Click here to see a larger version of this picture That's The Spirit

Which Way To St. Louis?


     This page shows how some cardboard, tape, glue, aluminum foil, bamboo from an old rake, plastic from a box of greeting cards, vacume hose and roofing nails can be turned into a decent display model of the Spirit Of St. Louis, the plane in which Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. The whole process took about six days from start to finish. The weather cooperated and most of the work could be done outside.

Click here to see a larger version of Picture 01
     Kelly secures the recently glued fuselage with some temporary masking tape. The corners were joined with packaging tape and the ribs glued in place to stiffen and strengthen the whole thing. .
     Cutting card stock for the wings. Large flat panels and small ribs to give them strength and stiffness... Just like the real thing.
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     Clamping the freshly glued upper wing panels with crab trap weights until the glue dries. The bottom wing panels in the background have a 3/4 inch dowel glued on the leading edge to approximate the chord of the real Spirit's wing and give the model wing it's proper air foil shape. The top wing panel shows the skylight opening that gave the six foot plus Lindbergh a little extra headroom and allowed him to observe the stars for celestial navigation during the 33 hour flight.
     The fuselage with the door cut, some interior details made of balsa wood, and the skylight opening to mate with the one in the wing.
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     Manila file folders make up the tricky curves of the engine cowling and nose of the plane. The center is two layers of thick card stock to support the engine. The curves were test fit, then glued and taped layers of file folder, in four laminations for strength. It was beginning to get cold as the sun settled lower in the sky as the afternoon rolled by.
     The cockpit door gets the same treatment as the interior. Some frames made of balsawood, which was easily cut with scissors after a quick test fit, and stuck quickly in place with a little carpenters glue.
. Click here to see a larger version of Picture 06
Click here to see a larger version of Picture 07
     Time for the ribs to be glued to the lower wing panels. These should strenghten and stiffen the whole thing and give it a very wing-like appearance. Note the soup can, used to trace the circle shape of the firewall, in use to help hold down a warped wing panel. The dampness and glued in ribs worked together to twist some hills and valleys in the flat wing panels.
     Kelly's attention to detail was even applied to parts of the model that will be invisible when it's done. We can't have any croooked ribs in the wings now can we?
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     Lots of ribs taped carefully in place until the glue dries. The model has a 52 inch wing span. The scale is loose... More attention given to proportion than to final measurements. An inch and an eighth to a foot is pretty close to how it works out.
     The tail glued and clamped, strengthened by popsicle sticks.
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     Test fitting the engine cylinders... All nine of them in the 237 horsepower radial engine. Note the bearing plotter and architects scale in the background.
     Gluing up the cyliners to the cardboard center of an empty roll of electrical tape, Kelly uses a file folder template marked at 40 degree intervals around a circle traced from the tape spool. The bearing plotter from Boater's World worked very nicely for that task. The cylinders were 3/4 inch pieces of 5/8 inch wooden dowel cut with a japanese saw for a smooth cut. OK except for the few that rolled off the table and between the cracks in the deck.
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     Installing the card stock and popsicle stick cylinder heads on the engine... Definitely one of the high points of the model.
     Strutting it's stuff... The wing now has some anchor points for the ton of struts that support the landing gear and wings.
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     Wright would have been proud of this rendition of their famous engine. The dowel inserted where the propeller will go will hold the engine while it's being painted black with spray paint.
     Back outside, Kelly starts covering the wings with aluminum foil and contact glue. Putting the dull side out and rubbing the surface with a popsicle stick gives it the appearance of doped fabric... The Spirit's real skin.
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     Research is a huge part of a project like this so it's back inside for more details from a Time-Life book on the history of avaition. In this picture it's time to layout the letters and numbers, for both surfaces of the wing, that identify the plane. The lettering, which we'll see in some later pictures, is perfectly proportioned to the model, and was another of Kelly's many triumphs during the project. Her job on the engine is still my favorite.
     Three layers of card stock cut and ready to be laminated to form the horizontal portion of the tail.
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     Ya just can't use too many clothes pins. Clamping for an hour was usually long enough. The tricky part was planning what got glued when, so we could keep working on something while something else was drying before having something else done to it.
Aint that something?
     Now it's starting to look like something. We covered the wings and fuselage seperately before connecting them so the joint would be neat and finished looking... No ragged edges or glue dripping out. My mistake was not remembering to leave the areas to be glued bare of foil for a good glue joint. It was tough peeling some off after so carefully installing it. About thirty pounds of books supply the clamping power here. Lke a real plane, our Spirit is light and delicate, but strong where it counts. We could have used a hundred pounds of books if necessary without squashing the wings or fuselage. Remember... It's one layer of cardboard strengthened with ribs... Not solid wood.
Click here to see a larger version of Picture 20
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     Wheels were one of my brainstorms. They're two layers of cardboard glued together and covered with foil on both sides. Some 3/8 inch black rubber vacume hose was sliced down one side and slid over the edge of the wheel. Kelly suggested Crazy Glue early on, which I finally used, with much success and a few stuck fingers.
     The Spirit on her back with some of the struts glued and clamped and drying. The struts are made from pieces of an old bamboo rake, reinforced with file folder strips glued in place. The bamboo is light and strong... And FREE!!! The raw spinner is stuck in the end of the engine. It's made from half a styrofoam ball glued on a dowel and turned in a cordless drill against some 100 grit sandpaper like a lathe to give it a cone shape. Luckily we nade two. Some bone-head (me) spray painted to first one with silver Rustoleum spray paint which promptly dissolved it into a nasty sticky mess. The next one was covered with foil (Kelly's Idea) and detailed with a dowel to look like the dimpled aluiminum of the original.
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     N-X-211 sitting on the bed cover of the Millenium Falcon III late on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.
     What!!! No windshield???
Nope. The Spirit was all gas tank forward of the cockpit. No room to look out. She carried 450 gallons of gas, enough for 4600 miles. Lindgergh wanted all of the gas forward so he wouldn't be crushed between the engine and tanks during a crash. The forward view was provided by a periscope!
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     It stopped raining long enough for a few quick pictures.
     Less than happy looking even though the project is 95 percent complete, Kelly is facing the real end of summer... When her Grandmother, Agnes Walter, closes up her house for the winter.
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     We should have smoothed away the footprints in the sand.
     Maybe make some tire tracks behind the plane.
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     Probably the most realistic view of the model.
     Get ready to climb in the cockpit. Don't forget your goggles.
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     The struts still need some silver paint.
     Looking out one of the small side windows.
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     Time to do the pre-flight check.
     The electric starter was removed to save weight. Imagine hand cranking a nine cylinder engine!
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     Back inside.
     Did the Wright brothers have a sister?.
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     Ready to be packed for the trip to Brick.
     Check out the lettering. Perfect!
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     I have to find an online picture of the real plane for comparison.
     The model still needs it's struts painted, some lettering on the tail and engine cowling.
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     You can almost see a little Lucky Lindy looking out of the left window.
A job well done!
     Now it's time to get ready fo the next project. The Titanic?    The Hindenberg?    We can only hope. Probably taking the Mutineer out of the water for the winter.

Adirondack Style Outdoor Furniture



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Copyright 2001, Chandler H. Johnson