but the next ought to be short to cancel it out again. That’s great until you get what I call a ‘conspiracy of tolerances’ and they all run away with your carefully calculated dimensions leaving you 3mm you’ve not budgeted for; so small patches definitely work best. They’re also easier to abandon when they start to go wrong.

The downside of this, of course, is the weeks and months it adds to the build. Our original three year estimate excluded great tracts of the boat considered beyond repair at the time that would end its days as part of the museum display. Now our envisaged display piece is looking somewhat threadbare while more and more rebuilt panels join their former team mates back on the boat. But what can we do? We’ve developed the necessary skills to save original fabric so we can’t start binning it now just because we’ll miss our deadline. Things can’t progress any faster either because we’ve pioneered the processes and seem to be the only group doing this. Even if we had a massive budget these parts are still only big enough for one man to work on at any given moment so the world will just have to wait. At least the middle floors have their strength back demonstrated in this case by Mother Earth as she exerts considerable gravitational pull on a fat bloke.

 

Another few weeks and it’ll be good as new and what this means is that we’ve managed to save the inner floors from the entire length of the craft. Never imagined we’d be able to do that!

 

By the way – have a look at the corrugated strip of metal at the nearest end of the floor. Samlesbury made a bit of a mistook way back when and fudged a repair they likely imagined no one would ever see…It never did any harm and it’s interesting so we’ll give you a better look next time.

And finally, and at long last, DVD 2 is now officially available. Originally we’d hoped our pre-order period would be April but due to last minute tweaks and having to negotiate their manufacture we’ve moved it to May. The original deal stands though – every disc bought and paid for in May will arrive with a certificate numbered, signed by the team and including an original blue paint crumb from Bluebird K7. You can go to the shop and buy one starting now. The other thing is that our costs are increasing and though we’ve so far been able to operate on a shoestring budget we do now have to splash out on the occasional bag of expensive rivets or special tools so if you can spare any loose change…

Thanks.

 

 

For those without a credit/debit card
Please send a cheque/postal order
made payable to " Bluebird K7 Restoration Fund" at

Bluebird K7 Restoration Fund
66 Hudson Street
North Shields
Tyne and Wear
NE30 1DL
UK


25th May 2009

 

It was with absolute shock that I learned of the death of my good friend, Carl Spencer yesterday. Carl was diving the wreck of Titanic’s sister, Britannic when he got into difficulties. I dived Britannic with Carl in 2003 when he led a British expedition to penetrate the wreck and explore the minefield that sank it but we met in November 2000 on the Bluebird Project.

We were short of a diver as I was being hauled away for press interviews so I asked if anyone knew a good diver with a disposition that would fit the team. Carl was immediately put forward so leaving word that he should be invited I went off to do more interviews. Next morning Carl arrived and within the hour he was on the Bluebird wreck. He said later it was a surreal experience and due to the birth of his son, Ben, only a few days earlier he commuted daily from Stafford to Coniston. We all liked him at once.

 

Carl was both the first and last diver to work on the recovery of Donald’s body in May 2001 demonstrating his immense skill under water; he was very methodical and completely natural in his element.

We next worked together in 2003 when Carl led an expedition to Greece to dive Britannic. I headed up his sonar team and it was a privilege and a pleasure to support such a gifted leader. (far right, below)

 

Since then we’ve worked on a joint project in Norway involving sonar work and diving in extreme conditions. The guys drove fifty-odd hours from Newcastle to the very top of the earth with a vanload of gear.

 

A strict teetotaller that’s the only time I ever saw alcohol pass Carl’s lips. We gave him a half of lager and he fell asleep.

He remained a staunch supporter of the Bluebird Project throughout and joined us again in early 2007 when we returned to the lake in search of a missing piece of frame. It was Carl who ultimately recovered it.

 

Our collaborations continued. Carl arrived in my office for a meeting one day but we’d run out of milk for the coffee. I was about to head off for the shop when he asked if I was taking the car. I explained that the shop was only a hundred yards away and I’d planned on walking. With that he threw his car keys at me and said, “Take mine…” I wasn’t expecting the brand, spanking new Aston Martin DB9 outside the office but I took it anyway.

Another time he texted to say he was overhead Leeds and could I call Newcastle air traffic control and organise for him to land in my garden. No sooner said than done.

 

We had planned to visit Norway again later this year but, sadly, we’ll never get there. It is absolutely heartbreaking that such a gentleman should be so tragically lost and he’ll leave a huge hole in the lives of so many people. He also leaves a widow and two young children. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

 

Bill Smith.

 

 

 

 


 

1st June 2009

 

 

May started out so well, we worked incredibly hard on our application for the byelaw amendment then waited patiently and what a result. The Lake District National Park Authority said yes to Bluebird K7 breaking the 10mph speed limit on Coniston Water. As ever the press gave it a confusing slant – bless ’em – spreading the notion that Bluebird will be allowed only one run at 100mph. What we actually have is one set of proving trials that’ll involve as many runs as we can safely conduct as K7 is returned to fighting trim. Where the 100mph figure came from is anyone’s guess.

The meeting was an exciting mix of opinions; not all of which we grasped. For instance, someone thought we might test Bluebird to destruction, she’d fall apart and sink and then where would we be? The museum would have no boat and the whole effort would have been for nothing. Our lot were mystified. Had we missed something? Hadn’t Donald tested his boat to destruction in 1967 and been unable to finish her off way back then?

Then someone complained that whilst taking a peaceful walk once upon a time in1956 the tranquillity was unexpectedly shattered by Bluebird roaring over Ullswater. What a privilege to have witnessed such a piece of history but only the nuisance value seemed to have been retained and therefore the boat shouldn’t be allowed to run again lest someone else should suffer similar inconvenience. Get over it, for goodness sake!

The noise issue was beautifully countered by a wise and rather senior gentleman who pointed out – as we have many times – that the RAF often streak over the Lake District but he added to our amusement that all ought to be grateful that the planes bear roundels and not crosses. Good point well made...

Another was convinced that running the boat would somehow affect the bottom of the lake – how that was supposed to work we weren’t told – whilst someone else stressed the environmental unfriendliness, the noise and congestion but wouldn’t it all be bloody exciting!

On balance, apart from the occasional bit we couldn’t work out and the inevitable moaner here and there, the meeting was brilliantly conducted and when decision time arrived the majority placed their trust in us to carry things to the next stage.

Obviously we now have to demonstrate we can do this without trashing Coniston but the simple fact of the matter is that we have enough project and events management talent aboard now to put on a world-class show. I spoke last week with someone senior in assessing our proposals who told me that once you sort out the NIMBYs, (not in my back yard), the type 1 and 2 idiots all you need after that is common sense.

“Hang on a minute,” I said, “what’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 idiots?”

The explanation was a breath of fresh air… It seems type 1 idiots are just that – idiots – whereas type 2 idiots are ‘f***ing idiots’. We reckon we’ve also identified one or two type 3 idiots recognisable by an irrepressible urge to add to their CV in the most entertaining way at every opportunity.

As press officer for the project for almost a decade I’ve had to (or at least tried to) perfect the art of issuing a press release and it works to a reliable formula. A snappy headline so when it pops up on the screen in the forward planning dept. of Sky News or wherever they don’t instantly hit delete. Then you need lots of exciting, concentrated facts in a small paragraph because you’re up against everyone else who wants to be on telly or in the paper. The last part is a few lines of luxury items after which you write ‘Ends’ so they know you’ve shut up about the meaty bit and the next matter is ‘Notes to editors’.

Here you can put what you like because if you’ve kept them interested so far they’re going to read the rest so you include things like a potted history of Donald and his boat, times and places for press conferences and contacts for the important people involved.

The interested parties then phone you in plenty of time to have their crews in place, arrange interviews or request pictures after which the process usually stretches late into the day and later into the week than you’d planned but it’s all part of the job.

So – being a responsible project director and press officer – the following seems a worthwhile idea.

Notes for Type-3 Idiots.

Thank you for thus far reducing us to hysterics on many occasions whilst we offer condolences for your failure to achieve anything useful so far as your personal agenda is concerned. But don’t worry… we hereby offer you another roll of the dice. Our byelaw application must now be placed before DEFRA who will hear your objections confidentially (you hope) and may order a public enquiry. The professionals managing our application will then address any issues on an ongoing basis as taxpayer’s money is squandered with the worst case scenario being our cheerful departure for Dumbelyung. May we respectfully suggest, therefore, that you devote your efforts to feeding your families.

Ends.

The project is reaching critical mass now. It’s like a snowball we’ve been pushing uphill for years but with the latest announcement we’ve crested the rise to find a long, downward slope laid before us and our snowball is about to set off on its own.

A plague of TV production companies is chasing us for the documentary rights but we’re not fussed because we have footage accumulating week on week that we can make into DVDs to fund the project safe in the knowledge that we don’t need our mugs on TV ever again so they’re not doing very well. One broadcaster offered the use of their helicopter to get some aerial shots… We’ll bring our own helicopter and shoot our own footage, thank you very much, it’s been a while since I took the controls. Would-be sponsors are crawling from under rocks too. Where were they when we went knocking on doors in 2006?

I’m not sure whether it’s always been there – like if you buy a yellow car the roads suddenly seem full of yellow cars – or if it’s a new phenomenon. Perhaps I’ve just become especially attuned these days but there seems an awful lot of absurdity in the world for some reason.

Rachel and I had visitors recently who seemed almost frightened of the half dozen eggs freshly collected from the garden and proffered as a parting gift.

“But there’s no use-by date…”

With gritted teeth I explained that neither chickens nor ducks are born with an inkjet printer jammed up their oviduct and offered instead that if you crack an egg and it smells funny then don’t bloody-well eat it.

Most of those who help reduce our springtime egg mountain can work this out much as the team can tell when Thursday’s milk hasn’t made it to Saturday by taking the top off. Despite this we do get the occasional supermarket-subservient who panics without those little numbers to steer them from certain food poisoning.

Later, and still faintly despairing at what the do-gooders have done to our common sense, I went in search of sandwich materials only to be amazed by a pack of Tesco honey roast ham with, get this, ‘no added water’.

Of course there’s no added water, it’s a slab of pig’s arse for goodness sake. Were it a box of teabags I could see the point but as it was they may as well have added, ‘no shards of broken glass’, because you’d not expect that either.

Research amongst the yummy-mummies at the school next morning suggested that bulking up dead pigs with water was the norm until recently but now it seems Tesco has stopped ripping us off so they can crow about it on their packaging.

Then it happened again, this time in the pub toilets. Durex ‘easy-on’ of all things. Well they were easy-on before unless you were hung like a rhinoceros, very drunk or had the dexterity of a jellyfish. One hand in the dark – like unfastening a bra or unearthing the modern clitoris, essential life-skills for 21st century man just as our ancestors had to perfect spearing a fleeing antelope.

Easy-on, I ask you… What, does it have handles you can pull it on with then fasten behind your back so it can’t fall off again?

What are they saying about their products? ‘They used to be crap but now they’re as good as what you thought you were buying in the first place…’

It’s everywhere, Johnson’s baby shampoo – ‘no more tears’ formula. Are they saying the previous mix seared a layer of cells off their infant corneas? Pedigree Chum dog food, ‘new improved recipe’, except they’ve improved it so many times it must’ve been so bloody awful to begin with we could’ve spooned it straight onto the lawn and left the dog out of the loop, the list is endless and for some reason I’d developed a minor obsession for such things by the time my phone beeped one morning to say our old friend Carl was dead. That final piece of nonsense floored me with disbelief but of course it was true.

Carl’s demise is the reason you’ve waited so long for an update and why the new DVD went out late but none of it seemed quite so important for a while yet he’d go crackers if he thought he’d stopped the job.

On Friday the 12th June the old crowd assembled in Carl’s home town of Great Wyrley in the midlands to give him a good send-off. It was weird sitting with guys I’ve known and dived with since the nineties as though waiting for the dive conference to open or the expedition to begin expecting Carl to spring through the door full of his usual enthusiasm at any moment. Then we started swapping diving stories and having a good laugh. We poked fun at him during the service and told of the good times then off for a few drinks and some food at the wake. He had a great turnout and we saw him off in fine style with a genuine and heartfelt celebration of his life and achievements. He’ll be sadly missed and the world will never quite be the same for any of us but now it’s time to get back to the job at hand.

Progress on the boat is painfully slow at the moment and, yes, it’s those floors. We really had no intention of even attempting to mend the corrugations but once it became clear it was achievable we had to go for it. But look at the result.

This total mess…

 

…has become this.

 

It’s the same pair of floor panels (it splits down the centreline) with what feels like a million hours spent on each but they’re now only a few days away from the paint shop. The floor aft of this point is a slightly easier fix mainly because it never got squashed and ripped in half but there are still issues; see below, for instance.

 

This horrible, grotty hole down in the bilges is where the auxiliary fuel tank and battery boxes live. You can see the lower, aft end of the engine inlet trunk at the top of the shot. Below it is the aux’ fuel tank and bottom right you can see the corner of a battery still in its box. The problem was that all of these bits and bobs were made of steel and once submerged the steel munched holes in the aluminium like a hundred hungry caterpillars.

 

It’s the same two bays. And notice below how only these two are affected.

 

The three bays on the right are almost perfect and will be good as new with a few small patches but the two at far left needed a different solution. We could have lopped ’em off and made new ones but that would be cheating. Instead John made up a bunch of these things.

 

They’re clever little widgets that slot into the existing corrugations and do all the work for them. Their job is to anchor the outer floor skin to the frame but with a little compliance as per the Norris Bros. imaginative thinking.

 

The original floor is still in there in its untouched entirety but the two damaged bays have been retired by John’s longitudinal beams that’ll be firmly affixed to the frame and the outer floor. Yet another triumph for museology.

The entire floor from front to back is marching steadily towards the paint shop. Yes, it’s slow but consider this.

 

The next step is the outer skins and we’ve done those already – they just need final fettling and sticking on.

Having something to stick them to is another matter, however, and we’ve been working hard on K7’s pointy end. So far as the outriggers and bulkheads go the biggest problem lies at the front as you’d expect whilst the floors suffered most under the main spar where the boat snapped in two. It’s much the same fettling outriggers as it is fettling floors but the difference is that once you get bored with F-whatever you can hop onto F-somewhere-else and enjoy a change of scenery. Not so with the floors where day after day the same expanse of corrugated tin greets you. So we abandoned them completely for the sake of our collective sanity last weekend.

It was such a relief to be drilling, gluing and riveting again.

 

Here John works on the F-22 bulkhead, the furthest forward original bulkhead we’ve been fortunate enough to save. F-23 ahead of it is very green and new, the original is probably still in the lake. I say probably because the other green one to the right of the pic – F-21 – turned up recently along with its crossmember in a museum. We asked if we could have it back to reincorporate into the boat but the answer was no.

Here’s another interesting discovery about the pointy end. We actually spotted this a long time ago but it’s not been especially visible until we built the bow.

 

Starting at the front of the frame you can see a small tube welded into the curved frame member. This is where K7’s towing eye was attached in her 1954 evolution. Now look above it at the hole in the green, F-23 bulkhead. That’s where the pitot tube came through in the original design but notice how misaligned it is with both the hole in the F-22 bulkhead behind it and the towing eye mount in front. Now take a look at the vertical sides of F-23 relative to the frame and you’ll see much more green on the left then on the right. That’s how far adrift K7’s frame was built from new. The original bulkheads and floors are all offset to compensate for the frame being crooked but we’d built F-23 to the drawing before realising this and were only able to make it fit by offsetting it substantially. The shape is spot on too; no mean feat considering it’s had a bit of a ding. John did his usual thing with the longitudinal stringers just in case.

 

Another thing – if you look carefully at the pic above you’ll notice that Mike is fiddling with a green widget on the F-19 upper panel. There’s a pair of them and they look like this.

 

They’re a new addition. What happened was that when the front spar was lifted and the higher deck and cockpit rails added, K7 lost her foredeck and with it a lot of structure that used to pick up the original cockpit rails. This left them hanging in space at their forward ends with a whole heap of new tin riveted on above so for the sake of a couple of small doublers we’ve taken the liberty of putting the strength back by alternative means. These are the things that Mike thought he’d burned himself on a few weeks back. He’s good at doublers, here’s another.

 

Lurking down in the corner of F-2 and still awaiting its green paint this patch sorts out not only where the bulkhead tore when Robbie’s ingots obeyed Newton’s first law but also the resulting corrosion that set into the torn edges. It’ll be a nice repair when it’s done. We’re almost through with these small repairs and all but two of the transverse bulkheads are in. What’s stopping these is that they secure the floors so we have to do them at the same time. After that we need to fit the transom, which is now in a jig so it can be repaired without moving about when it’s welded. Alain built this thing – his welding is certainly improving.

 

Because someone chose stainless steel to mount the rubber water seal beneath the jetpipe it’s had the inevitable fight with the aluminium and you can guess what lost. We could mend it but it wouldn’t be the same shape after the welds contracted. This way it has no choice and even if it does move we can use the jig as a gauge to be sure it goes back to where it belongs before the rivets go in. We’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. After that we can stick the main flutes down the sides and build K7 as high as her deck as far forward as F-15. Can’t wait.

Other stuff… we have a spare engine incoming. We’ve been after this one for quite a while. It’s not quite as sparkly clean as the DeHavilland one so we’ll most likely try to get a tune out of this one first before chancing our arms on our good one. Looks like we’ll have to build our jet-powered Ford Transit rig again.

 

Let’s hope things get back to normal soon, eh…