Recovery of Fokker F.27 Friendship VH-WAN

Report by David Beazley

 

 

(All images are linked to larger versions)

 

In August 2008 the Queensland Air Museum acquired Fokker F.27 Mk 400 Friendship VH-WAN c/n 10315. It was located at Tamworth, NSW and during October 2008 it was dismantled and transported to the museum at Caloundra, QLD. This report will give you an insight into the twelve days that it took to achieve the task.


Preparation

The Friendship is the largest aircraft in the Queensland Air Museum's collection to date and was situated a distance of over 700km from the museum, so the major problems we faced were the cost of transporting it and the manpower required to break the airframe down.

The cost of transporting the Friendship back to Caloundra was crucial to the economic viability of the purchase of the aircraft. Team member Wayne Bryan was able to secure a good price with a Brisbane trucking company, Russell Transport, to provide the extendable trailer (23.5m) that was needed to move the fuselage. This load, due to its oversize length, would also require a road pilot escort to accompany it. Additional semi-trailer loads would be required to carry the wings and tail components. Some additional transport capacity would be provided by QAM's own truck which would be towing a trailer normally occupied by the museum's de Havilland Sea Vixen nose section.

There were only three QAM members available to travel to Tamworth for this recovery, so it was critical that a number of local volunteers needed to be recruited. The solution to finding these people revolved around the fact that Tamworth is my home town, where I still have family, and that it was also the home of the defunct East-West Airlines. The airline was a major Fokker F.27 operator, in fact when I began my apprenticeship with the airline in the early 1980s it was an entirely Friendship operation. I knew that there were many retired maintenance engineers still residing in the area, all extremely familiar with Fokkers. All we needed to do is locate them and convince them to help out!

In the weeks leading up to our arrival a number of press releases were sent to the Northern Daily Leader newspaper and Prime TV in Tamworth, with the aim to outline our task and our need of assistance. As a result the city embraced our quest to save this important aircraft and I was contacted by a number of former East-West Airlines maintenance engineers. These along with local friends and relatives ensured we had a core group of workers to undertake the project. Another planning consideration was airside access to the airport site. Tamworth Airport is an RPT operation and the site of the British Aerospace/ RAAF Basic Flying Training School and accordingly there are strict security measures in place. This required me, as team leader, to apply for an Airport Security Identity Card which allowed me to issue the rest of our team with visitor passes.

In an effort to keep the expenses to a minimum I arranged for the QAM members, while in Tamworth, to be accommodated at Brian Beazley's home (my brother), which is located only a few kilometres from the airport.

With all these points addressed the recovery could now begin.

Monday 20th Oct 2008

The trip to Tamworth along the New England Highway is 600km from Brisbane and 700km from Caloundra. I travelled the distance in my car towing a trailer containing compressor, generator, ladders, tent, table, BBQ and my personal tools. I would be setting up the work site, organising the local volunteers and liaising with the local media and airport management in preparation for the start of the work.

On arrival I met up with Denis Beazley (my father) and proceeded to the airport to meet with the Airport Manager. We organised the security arrangements for access to the aircraft through the gate next to the Shell fuel farm and were issued with enough visitor passes for all of the team.

The aircraft was sitting in a clear area adjacent to the taxiway to runway 30R. It is in good condition and is externally complete except for the missing engines and props. There was evidence that a number of birds had taken up residence inside the wing and tail openings. There were four work platforms in good order standing next to the aircraft, which we will be able to put to good use. As we anticipated there was no water or power sources nearby, so we needed to bring everything to the site, with a portable generator providing electrical power.

The first job to be carried out was to mow the long grass under and around the aircraft using a couple of push mowers. The stands were moved into position around the aircraft and we unloaded our equipment out of the trailer and set up camp. A Northern Daily Leader newspaper reporter and photographer arrived to record our arrival and are keen to follow our progress.

Tuesday 21st Oct 2008

A story was published in the Northern Daily Leader announcing our arrival in Tamworth. I visited Sigma Aerospace, from whom QAM had purchased the Friendship, to arrange the return of the wheels fitted on the aircraft, which was part of the sale agreement. Sigma is kindly donating an unserviceable nose wheel and 2 mains, which were previously fitted to this aircraft, as replacements. I also met with Kevin Gardiner (an ex EWA engineer) who is one of our local volunteers, he has a vast knowledge of F.27s and still has maintenance manuals for reference. A number of phone calls were made to organise some of the other Tamworth volunteers to meet at the aircraft for a start tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 22nd Oct 2008

Day one of work on the disassembly of the aircraft began at 8am. The number of volunteers working each day will vary and we started with Denis Beazley, Devon Drew (EWA), George Briley (EWA) and myself. The first items to be removed were the engine cowls, undercarriage doors, tail access panels and wing/fuselage panels. Our first glitch occurred when we started the generator to boil the jug for morning tea only to find it wasn't outputting any power. Thankfully we had enough thermos' for tea and coffee however we would be limited to speed braces and battery powered tools today.

Prime TV reporter Kimberley Hardcastle arrived for a story for tonight's news, it comes to light that she has more than a working interest in the Friendship as her father was a Flight Attendant on EWA F.27s based in Tamworth. The story not only gave us local exposure but it was also aired on Channel 7 TV on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Unfortunately, as a result of our exposed position, high winds and storms brewing in the area forced us to quit work at midday. I used this down time in the afternoon to visit Aldridge's Cranes to discuss our lifting requirements for next week.

Thursday 23rd Oct 2008

Weather has turned quite cold, especially for a Queenslander! There were unseasonal snow falls further south in NSW and the southerly winds were gusting quite strongly. Terry Archer and Brian Beazley joined the rest of us today, we started by removing the outer wing inboard fuel / access panels, thankfully all the fuel had been removed from the tanks since its last engine run in 2004. We discovered that these panels did not in fact need to be removed to access the outer wing attach screws, as they are located in the dry area above the undercarriage bay. This was an unexpected bonus as we will not have to carry out the time consuming job of scraping away the fuel tank sealant to expose the nuts. The remainder of the wing/fuse panels were removed and inside the cabin, some loose floor panels were screwed down and the ceiling trim removal from around the wing attach points was started.

We arranged for the Airport Safety Officer to bring over a couple of old EWA F.27 wing docks we located abandoned nearby. The availability of all these stands has made our job much easier and was totally unexpected. With our isolated location and as a gesture of thanks to the volunteers I am providing a BBQ lunch and drinks for the duration of the job, and as the weather is cool today a hot lunch was much appreciated by all. I have made arrangements to borrow a replacement generator from Ian Duprez (my brother-in-law) as we now need to use the air compressor and other power tools.

Friday 24th Oct 2008

The weather has now started to warm up and we have seven people working today. Gary MacMillan (EWA) and Ben Lucas are new starters and they began working on the centre wing removal. Gary worked on top of the fuselage disconnecting the plumbing at the front of the wing and unbolted the three carry through stringers in the same area. Ben worked inside the cabin finishing the removal of the remaining trim and the removal of the double row of rivets that join the fuselage sides to the wing lower surface. George removed the ailerons and started on the inner and outer flap removal. Devon removed the plumbing and electrical connections in the tail.

Terry and I investigated why the main passenger door could not be opened. The aircraft had been parked at Tamworth since 2001 and although regular engine runs were carried out for the next three years we suspect that all entry was made through the front crew door and that the passenger door hasn't been opened in this time. This lack of use saw a couple of the locking pins become seized in their bushes. We had to remove the door trim and un-bolt one of the pin assemblies and freed up a couple of others to allow the door to be opened. This access would be needed to load the cabin with as many of the removed components as possible. Luckily the aircraft ended its operational life as a freighter which allowed us to load the entire cabin area. Unluckily of course we now have to source all the passenger seats to return it to its original passenger configuration!

Saturday 25th Oct 2008

Kevin Gardener, Ian Dupez and Geoff Eastman join us making a total of eight volunteers for today. We removed the elevators from the aircraft and continued preparations for the inner and outer flap removal. The outer wing removal preparations began, which involved removing the two outer rows of screws and bolts in the attach straps located just outboard of the engine nacelles. As mentioned previously, the nuts for these screws are inside the wing dry bay and are accessed through a panel located at the top of the undercarriage bay. It requires a person to stand on top of the undercarriage lock strut with his upper body wedged up inside the hole. It was Denis, Brian, Geoff, Ian and I that carried out this task under trying conditions with the outside temperatures now an extremely hot 33C. With the sun beating down on the wing top skin only a couple of inches above our heads and minimal air circulation the bay is not unlike a sauna. Working in short shifts inside the "hell hole" and drinking copious quantities of water, the removal of over 400 screws and bolts would take three days to complete.

QAM members Wayne Bryan and Fred Muller arrived in the afternoon in the QAM truck carrying the remainder of our equipment, including more ladders and scaffolding. The crane on the tray of the truck will be used to help remove the flaps tomorrow morning.

Sunday 26th Oct 2008

This day was to be the largest turn out of volunteers with nine on the job today. The weather is getting hotter every day, with it now reaching the mid 30s. The inner and outer flaps were removed from their tracks. Ben continued with the centre wing preparations and Denis, Brian and Geoff were still removing those outer wing screws. Antennas were removed from the fuselage belly as it will need to be rested on tyres for the centre wing removal. Wayne manufactured four timber transport cradles that will be used to support the fuselage when it is loaded onto the semi-trailer.

All the centre wing, fin and horizontal stabiliser attach bolts are now loose ready for removal. It must be said at this point that we are lucky that the aircraft is in excellent condition internally with no corrosion evident. Except for that passenger door pin we have not encountered any seized bolts and there were only a minimal number of screws with damaged heads that needed to be drilled out for removal of the access panels.

Monday 27th Oct 2008

I gave all the Tamworth volunteers the day off to recover from the last few days in the heat. Wayne and I removed the final screws from the outer wings leaving only two of the 5/16" screws loose through the upper strap to support the wings. The aircraft is now almost ready for the complete disassembly and I booked the crane for tomorrow morning.

The centre wing still needed more work. The attachment to the fuselage, according to the maintenance manual, is semi-permanent. It has four large bolts through straps on the outside and four on the inside of the cabin, three carry through stringers, rivets along each sides and many more rows of rivets through doubler straps on top of the fuselage forward and aft of the wing. In the interest of time constraints and the fact that the aircraft is now permanently grounded, we opted to cut the fuselage skin rather than removing all the rivets in the doublers. We made two thin cuts across the top of the fuselage skin, one forward and one aft of the wing. The wire harnesses running from the fuselage through the wing were also severed and the rear carry through stringers un-bolted.

Fred and Wayne sourced all the old car and truck tyres we will need for the loading and packing and they hired a nail gun to finish off the trestles. They also approached a Tamworth trucking company, Parry Logistics, and secured a good price on the two semi-trailers that will be needed to carry the wings and tail. We also picked up the three wheels from Sigma Aerospace and, as a result of the media publicity; we chased up a lead on a large cache of F.27 parts stored in the Tamworth Aero Club hangar.

Tuesday 28th Oct 2008

This is the day when it becomes apparent how important all the previous days of preparation are to ensure all the sections come apart easily, thus minimizing the time required for the crane (and the all important costs). Denis, Wayne, Fred, Ben, Terry, Brian, Gary and I were joined by Noel Wyborne (ex EWA) as the 40 ton Aldridge's crane arrived at 9am. Even though the entire aircraft as it stands without engines weighs less than 10,000kg we had to use a crane of this size because of the height and reach needed to lift off the centre wing and tail.

It was the start of three hours of hectic, hard work as the aircraft was reduced into transportable sections. First the right hand outer wing (weighing 900kg) was slung with straps. Lengths of timber were placed under the trailing edges to protect these thin points from damage by the straps. The other wing tip was supported to stabilise the aircraft when the weight of the right hand wing was removed. The two loose screws remaining in the wing were knocked out and the wing eased outboard to clear the upper and lower straps, it was then lowered to the ground. The left hand outer wing followed with minimal problems, although there is always that one last screw that everyone seems to miss that slows up proceedings!

The complete tail assembly (fin, rudder and horizontal stabiliser) removal was next; with all the connections already removed it only required the four attach bolts under the horizontal stabiliser to be knocked out before lifting. Following the lifting procedure outlined in the maintenance manual, the assembly is slung around the horizontal stabiliser, however a special frame should be used to secure it, which was not available to us. Consequently we had our second glitch, when the straps slipped and the tail fell backwards with the tip of the rudder and fin cap receiving sight damage. It would have been better to remove the rudder first to allow a strap to be placed around the fin to stabilise the load. With the tail assembly on the ground the rudder was removed and the fin was lifted off the horizontal stabiliser by removing another four bolts.

Chains were fitted around the wings at the fuselage attach points and the entire aircraft was raised clear of the ground, the undercarriage down locks were broken and it was then lowered down onto truck tyres, with the undercarriage allowed to semi retract as the wheels came into contact with the ground. Special attention needs to be paid to the nose undercarriage as it retracts as there are only a few millimeters clearance on each side of the leg. With the normal operating systems unavailable there is nothing to stop the wheel from twisting as it retracts and it can catch on the sides of the fuselage. The nose wheel was then removed and the gear secured in a semi-retracted position. The eight bolts attaching the centre wing were removed and with the crane taking the strain it gently pulled away from the fuselage. The cuts worked perfectly and the section, which weighed in at 1460kg, came away as planned. It certainly was a strange sight as this section, which includes the engine nacelles and main undercarriage legs (now locked down as it cleared the ground), rose high above the fuselage to be placed beside the aircraft. With it now sitting on a 45 angle resting on the wheels and the bottom lip of the firewall, we used our crane to raise each leg as Noel removed the main wheels.

The owner of the other F.27 parked at Tamworth Airport, ex Air Cruising Australia F.27 Mk 700 VH-JCC, was on hand to witness the day's proceedings. He was interested in the process to disassemble an F.27 as he is considering options to move it at some stage.

Wednesday 29th Oct 2008

Returning to the site today the area resembles a plane crash with sections of aircraft scattered all over our part of the airfield. The weather is again hot and without the wings for shade we rig up some of the stands with tarps for relief from the sun. We needed to call in a Franna crane to flip the centre wing upside down, as this is how we plan to load it onto the trailer. This also allowed us to remove the undercarriagec legs using the QAM truck's crane and load them onto the Sea Vixen trailer. To reduce the height of the fuselage for transportation Ben, Denis, Brian and I began the removal of the dorsal fin. This involved removing the skins from the right hand side by drilling out many hundreds of pop rivets. It was necessary to cut a few of the vertical frames inside the structure but the remaining frame work was able to be de-riveted.

In order to bring the size of the centre wing section back to a legal width for transportation (3m) we had to cut the rear of the nacelles (midway through the undercarriage bay) and the inner flap tracks required shortening. While this makes a lot of extra work to re-attach later, the savings on transportation costs is considerable as it would require another pilot escorted wide load.

With all the sections almost ready for loading, Wayne made calls to Russell and Parry Transport and found it was possible to have all the trucks on site tomorrow afternoon. Aldridge's Cranes, although busy, would try to get there at the same time.

Thursday 30th Oct 2008

Wayne, Fred, Denis, Ben and I are on hand for the loading. The morning was taken up with Ben and I completing the removal of the dorsal fin. Antennas were removed from the fin and all loose panels secured on the fuselage and wings. We then loaded the cabin with the flight controls, fairings, undercarriage doors, wheels and dorsal fin. A plywood sheet was tied over the hole in the top of the fuselage where the wing was sitting to protect the interior during the trip.

All three trucks arrived at 2pm and the 40 ton crane arrived soon after. The outer wings were loaded on top each other with tyres resting between them, the outer flaps and rudder were loaded in the spare spaces around them. Focus then switched to the extendable trailer and the loading of the fuselage. It was raised into the air and the trailer backed into position under it. Lowering it onto the trailer proved difficult as the fuselage was nose heavy (the lifting chains were attached to the wing attach lugs) and so judging the placement of the trestles and tyres was hard to predict. The trestles we manufactured weren't strong enough and crushed under the weight and had to be discarded. The height of the rear end of the fuselage required some juggling of the positions of the tyres to bring it under the legal height. With a few straps around the fuselage to secure it to the trailer, we moved onto the loading of the final truck. On this drop deck trailer we fitted the centre wing section (inverted), fin, horizontal stabiliser and the cut off ends of the nacelles. The truck drivers were left to tie their own loads down.

Wayne made arrangements with the airport safety officer for the fuselage load to exit the airport via an emergency gate on the other side of the runway directly onto the highway. It would be travelling direct to Caloundra with an overnight stop on the way, as a load of this length is not permitted to travel at night. Prime TV was again on hand to record the loading and the departure of the fuselage through the centre of Tamworth, which went to air on the 6pm news. The Northern Daily Leader was informed of the departure and a photo was taken as it travelled directly past their office and it made the front page of the paper the next day.

 

VH-WAN in downtown Tamworth



By 4.30pm all the trucks were on their way, although the two smaller loads were left in the local depot until continuing their journey Sunday night. We were then left to clean up the site of rubbish and we pushed all of the stands we had been using neatly together before vacating the site. We then retreated to the Tamworth Aero Club for quite a few cold drinks to celebrate the achievement and recover from the afternoon's hectic activities.

Friday 31st Oct 2008

Much re-organising of the load on the QAM truck and trailer was needed before Wayne and Fred departed for home. It was carrying the main undercarriage legs, all our equipment and a large quantity of those F.27 spares that was donated to the museum. I made a few visits to thank some of the people who had assisted us over the last 11 days, before loading my trailer and departing. The Russell Transport trailer carrying the fuselage arrived at the museum in Caloundra at 2pm and was unloaded. This was recorded by Sunshine Coast TV and newspaper. Wayne and Fred arrived back at the museum later in the afternoon and I followed later that night.

Monday 3rd Nov 2008

Wayne and Fred unloaded the two Parry trailers after they arrived at the museum at 8am. The relocation of the aircraft was now over.

Conclusion

The successful recovery of this aircraft was due to the efforts of the 14 individuals that made up the team, all of whom volunteered their time.

The re-assembly and restoration is scheduled to take some time and will include the painting the aircraft in its original Ansett-ANA colour scheme as VH-FNQ. Significant items will need to be acquired to complete the restoration, such as engines, props, passenger seats, galleys, instruments and two main wheels, along with a number of smaller items.

The recovery and preservation of this aircraft in the Queensland Air Museum's collection was especially important at this time, with the number of F.27s remaining in this country now reduced to only a hand full. The Fokker F.27 Friendship was a significant aircraft in Australia's aviation history; entering service in this country in 1959 it became the major aircraft used on regional routes for the next three decades. It is equally important to preserve the memory of Ansett Airlines, which this aircraft will also significantly represent. This is an aircraft that is worthy of preservation.

 

Statistics
Labour .
Total labour: 414 man hours
(Tamworth Volunteers: 227 hours)
(QAM Volunteers 187 hours)
Transport .
Russell Transport 23m extendable trailer plus escort pilot
Parry Logistics Two semi-trailers
QAM Truck and trailer
Cranes .
Aldridges Cranes (Tamworth) 3 lifts- 3hrs disassembly, 1 hr invert centre wing, 2 hrs loading
All Lift Cranes (Caloundra) 2 lifts - 1 hr unload fuselage, 1hr unload wings

 

 

QAM Thanks the Friendship Team

 

Terry Archer
Brian Beazley
David Beazley
Denis Beazley
George Briley
Wayne Bryan
Devon Drew
Ian Duprez
Geoff Eastman
Kevin Gardiner
Benjamin Lucas
Gary McMillan
Fred Muller