REFLECTIONS ON STATIC AIRCRAFT RESTORATION
Chapter 1 - Starting Out
I suppose it is easy in retrospect to say if I had known then what I know now I would never have started on WF922, but in a way that would be true of all restoration projects. You must be prepared for a good deal of unknown circumstances and setbacks to occur. Of course, this would equally apply to the restoration of any aged artefact whether itís a steam roller or an aircraft. What has to be borne in mind during the initial assessment phase is that such setbacks will inevitably occur, you must be prepared for them to happen and not get despondent when they do. Balanced against that of course is the "pleasant surprise syndrome" that happens equally out of the blue when things go decidedly well for you when you least expect it.
Before committing to a particular project, and now I am talking purely about aircraft, an initial assessment is the single most important step to take. In light of this I'll spend a little time in walking you around a project such as WF922 and try to impart the aspects of my assessment that made me confident enough to commit myself to starting a two year work load.
Some of what I write will be purely common sense, other parts, well, not all people will agree with, and some parts will be personnel preference statements.
First and foremost choose your project location carefully. Donít choose the location purely based on the aircraft of your dreams, the chances of anyone letting you loose on restoring a Spitfire are, letís say, remote. Choose a location that is within easy reach and if that doesnít exist I would seriously say look to fulfilling your ambitions on a project that you can keep in the garage Ė a cockpit maybe or a pilotís instrument panel. I emphasis this point because if, during the project, you can use the excuse to yourself that it is too far away, or the weather is too bad, or there is a traffic problem, then you will use it, especially if you are in a difficult or trying part of the restoration.
Visit the location as a visitor a few times preferably in the winter or when its cold and raining. See how you are treated, gauge the friendliness of the staff and the other volunteers, if they are a happy bunch then chances are that things behind the scenes are OK as well. If not well, keep looking.
Assuming you have found a suitable location, as I did, hang around where the action is. Express an interest in learning more about the goals of the museum or society. Get someone at grass roots level to talk to you and piece together in your own mind as to whether you think you would fit in. All of this is much more important than the project itself because if you get it wrong you will waste a lot of your time and theirs.
OK so you like the environment and the travelling you can cope with. Now comes the crunch time, what skills and level of commitment can you make available to them. Everyone of course will have a different set of circumstances and financial restraints. Sit down and compose a list (or even a CV) of what you have done that you consider would be of interest to them. Remember that as a new volunteer unless you have recent (or current) aircraft training and experience it is very unlikely that you will be given the project of your dreams straight away. You will have to earn that right and organisations will soon judge you by what you do and not what you say you can do.
Sorry but if you find yourself week-after-week sitting on a lawn mower, take the hint and take up knitting