Right now life is the sugarhouse – this weekend I shut down at three o’clock
Sunday morning and started in again as soon as I woke up from a short sleep, then shut down again in time to tuck the boys in and get them ready for school on Monday. Doesn’t leave a lot of time for blog posting.
The other week, I had a lull when the weather got cold and I took the time to visit Rutland and Bennington. Bennington will be another post (it’s where I used to fly commercially and teach flight instruction). Rutland is where I go for my aircraft maintenance and to work on my L2-M aircraft restoration. This is the blog’s first introduction to my historic airplane but won’t be the last you hear of it.
In 1991 I purchased pieces of an airplane from a guy in Mattituk, on Long Island. It was a 1943 Taylorcraft L2-M that was used during World War II for liaison and training duties. At the time, I needed to replace my Cessna 140. I thought the L2-M was a rare and interesting aircraft and I wanted a “tube and fabric” airplane. I found it through the Trade-a-Plane magazine. I drove out to Long Island, hauled the pieces back to Vermont on a boat trailer, patched the aircraft together, and instructed in it for three years before the purchase of my current Cessna 170. Since 1994 I’ve been in the slow process of restoring the L2-M back to its original condition.
Besides almost 70 years of wear and tear, the aircraft was “civilianized” in 1946, which involved tearing out military components like the greenhouse canopy, swivel rear seat, wing spoilers, mapping desk, and a long list of other little things. To reverse this old deconstruction, I stripped the airplane down to bare bones and am now reassembling it using copies of the original drawings. I got these drawings through the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC; I ordered them on microfilm and had to go to a local library to make copies. Four years ago the Taylorcraft Association made these drawings available on disks, which makes the job of searching for particular drawings a lot easier.
In addition to finding the original drawings I also have to find the parts that go with them. Organizations like the Taylorcraft Foundation, International Liaison Pilots’ Association, Experimental Aircraft Association and Google have been my biggest resources. Through the Taylorcraft group, I connected with a hobbyist in Ohio who is a Taylorcraft guru. He has kept track of 250 Taylorcraft war birds and helped in the restoration of over 75 of them. He’s been a huge help in answering volumes of my questions. When I first called him I said “I have a question about an L2-M restoration.” There was a long pause and then he said “Hmm, only one?”
Some of the parts I make myself. For example, for the last six months I’ve been working on the Plexiglas “greenhouse” of the plane. As you sit in the cockpit you can look behind you, above you, on either side and in front of you and be surrounded by Plexiglas. We had to build up the aluminum framing then fit the plastic to the framing. The Plexiglas comes in big sheets and then you bend the sheets around the frame with a whole series of clamps and hanging weights. You get it as close as you can to fitting the frame, then you cut it out and rivet or screw the plexi to the frame. Putting up the greenhouse also entails mounting the wings to get the proper placement for the glass, and that placement needs to be done before you can start the general recovering of the airplane fuselage.
It is very slow and particular work that I really enjoy doing. I admit that it would go faster if I could get down to Rutland more than a few times a month.
My plane lives with S.D. Air Service at the Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport. The business’ owner, Scott Draper, is my mechanic and friend who has been fixing airplanes for over 25 years. He makes space available for me in his shop and has loads of technical advice and experience with rebuilding old airplanes.
I have no idea how long the L2-M project is going to take to finish. I hope to have it done in 5 years and I’ve been saying that for the last 10. My dream is to give instruction and scenic rides in the fully restored airplane. Plus, I’m logging all of the time that I spend restoring this airplane in order to someday earn my aircraft mechanic’s rating. That rating will allow me to legally do maintenance on my own airplane and inspections on others. Right now I can certify people for flying, but can’t do maintenance on their planes.
In the meantime, I’ll be able to start flying my Cessna as soon as the runway dries out. Right now it’s still got snow, but it’s too soft to plow, and mud is everywhere else. As I spend the hours in the sugarhouse waiting, I’m thinking about flying and spending more time in Rutland. Get ready to hear more about planes once the sugaring is done (and before the haying starts!)
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