The first day of August saw the biggest working party the BPAG has assembled so far recommencing work on our F-4J(UK), ZE360. The weather promised to be clear and sunny and didn’t disappoint.
First surprise of the day was discovering that the RAF crew from Manston had moved the remnants of a Canberra which was previously just behind ZE360 and cut all the long grass from around and behind the aircraft. This saved us several hours work. Our aims for the weekend were the removal of both outer wings, the fuselage tailcone, replacing the deflated RH mainwheel and progressing access to the internal structure, which needs to be removed to separate wing and fuselage.
One of the major challenges of this project is the fact that the aircraft has stood outside, fairly close to the sea for nearly 30 years, which means that almost every single part is corroded and stuck- fasteners, panels, connections and hinges. For example, it took a couple of hours of concerted effort to remove the RH outer wing as it involved lowering the leading edge flap to gain access and removing the hinge pin (using the hinge pin puller kindly loaned to us by the Ulster Aviation Society- many thanks to them for helping us out). The process was also complicated by the fact we can't get hydraulic pressure on to lower the flap. The successful removal of the first wing gave a big boost to the team, who by now had an increasingly hot day to contend with. The LH outer wing, which presented some additional challenges to the RH one, came off relatively easily despite the corrosion on the hinge pin. Both outer wings off is a major milestone in the project.
While these tasks were going on, team members were tackling several other jobs around the aircraft. Panel removal is a tedious, unloved but vital task and is made exceptionally difficult owing to the aforementioned corrosion issues. We estimate that around 75% of all the screws have had to be drilled out in the panels we have removed so far, although in the worst cases the only option has been to cut the panels away (corrosion would have meant replacement anyway, so no loss).
Underneath the aircraft, the team continued panel removals and stripped out a bay containing one of the hydraulic reservoirs and subsequently removed the reservoir itself and a lengthy process of jacking and trestles had the RH side raised enough to lift the landing gear out of the hole to allow the replacement of the deflated wheel.
Transportation restrictions mean that the stabilator has to be removed, a process which firstly means removal of the tailcone. Once again, many screws to drill out, some in the most inaccessible positions and all achieved under the full glare of the sun while perched on a stainless steel surface that you could have cooked eggs on…however, a combination of the stoicism of our volunteers and some professional head scratching meant that it was eventually off and on the floor.
Finally, Sunday saw us visited by two of the remaining RAF personnel from Manston. This included the base commander himself, as he is taking a personal interest in the project and reiterated his continued support and encouragement. Our thanks go out to all the staff from Manston, for their help and assistance. Our appreciation and thanks and appreciation also go out to all our volunteers for all their hard work over the weekend.