It will be a busy summer maintenance season for members of the Gulf Coast Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. The group is the proud owner of a B-17G, “Texas Raider,” which it has spent the past several years restoring with the intent of getting it back into the air.
The work was interrupted last summer when the group moved the airplane into a hangar at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) near Houston.
Getting the plane its own hangar was not so much an interruption as it was a necessity, and something that was a long time coming, notes Col. Barbara Johnston, wing leader of the Gulf Coast Wing of the CAF. The aircraft was acquired in 1971 and the Gulf Coast Wing formed in 1972, yet in those 35 years the airplane has never been kept in a hangar.
The B-17’s big enemy, according to Johnson, is corrosion, a condition exacerbated in the Gulf region because of the humidity and salt in the air. In 2001 an Airworthiness Directive for corrosion was issued. Compliance with the AD involved disassembling the aircraft and doing extensive inspections. Sure enough, corrosion was found in the wings and in the tail, which necessitated expensive and time-consuming repairs.
The AD kicked the search for a hangar into high gear, because doing maintenance out in the open is, according to volunteers, a “one step forward, two steps back” endeavor.
Since the wing moved the B-17 undercover it has been doing as much maintenance as cash flow allows. The not-for-profit group relies on donations and money generated from revenue flights to operate. When the aircraft is grounded, as it has been for several years because of maintenance issues, revenue flights don’t happen, taking a big bite out of the budget.
Volunteers, many of whom have decades of experience working on older aircraft, do the work. “We’re always looking for more,” Thompson adds. “We work on Tuesday nights and all day on Saturdays.”
In many cases, parts have to be fabricated because replacement parts for a 60-year-old-plus rare warbird are not easy to come by.
“Critical gusset plates in the bomb bay trusses have been made and installed,” says Thompson as she ticked off the work that has already been completed. “Number one, two and four nacelle firewall corrosion is being corrected with new stainless steel replacement panels. All electrical work has been completed and only a battery box needs be installed before engine installation. The replacement of engine control pulleys is nearly complete. Pulley brackets with corrosion have been replaced with new brackets. Engine controls are connected and have been tested for proper linkage. The number four fuel tank is ready to go back in wing. No corrosion was found in any of the fuel tank spaces. The engine hoses have been replaced and are now nearly ready for hanging engines.”
The group expects to start work on the engines in late August.
“In addition, there is some cosmetic work that needs to be done, such as repainting the nose art and vertical stabilizer and installation of new canvas seats in the radio compartment,” she says.
For more information: