Dear Lord, there are some tragic people out there!

I got into a world of trouble last time I wrote because, apparently, I didn’t care enough about my dog! That will be why he lived the life of luxury and got away with murder for thirteen years, will it? But it seems I failed to weep and wail and cry enough when he finally karked it. That’d be because it was his time and I was rightly proud of the great life I gave him. So we soon got a new pup, named her Meg, and she’s become my new companion of an evening when I stroll out for a last one but I fear mankind is losing his ability to understand his former best friend. Only the other day I found myself foul of a barmaid who unfailingly winds Meg into a frenzy for no good reason. She smooched and cajoled from the other side of the bar until the innocent animal kicked over its training thus far and hurtled across the bar trailing string in her wake, which I instantly used to recover little Meg before administering a swift (though painless to a dog) slap across the chops to discourage further transgression. Off she went obediently back under the table but oh, was I the villain! I was ‘cruel’ apparently.

There’s yet more. I met a bloke in the pub some months back, an older chap who’d had a mutt called Bruce that had died about six years earlier and at the time he’d decided against any more dogs. Fair enough. I could see him struggling with a vibrant young animal that may well outlive him but then he told me he’d had a change of heart and a new pup was about to join the family.

What had caused this turnaround, I asked… and you know when the answer is so removed from anything you might’ve expected that you wonder whether gasping incredulity would be less offensive than an obviously failed effort to suppress it?

“We thought enough time had passed so as not to offend Bruce’s memory…”

Such people should be permanently disbarred from ever owning any sort of pet!

Let’s just establish a few basics here, the first being that dogs are not four-legged children! They are pack animals recently descended from wolves and domesticated for their herding instinct. Other natural behaviour that we humans like to exploit is that, when living in a pack and having munched down a bellyful of the former weakest beast in the herd, doggy doesn’t just get up and curl down a steaming Mr. Whippy under his mates’ noses.

He’d not dare… so instead he retires a polite distance because his mates would bite his bottom if he didn’t, which is how come we can easily train our best friend to whimper at the door rather than curl said Mr. Whippy down in the middle of the living room during Strictly. And this leads neatly to another requirement of the doggy mentality. They like to know who’s in charge. Imagine if you turned up for work on Monday morning and your boss wasn’t sure whether or not to be your boss. No decisions or guidance, no leadership, only a biscuit and do as you please. Yeah, it would be great for a day but after that you’d want to know what was to be done before the company went bust and you were all off to the benefits office. Dogs like to have a master, it’s a basic requirement of their genetic programming and when they cross the line their genetic programming also warns them that the alpha-male doesn’t voice his dissatisfaction with a written warning – he has big gnarly teeth – yet the world remains full of wishy-washy dog owners being told what to do by their own pets.

Then there’s the stuff people think dogs need when in fact they don’t. I also keep ducks and I get fed up with people saying, ‘but ducks need water’. Ducks do not need water at all! Admittedly they like water very much but if you don’t give them any, apart from for drinking of course, you don’t get fatalities, you only get dry ducks. Likewise, if you don’t walk your dog ten miles a day in all weathers it won’t die it’ll just slob around the house watching telly with you. Think about this, in the wild they don’t scoff down their share of disembowelled buffalo then immediately burn off all the calories thus provided by walking about for no good reason. Admittedly, give a duck a rain shower and it will use only its furiously chattering bill to create a pond with a canal system and some lovely water features where your lawn used to be and, yes, get your dog used to going for a walk every day and it’ll hold you to it even if it’s snowing but both are entirely optional.

So why do people humanise their pets and give them feelings they don’t have? It’s like those who bleat about the terrible cruelty of keeping dolphins in captivity. Go swim with dolphins in a hot place and see just how glum they look as they wow you with a trick or two then chuff down a herring they didn’t have to chase halfway across the Pacific. Happier and less endangered animals are difficult to find.

Conversely, you’ll not find the bleaters traipsing the prairie, spear in hand and living in a wigwam either. Not a chance… they live in brick boxes with food brought to their door, a vet on standby and InstaFilmdownloadyFantasylandCloudBollocks for entertainment.

Animals are intuitively clever – humans are thick as mince…

I may perhaps illustrate this point by reference to rugby, which seemed somewhat prevalent last year and is, so far as I can tell, the only game to glorify a confirmed sports cheat!

Now then, whereas I’ve had the misfortune of being subjected to much footballfoolery over the years, not on purpose, mind you, but because down the pub it’s often difficult to avoid some moron yelling at the green glow; but recently I’ve seen the folly that is rugby, very puzzling behaviour. The story goes that once upon a time some poor footballist got fed up of kicking the ball (he should have just gone home at that point) but instead he cheated in fine style by picking it up and running with it under his arm and somehow the idea has caught on.

Unfortunately, however, a chance was missed for it to offer improvement over its parent pastime leaving it with all the basic failings plus some. Its practitioners still don short trousers and play in Siberian conditions when the grass, which clearly has more intelligence, has rightly chosen to hibernate and even the zillions of squigawatts wantonly burned so they can see what they’re doing won’t get it going again.

Then there’s the fact that about two thirds of said grass may as well be dug up and thrown away because all everyone does for an hour an and a half is plodge around in the middle until the dreary homeostasis is momentarily lost and some of the tribesmen dash for one end or the other.

There’s more… they say rugby is a game for men yet it seemed to me little more than a smorgasbord of thigh-groping, cuddling and mud-wrestling practiced by boys in short trousers interspersed with a team effort to jam their heads up each other’s bottoms whilst the referees skipped about in cerise pink!

But what I found absolutely jaw-droppingly stupid was that for the best part of an hour and a half, rather than run in pointless circles like the footballists, the rugbyists quite literally spent it falling over! Honestly, they stood up and three seconds later they were over again. I seriously wondered at first whether it was a couple of those wheelchair teams trying to do it without their wheelchairs. Occasionally, they would all stop and gawp skywards as some outlying players kicked a leather egg back and forth overhead but soon it fell short, landed in the middle and they all promptly fell over again. On one occasion someone had the presence of mind to kick the thing then run after it so he was spared the falling over but soon enough someone else picked it up and he fell over instead. If nothing else it was hilarious watching them all flopping about like landed fish and predicting with sub-second accuracy when the next meatball would get a mouthful of grass, but ten minutes of such silliness was enough for one lifetime.

I just cannot imagine a pastime where the rules never change, the scenery is always the same and it just drudges endlessly year on year the same as it always was. Two years of sponsons was bad enough but they’re done leaving our latest challenge that of ridding ourselves of all that spar and sponson nonsense. It was cluttering half of our workshop and was much better employed wowing visitors to the museum, where I gather it has been very successful and popular. Rumour also has it that some die-hard Bluebird anoraks have even had to finally accept that the mock-up from Across The Lake isn’t in fact full sized when faced with a genuine pair of sponsons. But in disposing of all that hardware we were beset by yet more of the world’s absurdity. You see, what we needed was a nice big van to do the moving so we went to our usual rental company where we know the boss and asked if we could please rent one as we’ve done many times – only this time we went with our Bluebird Project heads on and our Bluebird Project credit card.

“Sorry, lads, you need an account or your own name on the card.”

I looked at him incredulously, wondering whether he’d suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury since we’d last spoken. He seemed not to remember me.

I reminded him who we were but didn’t need to, he’d not received that TBI, he just had mental indigestion from having swallowed the rule book.

“Nothing to worry about,” he explained, “There’ll be lots of things on line with your home address just point me at a few.”

Erm, I think there isn’t!

The upshot was that we had to go through a complicated set of machinations via several of our companies just to rent a van from someone we knew and always rented vans from! I spent the next half hour in the office demonstrating to anyone who would listen that for a hundred quid or so it was perfectly possible to hire a living, breathing human being, no questions asked, to do pretty much whatever the hell you liked with – but a van? Not a chance. Grrrr!

But never mind, we completed the job and returned in triumph to find that some things hadn’t changed. There’s still, for example, the ‘when’ brigade who bemoan the lack of immediate results but we’ve always had those. That’s an easy one, though. They never call and offer to come and help so they have no voice. We even had someone with a shortage of cranial synapses suggest we abandon the entire effort as conceived back in November 2001 and just bodge what we have back together so we can stuff it in the museum. This individual just hadn’t grasped that it’s only the sheer audacity and ambition of bringing the machine back to life that’s chimed with British industry, supporters and public alike and made any of this possible. I’d invite this person to write a letter to the cream of industry and the multitude of enthusiasts around the globe who’ve chipped in so far.

 

Dear Sirs,

As an impatient, greedy ignoramus I wish never to see this goose lay any golden eggs and would instead prefer that it’s wheeled out in whatever condition it may be at the earliest in order that I may profit from it immediately.

 

Yours faithfully.

Mr. & Mrs. N. Arrowmind.

 

Sorry, folks – this is just going to take as long as it takes and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it except maybe join in and help – hinder and it’ll only take longer.

The programme is as follows…

  1. Rebuild the boat.
  2. Run her on water, any water, in a series of proving trials.
  3. Donate our work to the museum to be displayed forever in her home.

That’s the deal and it’s not negotiable. Not that we’ve exactly dawdled since our last big push. There’s so much going on that I’m dizzy with it!

Let me see – what have we been up to?

Well, having binned off all that sponson stuff to the other side of the country, we were left free and clear to start on the boat’s systems.

We have the steering and linkages, fuel and electrics, engine and start system and many many small widgety bits to get fitted and working but first we had a height issue.

When we set about installing the front spar and sponsons we really needed the boat quite high so we could fine tune her in pitch and roll so we left the back end in the rollover jig stanchion, which is necessarily high to allow the boat to clear the floor when rolled, and built the lifting jig for the front with the four screw-jacks under it, remember?

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That rig allowed us to set up the forward structure to absolute perfection, most likely better than ever it was, but it has one fundamental failing when it comes to fitting the systems – the boat is too high to let us drop an engine into the hole. It’s also pretty much immovable and the time has been that we wanted to shove the boat out of the way so we could use the floor space for something else.

To get around this we firstly dug out the old recovery cradle we used back in 2001 to get the wreck out of the lake. It’d been quietly awaiting its next role in a corner of the yard all this time.

 

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It was designed with reference to Ken’s original launch and recovery cradle but with about six feet missing off the front for obvious reasons. It was made nice and low so we could get the boat onto it in the least amount of water and our tape measures told us that if we put the boat on it in the workshop we’d have a comfortable amount of room to crane an engine in. Job-one was to grow it a little and also provide a means to get the boat onto it so we made this.

 

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It’s the missing six feet with some other points of note. It’s on wheels for starters. We allowed ourselves 30mm of ground clearance and the castors are of such weight-rating and numbers that we can use this conveyance for the final assembly to a complete, two and a half ton boat when the time comes. You’ll notice also the little cutouts in the longitudinal bars about halfway along. These are so we can put a pair of lifting beams under the boat then draw them out when not in use so as not to bash our knees. We put a similar cutout in the main part of the cradle.

 

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Then all we had to do was to glue the two pieces together.

 

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As the missus pointed out – that’s quite an erection! You may also notice an additional set of castors on the side chopped from a deceased shopping trolley recycled once already to move sponsons about – we waste nothing – so that the thing can be turned on edge and manoeuvred into tight spaces. Mike glued on a 25mm plywood top and we were ready to pop a hydroplane on top.

 

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With a little practice we got the hang of lifting the boat with four small chain-blocks and with her dangling from the ceiling we rolled her new moving dolly underneath.

 

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See how the lifting beams and the cutouts work…

 

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And finally – Ta-dah… Bluebird on her new dolly. And just to give an idea, building that lot and getting the boat onto it took us about three weeks by the time we designed the mounts for the castors and had them laser cut from 5mm steel, sent for the castors, lifting blocks and moving sleds for the overhead beams and ordered in the steel for the beams themselves, and that’s without the fabrication work and labour to do all the moving. But it’s done now so we can crack on.

 

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Where to begin…

Well the time had finally come to throw an engine into the hole. The last time there was an Orph’ in there was about ten years ago when the old one was removed so we could get among the frame.

We’d already done a fair amount of prep’ work on our intended running engine ahead of this momentous occasion by rebuilding and refitting as many parts from the original as it was practical to use. Donald’s original tacho-generator, for example.

 

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This little gizmo makes the signal to drive the rev-counter and was rebuilt by Barry Hares as well as adapted to fit the later engine.

The original oil tank went back on too.

 

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If you look closely between the upper two pipes (blanked with the fingers from rubber gloves) you can see a small dent, and if you look at archive pic’s of the boat in 66 you can see the same dent. No idea what caused it but it’s as original as the tank itself.

On went the bits until our engine was pretty much built and looking very like the 701 Orph’ that came out.

 

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We were to remove the fuel system at the last minute because it’s inaccessible under the engine once it’s in and we had some work we could carry on with on the bench so with that done, we rigged our lifting gear and… ta-dah!

 

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Looks good, eh? Well it did eventually once we’d worked out where it fouled the engine mounts, considered what we might have to pare away from the stainless firewall that normally separates the hot from the cold ends of the engine then found photographs to prove that this was necessary back in 66 too before we actually did the paring. Until then the engine was up and down like the underclothes of a lady of the night. But soon we had it happily in its mounts and it was time to move on but not before putting a small ghost to rest. You see, there’s a small engine mount right up at the front that, should it fail, well, the engine would get loose, displace its inlet trunk, flame out and a terrible accident may ensue. So, after much research, and a little help from unmentionable quarters we were able to perfectly reproduce the forward mount and this time it won’t be hammered to death at high speed on rough water until it snaps.

 

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It holds the front of the engine and sets the thrust-line.

 

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It may look simple enough but, believe me, it isn’t. It’s a collection of odd sizes and threads – some of them left-handed so an extra thank you goes to Barry for reproducing it absolutely faithfully.

That’s the engine in the hole for the moment so what else was pressing? How about the electrics? There wasn’t much chance of Checkie getting on while we had sponsons in the way and all hands to getting them ready and out of the way but now they’re gone…

 

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Our resident wirologist, Checkie, can be found simply by following the nearest bundle of brightly coloured wires to where he’s scheming and planning his next move. Those who have followed the Bluebird saga for any length of time will have come across Fred Blois’ book on the many incarnations of the boat entitled ‘Rainbow Coloured’. The story goes that he once asked Ken what colour the wiring was under the instrument panel and the answer, reputedly offered with some asperity, was to become the title of Fred’s book, but guess what – when the old wires were identified, period replacements sourced and assembled into a perfect copy of the original…

 

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They are rainbow coloured!

And here’s another little detail – I’m really catering for the anoraky disposition today.

When the inlets imploded in 66, possibly due to the mismatched tacho indictor and generator tricking the team into overrating the engine (though the resident Bristol Siddeley engineer, Mr Pearson, may well have seen and avoided this) they had to be chipped free of all that bodge and paint and sent off to be made stronger and in with that task was the added complication of the entire forward wiring harness running through the intakes since day-one and needing shifting. They could probably have un-wired everything at the pointy end and teased the bundle backwards but they didn’t – they chopped it in two then, with the inlets away being beefed up, they rewired it lower in the hull so as to keep it below the inlets making the final join with a length of choc-block connector affixed to a lump of wood.

 

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Now we never did discover exactly where it was mounted because it fell free of the mud and debris that came up with the left-hand cockpit wall but it was in there somewhere just forward of F-15, which as we all know by now is the back wall of the cockpit.

We have a chunk of the wiring forward of it with clear evidence that the ends had once been screwed into the choc-block then violently torn out so we can place it with fair accuracy because we know how long that wiring is and how it was routed so all Checkie had to do was see about putting it all back, but here’s the best part. In a joint effort between our resident museum conservator, Loubie-Lou, and Checkie, they mended the original, made it electrically sound and conserved the chunk of wood too.

 

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The only concession to the fierce maintenance of originality in the wiring dept. (apart from new wires, of course) is the addition of some fuses. Bluebird had none originally and with an extensively bodged 24v system it’s a miracle she didn’t go up in flames so Checkie has added these to his inventory of bits and bobs.

 

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A pair of period, Lucas fuse holders sneaked in under the start frame. They’ll be a nightmare to access once the boat is complete but that’s intentional so as not to spoil the original look.

The wiring is one of those things that will have to slowly grow into the boat so there’s still a fair amount to do. For example the juice can’t be supplied to the boost pumps, fire system or starter overspeed control until those parts are in the hull so we’ll just have to take it as it comes at us. Or, rather, Checkie will…

The schedule now is that we install all the systems while we can shove our grubby mitts through the sides of the boat before stripping it all out again, popping the boat back on the rollover jig to rivet on all the outer panels and the floors then the last act will be placing her back on the moving dolly for the final fit-out. But there’s one system that may be left in from now because it doesn’t really get in the way of anything we have left to do and that’s the steering.

It’s a simple enough setup. Up at the pointy end is a steering box of the worm-drive and quadrant-gear variety manufactured by Burman. We know they supplied the bits for two reasons. One is that they are listed as a sponsor in the 1954 launch pamphlet and there’s not really anything else on the boat that they could have made. The second is that the mounting points in parts we recovered from the lake match up perfectly with those of a Burman box of that era.

The original was lifted by Futch’s divers then lost to history. It is currently ‘whereabouts unknown’ and, though a few images exist, we’ve never pinned down exactly what model it was. It may even have been a special but it’s very similar to one from a Morris J-series van and, better still, the gear ratio for that box matches the figures scrawled by Ken on a sheet of graph paper so many moons since when calculating the steering loads. Mike turned up just such a box from somewhere and Barry Hares, or as he’s known these days, ‘Clever Barry’, rebuilt it for us. Better still, it just happens to fit onto the mounts provided. It’s uncanny… See in the pic’ below that piece of box section cut off at forty-five degrees at its top end that the steering box is attached to against the F-20 bulkhead? That’s an original part that bolts to an angle on the other side of the bulkhead, which is then fixed at both ends into the mounts for the front spar and that’s why we have it – it departed the accident trailing on the end of the gubbins carried away by the front spar.

 

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The drop-link on the left then connects to a short push-pull shaft back to a contrivance smack in the way of the driver’s left leg that converts a push to a pull and a pull to a push, if you get my drift. A sort of a horizontal seesaw arrangement designed by a Mr. Norris that we tried to build to his sizes in order to keep his gear ratios correct then cursed him fluently for several days until we discovered that, despite every instinct we possessed, it was in fact possible to build it and make it work to his design. He was a clever bugger!

We began with bits of wood and scraps of tin…

 

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Then we progressed to a modified Renault water pump – yes, we know it’s French, sorry, Donald.

 

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Then, once it all played the game, we built this beautiful thing…

 

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Machine work by Barry Hares, Fabrication by Mike and I might have thrown a weld or two onto it. It’s based on a single grainy photo of its predecessor coming out of the lake in the hands of divers plus the existing rivet pitches and bolt fixings on the frame tubes – it was a proper detective job working out what went where. Inside the cockpit it perfectly mimics what little of it you can actually see and what could be seen allowed us to further guess at how it was put together. Our only concession was that we made it extra-double bulletproof.

 

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There’s a cover to go over it, of course, but it’s a good as we could possibly make it. But you knew all of this.

Our next challenge was to get the push-pull-pull-push all the way to the blunt end about twenty feet backwards so as to get the rudder moving and that was yet another trip into the unknown.

The old steering shaft was shot through with holes and largely seized in its bearings by the time we began stripping the boat for real in 2006. It was sort of free when we recovered the wreck because, as we towed her up the lake suspended beneath the sealed lift-bags, she began to oscillate most uncomfortably until we sent Zaid over the side with a giant spanner to centre the rudder. It did the trick and she came quietly after that but a few years in storage and Rob had to spend several weeks extracting the old shaft.

 

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The bearings, on the other hand, along with many of the fittings were in remarkable condition so it followed that if we just had a new shaft made up we could simply slot it all together again, add a piece at the front where bits were missing and we’d be back in business.

 

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There next followed one of those drawn out detective jobs that consume many hours for which we receive no credit at all. The problem was that the shaft, which measured 15 thousandths of an inch less than an inch in diameter, defied all our efforts to identify what it was originally made from. Something had clearly been ground down into our steering shaft but no type of stock tube or pipe that we could find would match the inside diameter, the resultant wall thickness after grinding and the obviously very tough material it comprised. We sectioned a piece of the original that had been especially well preserved inside the left-hand cockpit wall…

 

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…and checked everything all over again. Many hours were spent poring over catalogues, old and new, and crawling in filthy-dirty corners of stockists’ warehouses with a digital Vernier until we discovered that it was a ridiculously obscure, imperial, cold-drawn, seamless hydraulic pipe that, as you have probably already surmised, wasn’t stocked by anyone in our quadrant of the galaxy. We sent for a couple of lengths from Alpha Centauri, but that was only part of the story. Next we had to get it down to a very precise diameter along its entire length with great accuracy and that’s where Green & Preece Grinding came to our aid.

http://www.green-preece-grinding.co.uk/default.asp

What we now needed was a process called ‘centreless grinding’ in which the workpiece isn’t held at either end but runs instead between a set of wheels rotating at different speeds, one of which is abrasive so that the diameter of a long piece of material may be gradually brought to size with a number of passes. It’s all a bit witchcrafty…

First-off I measured each bearing to see what sort of variation we had and to make a note of the smallest diameter we had to cater for. Every manufactured part has a tolerance, or a slight variation usually expressed as +/- and our bearings, though very accurate, were no exception. Most were bang-on the inch but we had two at 0.998” or two-(thou)sandths of an inch undersize. I called Green & Preece, spoke to the boss-man and explained who we were and what we hoped they could help us with and he agreed to help immediately but there was a problem.

We’d measured the original shaft and it was 15 thou’ undersize of the bearings, or 0.985” but that would normally be a very rattly fit in a bearing. I explained that the boat twisted and flexed and there was a possibility that the steering might nip up in extreme conditions without the requisite clearance but no – he wasn’t having this 15-thou undersize thing at any price. He’d give me 2-thou, take it or leave it, and our shaft would be ground to 0,998” whether we liked it or not. He was right, of course.

But that’s the size of two of my bearings, I argued, but it made not a hap’orth of difference and soon enough our gleaming new steering shafting arrived ground to absolute perfection. Now, considering that we got three, eight-feet lengths of centreless-ground hyd’ pipe, you’d imagine there’d be some detectable variation somewhere but, despite trying very hard to find anything different, it all measured 0.9980” from one end to the other. I was more than a little impressed!

We did have the small problem of the two bearings that measured size-for-size with the shafting but a quick spin up on the lathe and some lapping-paste later and they were sliding nicely and BFG lost no time in getting some steering parts thrown together.

 

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The linkage on the end is original. It was built with taper pins so Barry procured some replacements and using a little heat, he shrunk them into fresh holes drilled and taper-reamed to perfection.

Once set they get a tremendous hold and then, for that belt and braces confidence, the ends were peened with hammer and dolly to make sure they’re never getting out again.

 

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It’s a very nice repair of the original.

 

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Only the final fettling to do now – some bearings to true up and get running smoothly and the steering will be complete. Of course, as with any rebuild of anything, the time it takes to get 90% of the work done is about equal to the time you’re going to need to find the next 9%, which is how long it’s going to take to find the final 1% so at least a third is done.

Same goes for the hydraulic system. We got much of this in hand many years ago because we needed support from aerospace and, as an industry, it’s like a big, bubbling planet with a most unpredictable climate. One week you can get the help you need, the next the company has been sold to another aerospace giant or a redundancy package has come along causing all the old hands who’ve known how to set up your mechanically driven hydro- worzel sprocket with their eyes closed for the past thirty years to move to the Caribbean leaving behind only horribly clever youngsters who can design a communications satellite on their smartphones but who live a long time after 1954.

Bluebird’s hydraulic system is basically one of the control surface circuits spannered out of the Gnat and thrown into the boat complete.

How it works is this…

At the heart of the system is a radial piston pump made by Lockheed and driven by the engine gearbox that slurps in hydraulic oil then shoves it around a circuit at 3000psi. It lives its life in an unending contest with a thing called an accumulator because the problem is this. If you’re throwing your Gnat around the sky you need several jacks working to make control surfaces waggle hither and thither and this would normally need a lot of oil whizzing about, which in turn would need a big pump and all the associated weight. So, the fix is to store reservoirs of pressurised hyd’ oil in various places about the plane that can be drawn upon in moments of need and this is achieved, in the Gnat’s case, using a cylinder about the size of a large Thermos flask with a piston inside. On one side of the piston is high-pressure nitrogen and because gas is compressible it acts as a big spring that pushes the piston to the other end of the cylinder. But over there oil is being pushed just as hard the other way by the pump forcing the piston back again and further compressing the nitrogen. It’s no different to the tin of underarm slop you spray on of a morning so that by close of play in the office you don’t smell like a camel-rider’s jock-strap. Liquid in a cylinder with pressurised gas... Press the tit and out comes the liquid. Only difference being that there’s no piston dashing up and down your tin of Lynx.

That’s the basics of how the energy is stored but left unsupervised all we’d have is 3000psi oil pressure on one end and a pocket of terrified nitrogen cowering at the other so to keep it in check there’s a thing called a cut-in/cut-out damper and what happens is that having decided what oil pressure is needed to, for example, to shove an aileron about, you put gas at that pressure at one side of the piston then set the maximum oil pressure allowed into the other side to about the same so the piston sits in happy equilibrium. Then, when you push your lever to wing about the heavens, your aileron, instead of trying to gulp oil straight from the pump, sucks it from the accumulator instead with the gas helping it on its way to give your plane instant reactions, expanding the gas it goes with its pressure falling. Then, soon as that happens, a second valve opens allowing the accumulator to take a toot of 3000psi oil from the pump to replenish itself pushing the gas back into its corner ready for next time. Get the idea? Put an accumulator and cut-in/cut-out valve on each control surface and undercarriage leg and you can get away with a small pump pushing a relatively small oil volume in circles waiting for the accumulators to draw on the supply as needed.

So what do we have so far? Our pump spinning merrily keeping our accumulator topped off and any unused oil heading back to a header tank to be de-aerated, cooled and prepped for another spin on the merry-go-round... It now follows that if we tap our water-brake into the accumulator we can use the pressurised oil to shove the ram up and down but the forces are pretty big. At 150mph, which Bluebird could easily attain on her proving trials, should Ted extend the brake, there’d be something like three-quarters of a ton trying to rip the whole contrivance off the transom and when Donald was using it around 300mph the forces would be four times that! So the ram must be pushed plenty hard in either direction and this necessitates being able to deliver oil above or below the seals on the piston rod. To achieve this they added a ‘selector valve’ as used all over the Vulcan, which basically allows oil to go one way or another depending on the flick of a switch in the cockpit and this is where the system departs from the Gnat setup.

In the aircraft, if your engine packs up, you can still push and pull on rods and linkages and fly the plane. In fact, a great friend of mine flies 737s for a living and he can manually haul one of those about with no hydraulics should the need ever arise so a minuscule Gnat ought to be no problem. So, when the motor stops, the accumulators just bleed the pressure down, return the oil to the header tank and park the pistons at the empty, oil end.

But a fat lot of good that would be in the boat because there’s no manual means to shove the brake down and even if there was it would be too slow and beyond human strength. That’s where the Vulcan valve comes in because what it does is trap the pressurised oil in the accumulator to allow the brake to be extended with no engine and this is why we think the brake was uncommandedly extended when we lifted the wreck rather than through any attempt by Donald to get out of trouble – but maybe we’re wrong.

There were also many minor parts that must be persuaded back into life like a charging point for the nitrogen fill, a line-filter for the oil and various ancillary valves, not to mention every last connection, many of which we knew would leak when asked to hold back high pressure fluids after a half-century hiatus, but we were more than ready to persevere with it.

We tackled the parts of the system one at a time. Our pump was fished out of the bilges with a chunk of Orph’ gearbox still hanging off it. The magnesium gearbox was long gone but when it fizzed away the pump dropped into the mud beneath with its insides largely filled with oil so it was in pretty good nick, all things considered.

 

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We pulled it down and gave it a clean-up. There was some minor water staining inside that we gently polished off with Crocus cloth but that was about it. Our old allies, Kearsley Airways, gave us some spares that were not so good for flying but perfect for ground-running and we gave the pump a top to bottom rebuild.

 

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We got lucky in that none of the precision-ground pistons were marred by the water so it really was just a strip, clean and rebuild so far as the internals were concerned but the outer case where the pump met the engine was badly corroded.

 

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Kearsley generously donated a spare but that was for emergencies only. Instead, the corrosion was banished with a die-grinder…

 

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Much weld was then applied to recover the lost areas…

 

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Then a trip to the machine shop to have it all put to rights.

 

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After which we built it up and off it went off to Kearsley for a quick spin on the test rig to make sure it was delivering.

 

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One item ticked off the list, And still in its original paint too but there’s yet one more detail to add. You see, this is a Lockheed pump so it was bought off the shelf and had therefore to be properly mated to the engine. Then there’s a requirement of all such ancillaries that, should they seize in use, the drive to them will fail before the pump casing bursts and adds flammable oil to what is already a proper nuisance of a situation. To that end all such items have between them and the engine gearbox a sacrificial quill shaft with a waist either inside or outside to precipitate a safe failure in the event of the pump stopping and the engine carrying on. They are made of a ductile material with a heat-treatment to give them a durable shell so they won’t wear unduly but will snap readily if needed.

Next time someone asks me when the boat will be finished I might suggest they go and research a pump-drive quill first drawn in November 1958 then have it reproduced as a full aerospace-quality part in the present. That’ll send them off for a while.

 

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Next on our list was the cut-in/cut-out damper but that was a little more difficult as it was properly cruddy when we took custody and just would not come apart.

 

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We soon learned that this valve is actually still flying in a few aircraft types and so is supported to the point that we were given a bag of pretty good spares by you know who. Trouble was, there was just no way it was coming to bits so we sent it down to Barry with instruction that if he could make head nor tail of it and get it to bits would he please be kind enough to have a crack at getting it working.

The man is just extraordinary. Not only did he get it into this many parts, he then unfathomed and worked out what they all do and made up what we didn’t have…

 

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…he then built it back up again into one of these.

 

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What we were to discover once we put it to work some years later was that this valve not only functioned perfectly straight out of the box but that it also eerily matched the performance set out in a set of calculations scribbled next to a sketch of the water brake by Lew Norris. It was uncanny but equally undeniable.

So I thought I’d have a peek the adjusters, just out of curiosity, only to find that when I took the caps off they were both wire-locked in place – now why would Barry do that knowing that we’d have to set the unit up later? One adjuster sets the pressure at which oil is admitted to the accumulator whilst the other determines the upper limit where the supply is cut off again and both were locked off immovably.

I called Barry who, to my absolute amazement, explained that before he’d stripped the original valves he’d somehow measured the spring pressures then set the rebuilt unit up exactly as he’d found the old one. He’s just beyond belief! Essentially, what he did was to extract the essence of the trial and error put in by the 66 team from the corroded wreckage then transfer it directly to a newly rebuilt valve!

Here’s another part we sent him because it was beyond us, the selector valve.

 

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Those black rubber caps are to keep the weather off the solenoids because these valves typically hang around in Vulcan undercarriage bays but they were no match for three and a half decades on the bottom of a lake so the coils inside were shot. That was until Barry wound new ones and rebuilt the valve from top to bottom. Here it is being trial fitted to the boat in its rebuilt state.

 

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Now this is all very nice but for two things, One, we knew the system was going to take some working up and it lives in all sorts of inaccessible places on both sides of the boat and anything that spans the boat is a monumental pain in the bottom. Take for example the start system… when working on it you must constantly go from one side to the other which, now that we’ve put the front back on, is a distance of some twenty-five feet on foot. Yes, it gets wearisome.

The other issue with the hyd’ system is that it was just bound to leak oil all over the place and hyd’ fluid is the dog’s ‘nads at getting paint off anything it touches as well as being something we don’t want seeping into the crevices of our newly built machine at this stage for all sorts of reasons. So we elected to test it all remotely on a rig.

Rich first built it into the boat from the reference pictures we took in 2006 when it came out so as to get all the hoses and such the correct length using up to date fittings – we only just had enough info to do it but we got there…

 

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…then it went onto a rig built to replicate the boat’s frame tubes so everything could be mounted in its correct relative position.

 

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Yes, it looks like a total dog’s breakfast, but we understand it. I’ve stuck some numbers on so you can see what’s what.

  1. This is the original Gnat header tank lifted straight from XM691, complete with its original 1958 inspection sticker. OK, so it’s been cut into three pieces, had patches welded in and bits of Vulcan added but it’s essentially its old self and is now holding oil again without leaking.
  2. Our Vulcan selector valve set at a jaunty angle on the diagonal frame tube with Barry’s new coils.
  3. Cut-in/cut-out damper with original 1966 spring pressures inside.
  4. Our old faithful accumulator that worked beautifully to begin with having remained untouched for so many years but which finally killed its seals and needed some remedial care.
  5. The pump is driven by a 5hp, 3-phase motor so project veteran, Tony Dargavel, fitted it with this precision controller so we could precisely manage speed and torque as well as being able to shut it all down in a heartbeat as increasing pressures found the weak spots.
  6. 5hp, 3-phase electric motor. The hyd’ pump is on the end of that quill-shaft out of sight bolted to the back of that half-moon-shaped plate.
  7. The gas-side of the accumulator is filled from here and a gauge shows the pressure inside. This is one of the three gauges on the side of the boat visible through that small rectangular window. The gauge is original and was rebuilt by Barry Hares.
  8. The water brake ram, bolted to the bench and not quite plumbed in at this stage.

 

Rich poured some blood into its veins and we were off…

 

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As may be imagined we spent the first few sessions chasing down small leaks even without any pressure on the system and everything had to be drained and joints split to diagnose the trouble before buttoning up again and refilling. Then we slowly spun the pump and found a few more – same routine. But gradually we were able to up the pressures then add a little gas to that side to get the accumulator piston moving then up things a bit more until the oil began to get warm in the pipes.

Presumably the aircraft has some means of cooling its oil but the boat doesn’t, which is fine when you’re screaming, flat-out down the lake in January for only a minute or so but not so good for working the system back up to running order with the oil just getting hotter and hotter. Never mind, it always seemed to divest itself of a sizeable volume with some suddenness before the temp’ became a show-stopper until eventually we successfully trapped everything inside and the time came to try and make it move the ram and that meant that the selector valve was going to have to do its thing.

However, we’d been told in no uncertain terms by those who mended them for a living that the selector valve was an absolute illegitimate child to set up even in the proper shop where people go to work to set them up all day so we’d obtained the manual via our friends at Kearsley then sent that with the valve to Barry. You can guess the rest.

So, with the selector valve purring like a contented kitten, the final objective became the mending of the water brake ram. You see, it had been extended for thirty-four years into Coniston mud where its beautifully ground surface had been slowly eroded. Not to a great depth but enough that it would no longer run in an oil seal without leaking everywhere.

 

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The black portion of the ram was stuck in the clay; the rest was still bathed in oil. The fix is simple enough in principle, though fairly specialised in execution. The corroded surface is machined back to good metal then a pseudo-alloy of different grades of metal in molten form is literally sprayed like paint onto the surface until it’s built up and can be re-ground into a rebuilt shaft. In this case it’s EN25B.

 

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Smart work, eh?

The rest of the brake needed no more than a good clean up and a coat of paint. It’s just a big chunk of square bar with the middle bored out and a cap at either end. There’s an o-ring near the top of the ram where it widens into the piston and that has an anti-extrusion ring either side – you can see it in the top photo – and another o-ring seals the bottom where the ram comes through the end-cap.

We built it up, bled the air from the pipes and the ram then spun up the system to full pressure. The big moment – we flicked the switch and the water brake glided out smoothly. Fantastic! Then it went BANG! And we all got showered with oil. Its problem lay in its somewhat crude design. Instead of sealing the end-caps to the main body of the ram with proper o-rings they hacked a pair of gaskets out of the old asbestos material, slathered them with red Hermetite then spannered them down. We’d made up new gaskets using up to date materials but they were blowing out and a small pile of shattered gaskets was beginning to form on the bench. For all we know, this problem may have plagued the 66/67 team too because the brake wasn’t exactly given a lot of development time but as a control to our experimenting we put the original gaskets back and guess what… The damn thing stayed tight no matter what we threw at it!

 

 

This clip actually shows an earlier test with low pressure and a gasket that soon exploded but believe me when I say that the 50 year-old asbestos jobs we jammed back in there took all the punishment we could dish up.

However, in the interests of reliability we have decided on some subtle and unseen mod’s – namely the addition of a proper seal to the bottom cap. Had the boat survived it’s likely they’d have done this anyway. The top will have to stay with a gasket due to the bolt spacings being off-centre and a machining error from back in the day that precludes the fitting of an o-ring but that end isn’t so hard to seal. There’s little doubt that the slightest hint of an oil slick on the lake will have the ‘Save The Swan’ brigade whining at us.

Oh, and while on the subject of swans, I had a crazy encounter a few weeks ago. On returning home in the dark one night I spotted a plump and vey silky fox mooching around. They’re beautiful animals, especially when you see one in good condition, but they’re also evil and must die before they kill my chickens. So with that in mind I went into the back garden and made sure all my fox defences were set and ready for action.

Next morning I knew at once that something bad had happened. When threatened, chickens bravely push the largest of their number, a cockerel if they have one, which mine don’t at the moment so they elected a fat, lesbian hen instead, then stand in line behind it. The turkeys, which are each the size of a small cow but can safely lay claim to the being the most stupid of God’s creations, though they could still probably beat a fox to death, then stand even further away. The line thus formed then points in the direction of the threat, which in this case seemed to be a popular point of entry for foxes and so is beset with snares.

On went my boots and big gloves and I selected a fox-sized knocking stick to go deal with the pocket-sized horror. Off I went down the garden and began fighting my way through the trees to where the snares are with a line of agitated chickens clucking me on, but to my surprise there was no fox. Odd, thought I… that was until the most massive swan I have ever seen in my life shoved its face into mine from the other direction and hissed furiously. To say I near pooed my pants would be an understatement!

It’s not that I’m in the least frightened of swans – after all they’re just big ducks with standard-issue rubber faces and all that silly nonsense about them breaking your arms and legs is just that – I just did not in a million years expect to meet a swan. It stood over five feet tall and had, as near as I was later able to gauge, an eight-foot wingspan. It was also frightened and distressed. How it had got there remains a mystery because the garden is surrounded by tall trees so there’s no way it made a controlled landing. It was a very foggy morning so it must have crashed.

Having briefly wondered what swan tasted like and considered the practicalities of adding it to my flock I then had a go at chivvying it out of the trees but single-handedly there was nothing I could do with it so I left it until the kids got home from school. That evening the new dog peered through the patio doors from behind the kitchen island barking madly while my two small helpers and I jostled and manhandled the monster out of the garden. I’ve taught the kids from an early age that swans are harmless so with one using a fleece blanket as a matador’s cape and the other hanging from a wingtip we wrestled the beast out of the garden before marching it through the village to the local pond. My granny made me something of a Val Doonican fan by playing his records to me when I was a kid so as we jostled our swan I sang what seemed an appropriate song much to the kids’ joy.

 

It was dark by the time we returned covered in mud and tired out.

As an old diving pal of mine used to say when something had gone horribly wrong,

‘What an adventure!’

And speaking of things that went horribly wrong, it’s about a year since our little Barra’ project was killed off by museum politics. By the time the fuselage scrap was delivered then hurriedly snaffled back down south we really had the measure of working that stuff and we knew with absolute certainty that it would take us no more than twelve months to have the rear fuselage built on the jig and about ready to begin fastening all the sections together so that’s about where we thought they’d be with it – give or take a few months to get up to speed. But alas they don’t seem to have done anything at all. There are a few bits that have been cleaned up and painted, which is odd because that’s the exact opposite of what we were asked to do. In fact, we wanted to put the tail in its wartime camouflage colours and were told there was no time or budget for such frivolity and that we were best employed straightening as much plane as possible in the least amount of time. It’s a real shame they cancelled that project but hey-ho, what can we do?

If only it was a case of just moving metal… and there’s still some politics waiting at the other end of the Bluebird Project too. We can’t go commandeering farmers’ fields for parking or deciding which roads need to be closed or just plonk Portaloos all over Coniston. All of that stuff will have to be sorted by the people on the ground over there so there’s always the danger that the two halves of the project will get out of mesh. Imagine if we were about finished and the question of who was going to check the toilet rolls in the Portaloos wasn’t answered yet… We could conceivably find ourselves getting ahead of the reception committee for the proving trials. It wouldn’t be too much of a problem from our side because there’s lots of detail work on the boat we could revisit while they finalised their plans but the ‘when’ brigade would have a fit and it wouldn’t be our fault so I hope it all clicks together smoothly.

In the meantime, we’re about ready to have the engine back out to complete the build on the fuel system – some hoses and fittings to go in there yet – and after that we’ll get looking at some engine tests. It’s not just about making a lot of noise, many of the systems the engine needs to live and breathe came out of the lake. The whole fuel system, the lube system, hydraulics, tacho generator, engine inlet, thermocouples, hyd’ pump, LP boost pumps, LP and HP fuel cocks, start system – the list goes on. All those bits and bobs in support of a spinning compressor and turbine so it’s more like testing all of those in concert than testing simply an engine and it’s one of those things that would benefit from the luxury of some extra time. After all, we don’t want any breakdowns during the proving trials and we want to feel totally confident with the reliability of our machine and our ability to handle and operate it so if the Portaloos aren’t sorted we’ll put in a few extra tests just for good measure – we’ll see. So, until the next point of interest, keep tuning in.

 

 

PS I discovered that when rugbyists score a goal it’s actually called a try. Considering the superhuman effort expended in deliberately falling over then getting up again the very least they could call the successful completion of their end game is a ‘Yay! We ‘kin did it!’ not a ‘try’!