Canberra PR.3 WF922 at Midland Aviation Museum - Update January 2004
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A quick walk around the Midland Aviation Museum (MAM) on my first visit to gauge the quality of the exhibits and the state of preservation revealed that like all institutions of this type corrosion and work to be done far outweighed the availability of volunteers to carry out the necessary work. With this in mind I volunteered my services to work on their neglected but almost complete Canberra PR.3, an airframe that is pretty rare in the UK preservation scene and one that had not seen any attention for a number of years. MAM's Canberra struck me as being within my resources and knowledge base to allow me to happily tackle most aspects on a single handed basis. After all, when in the RAF, I had done first, second and third line servicing on the type on 58 Sqn - and WF922 had been on 58Sqn as well. Although I was trained as an electrical tradesman, you tend to pick up a smattering other, associated trades, knowledge through having to help others, and I was going to have to call on that if I was to be of any use to the museum.
I began to prioritise my approach to the outstanding work and although it was January there was obviously going to be a great deal of outside anti-corrosive treatment to be completed before contemplating any cosmetic or internal restoration. My thinking all the time being that WF922 is one of only two complete Canberra PR.3s airframes which are viewable to the public, the other being WE139 at the RAF Museum, Hendon (the famous London/New Zealand Air Race winner).
Firstly both U/C bays and wheels had to wire brushed and inspected for any obvious structural defects. This involved a great deal of time as magnesium alloy delaminates and creates dust when removed, having to wear hard hat and mask didn’t exactly help but was necessary. Having only access to the visible corrosion might prove to be a future problem but the job was completed after about two weeks hard labour. No major defects were found and the exposed corrosion was treated and re-sprayed.
All the while this was going on I was assessing other parts of the airframe and liberally spraying WD40 on other items that I knew would at some time have to be worked on. Tyres were inspected and whilst surface cracks were apparent there was nothing to be unduly concerned about and then they were inflated to about 60 psi. The only U/C part that has had to be condemned was the attachment of the nose door jacks to the nose doors where the attachments had corroded completely away. This will be tackled at some future date. A replacement hydraulic hand pump was fitted as this was an obvious omission from the cockpit for any Canberra man who has had to pump up the brake pressure.
When WF922 was reassembled after its move to the museum from Marshalls of Cambridge a lot of the panel fitting and pipe reconnecting wasn’t done. That which was done was only held in place by a screw or two which was a blessing in disguise really as it means there will probably less to drill out should the need arise to gain access again. The thinking being I presume was that as it’s only a static exhibit it doesn’t matter. Anyway I hate to see either plugs (except fire extinguisher ones) or hoses disconnected so I spent some time going around the U/C bay refitting what I could. There are some fittings of course that were cut off or mutilated either at disassembly or reassembly, these have been noted and should time permit they will be tackled. Generally speaking though, except for fuel lines, it looks a bit more workmanlike underneath now. But I did draw the line at wire locking all the joints, so they are just tight and no more.
The undercarriage "D" door mechanisms were a real problem as most of the pivots had rusted solid and each swivel took hours to loosen up, disassemble and reassemble. I realise now that I should have paid more attention to what the riggers were doing rather than playing darts in the crewroom. I could do with the services of a good knowledgeable rigger experienced on Canberra’s to fill in my knowledge base as it would be nice to think that perhaps one day we could get the hydraulics squeaking again.
The aircraft was obviously still being worked on at Marshalls when the disposal order came through as several pieces of the aircraft were missing or loose that would have had nothing to do with its dis/re-assembly. Junction boxes, pipes parts of the bomb bay mechanism etc. All of these are noted and are on the to-do list.
Because the aircraft is open to the public it is important to remember that you can’t have the cockpit in pieces at the weekend with panels missing so work has to be scheduled around that criteria. With those constraints in mind a cleanup of the cockpit area was undertaken with a survey of all loose, missing and wrongly located parts noted. Cockpit work was only undertaken on wet days when it was impracticable to work outside. I soon realised that the instrument panels had been filled up on a “lets fill the gap basis” by some well meaning previous volunteer and although it looks impressive it isn’t how it should be, and all of the pilots panels pitot/static pipes had been removed as had most of the wiring. So the pilot’s main panel is having to wait a bit for its restoration. The fuel panel is complete, except for the RPM indicators, partially wired but even if power is applied other than the generator lights nothing else will indicate anyway.
Another problem now began to emerge in that it was becoming increasingly difficult to decide what was original, what was fitted as a result of a modification or a trials installation or what was fitted by previous museum helpers. No photos exist of course and as the aircraft had several trials “owners” some stance has to be taken as to how to present the cockpit area. I am still in debate with myself over this and will review it when the time comes round to refurbish the pilot's panel.
The navigator's position isn’t quite so confusing as it is fairly complete, with the Mk4 GPI and Green Satin indicators being in place, the correct ADF installation (although the Bowden cable drive needs freeing), but the only thing I am not sure about is the Zero Reader Control unit on the Nav's fwd console, there are no matching plugs on the rear of the panel and I suspect it was a hole filler. As I do not know what else to look for as part of the Zero Reader installation it will have to stay where it is for the time being. More mundanely most of the time after de-corrosion in the Nav's area was complete was the painfully long time it took to reinstall the angle-poise lights.
So the Nav's area looks the business now with painted floor, new seat cushion, lights that I hope in the future will burn brightly to illuminate the area. Not many Navs on a sortie had all the angle-poise lights working I can assure you, just ask them, most took torches. Some more work to be done on the ejection seat and harness, but that is purely cosmetic
Attention was now focused on the Pilot’s stbd panel. This was almost complete and despite the fact that someone had taken the panel plugs apart was, with the replacement of a broken brake hydraulic gauge, ready to be re-installed. Trial fit installations again prove a problem as I am able to rewire the main panel plugs and refit to their aircraft mates OK, but then I am left with a loom of wires of the orange Nivyn variety that have been cut off and a pair of radio altimeter switches on the panel that are unwired. I might make sense of that a bit later as I can see no radio altimeter indicator or boxes.
Further investigation solved this problem, the wires were actually the pump/cock wiring and belonged behind the fuel panel. I did reconnect the hydraulic gauges but left the oxygen contents gauges disconnected for the time being as I am sure that I will have the panel out again shortly. Now there are fuses in the main distribution panel for an ARC52 (controller is located on the stbd console) and a PTR175, but I cannot locate the space for the controller, or its easily distinguishable plug and loom, and the lower VHF aerial isn’t there, could this have been a UHF only aircraft (but I doubt it).
Now we come to the interesting port console. Someone had made a respectable panel to fit to the rear of the throttles but unfortunately this was completely bare. So where were the rudder and aileron trim, lighting, bomb bay switches etc. My guess is that it was removed at Marshalls and remained there. However a panel of similar vintage was discovered hiding up in the rear hatch, but my guess is that this is from a B(I)8 (due to one switch being marked “gunsight”). As this panel contains all the required missing controls it was fitted using a portion of the new blank panel as a fill in. It looks authentic and although it is devoid of wiring at the moment certainly gives the feel of things being in the right place. I am reluctant to put too much effort in to the re-wire just in case I can get hold of a more fitting panel.
Some effort has been made to remove the mildew and bird droppings from the topside of the wings, but it is a large area to wire brush, liberal spreading of oil on the rusted aileron cover hinge panels may not look attractive from the top but there again not many people get to see it and the advantage is that it will eventually work its way through the structure and hopefully do some good on the way.
Unfortunately on the subject of topside the top hatch is solid and the handle is disconnected from the opening mechanism shoot bolts. This is going to mean some butchery on the top hatch, luckily I have a spare one complete with working handle (if only someone had put a drop of oil on it all those years ago). The problem here is the replacement hatch wasn’t designed to take the DF loop with the die-electric insert, but I will cross that bridge when I can get in to the hatch and somehow make one good one out of the two. Inside incidentally are some concrete blocks to keep the C of G forward a bit to stop it residing on its tail when the snow piles up on the tail plane. Which has happened.
As work progresses everyone at the Museum is being very encouraging in their comments. Although it is a single handed exercise, with always more to do than you can possibly manage, you get a great feeling of achievement driving home after a day wielding a wire brush. A feeling that you are helping sustain our dwindling old aircraft fleet and that perhaps my work now will make someone in the future keep the aircraft as a whole structure instead of cockpitising it (my own new word).