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Starting engine becomes a 'redneck operation'
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This was in danger of becoming a genuine redneck operation. Imagine a one-winged airplane tied to a tree, being jump-started by a pickup truck, and with an old milk crate as a pilot seat. Picture that, and you know what I mean.

Things were moving fast now, seemingly with a mind of their own. Exactly 12 months into the restoration project, and the end was definitely in sight. Believe it or not, the last obstacle to clear was perhaps the most critical - the engine.

Here is an interesting piece of information about the 1939 Fairchild 24 - it does not have a fuel pump. Inside each wing is a 30-gallon fuel tank. Since the wings are mounted to the top of the fuselage, above the engine, gravity is all that is required to keep the engine running, even at high RPMs. The engine will very happily burn 11 gallons of fuel per hour, fed by nothing more than gravity.

This simple fact negated our ability to test-run the engine. There was enough work to do that we decided to wait until at least one wing was mounted to start the engine. The joke around the hangar became, "Yeah, we just did a ground-up restoration on a 1939 Fairchild; I just hope the engine runs."

In March, Bill Weeden completed his work on the left wing. Time to join it to the fuselage, for the first time in a year. A common thread throughout this series of articles is the interest and genuine support I received throughout the restoration process. As the time came to piece the airplane back together, there was no lack of volunteers to help out. Literally, people showed up at the hangar on the designated day, some of whom I had never met. "I heard there was a wing being put on an airplane today - just came to help out." I can't tell you how many times I heard a line similar to that.

On that designated day, several men and a few women donned latex gloves and hoisted the left wing above their heads, and into place. By itself, the wing is not that heavy - two strong adults can pick it up and carry it. But to lift it 6 feet into the air, and hold it steady while the mounting hardware was installed required a few more hands. Two bolts hold the wing to the fuselage, and two more affix the struts. This is zero-tolerance hardware, which means I would have to lightly tap on the bolts to get them through the mounting plates.

Of course, my Dad was there, offering the kind of advice that fathers have given since the beginning of time:

"Watch how you swing that hammer; don't miss and scuff the paint." "You shouldn't have to pound so hard, did you ream out the brackets?" "Careful with that punch - you're going to slip off the head of the bolt and put a hole right through the wing." "Don't hit it so hard - you'll strip the threads." "Are you sure you have the right size hardware?" And, my omni favorite - "Watch your language."

I've come to realize the reason fathers give such advice. In my case, having dedicated a year of my time and a small fortune of cash to the project, I had actually planned on scuffing the brand new paint while stripping the threads of wrong-sized hardware in order to slip the chase and punch a hole through the fabric - all while taking the Lord's name in vain. But, since I was specifically told not to, I'll have to devise another means of sabotage.

I stood back. We all stood back, and admired the work. From the left-hand side at least, the Fairchild was beginning to look like an airplane again. The mounted wing stretched gracefully out, held in place by two deliberate struts. Even without the dozens of fairings, she was starting to appear beefy and strong. Her lines were beginning to come together, and they were beautiful.

It took me a full day to connect the electrical, fuel, and pressure lines. I was learning the quintessential lesson of any rebuild: nothing goes together as easily as it comes apart. By contrast, it took me less than two hours to disconnect these components a year prior. Everything connected; it was finally time to run the engine.

This was no dry run. Mike used his bore scope, checking for corrosion. Everything pre-oiled, screens cleaned and checked; even the experts shrugged and responded, "Just run it - check the oil after an hour or so for metal fragments. Those old engines are tough; you'll be just fine."

I didn't even have the seats put back in. On a cloudy day in March we pushed the old girl out of the hangar. With only one wing, the airplane was in danger of tipping over, so we braced it with a jack stand. Not wanting the thrust of a 200-horsepower engine to overwhelm the untested brakes, we tied the tail to a tree.

I climbed into the cockpit. Butterflies. I would never again be able to replicate the feeling; that excited anticipation. All clear, I engaged the starter motor. Nothing happened. Just a few clicks. Of all the things - the battery was dead. After a winter of testing lights, radios, avionics, and fuel gauges, I had drained the battery. Curses.

Couldn't we just jump-start the thing? I pulled up my pickup truck and connected jumper cables. This was embarrassing. I climbed back in the cockpit, cleared the area, and once again engaged the starter.

- Dan Wegmueller of Monroe writes a column for the Times each Monday. He can be reached at