When last we left our intrepid crew, they had just arrived in Philadelphia. Jim Jenkins took his son Drew along with the third member of the museum’s team, Brian White, to give them a quick look at what would possible be the next acquisition for the museum. Now, in Part III, the team wakes the next morning ready to inspect the Staggerwing.
by Jim Jenkins, Museum Director
After a night’s sleep the next day the Beech was towed back over to the Corporate hangar I first saw her in back in April, parked next to the King Airs, Citations and other bizjets. To me N25K fit in as if she was a Lear 25, that`s basically what she was when in her heyday beginning back in the 1930`s when Walter Beech came up with the design, and to this day her performance, agility and all around beauty will stop anyone on the ramp or as in our case at every fuel stop.
Maintenance checks began with internal inspection of the P&W 985 engine, with only 14:00 hours since O/H and after sitting for 6 more years, we expected to find corrosion on the cam rings and non-chromed cylinder barrels. The bore-scope proved otherwise–it was like a new Swiss watch since the 1993 Piedmont Major overhaul. The only major item that we could not look at was the blower section, and kind of took a chance and decided we would move forward with the purchase and would later perform the air-frame inspection, then repair and replace anything needing attention.
The Beech has a rather complex if not archaic retractable landing gear. I swear the Wright Brothers had some hand in its design engineering. An electric motor basically operates chains, sprockets, hits quite a few switches, slides a couple of trunnions up a long chrome slide tube on each side of the cabin walls, pulls a cable from the tail-wheel slide tube which eventually brings up the main gear while a variety of doors magically close revealing a very clean inverted gull shape all tucked into place. An engineering marvel to say the least.
With 350 pounds of sand carefully placed on the Beech`s Stabilizer/fin juncture we jacked the main gear off the hangar floor. With everything clear, Drew climbed aboard, hit the master and set the gear leaver to up — and nothing!, nothing at all, not even a groan. Hmmmmm. Got out to run a check on all the wires, and low and behold, one wire directly connected to the gear motor was loose. I tightened the 10/32 nut and checked the other six and then back to the cockpit, up with the gear lever, and the gear begins its ratcheting, chain clacking motion. And viola–the gear is in transition and when you see it on the ground with the a/c jacked it is absolutely amazing what transpires during retraction and then extension.
With the gear issues behind us and everything lubed and with only dry graphite on the slide tubes (so they don’t attract dirt or oil from the engine, as well as grit that can score the chrome slide tubes and enter the bowels of the entire system) we were ready to move to the next item needing inspection. How they ever operated these machines from dirt, unimproved strips, grass and everything else flying up into the gear wells on every takeoff and landing, it`s amazing any of these machines out of the 785 Beech manufactured have survived.
The tail-wheel was next. How many airplanes have 14 feet of Bungee cord wrapped around a triangular set of pulleys behind the baggage compartment and then, with the gear retracted and pulled to a tension that nobody knows what it should be, is then finally tied off to a tubular stub at the rear of the fuselage frame. Basically an assist item, the old Bungee was stretched out to over 20′ and had no more elasticity left to it. With a new one in place we lowered the gear, installed the new Bungee, tied it off in the tail and cycled the gear. The Bungee laid in the belly — not good — we tightened it up another foot, retracted the gear and that seemed to be about right. I imagine that all this time Walter Beech is in the pilots ready room waiting for us to fly him back to Wichita so he can test fly the newfangled thing called a “Bonanza”. I ran in and told him we were ready to “test fly this old crate of a Staggerwing….”
With many other small discrepancies taken care we drained the engine oil. The engine only had 14 hours since a major flight, so we pulled the screens and all looked good, reinstalled and safetied, but no one had any 25X60 Philipps XC Radial engine oil.
A quick call to a savior and Joe Flood flies his RV-4 over with 10 gallons in his back seat. Now Joe has had some intimate moments with N25K and I can tell that he has a special glint in his eye and begins to tell us all of his wonderful moments putting the first 14 hours on N25K after she had sat for years following its restoration. He just loved flying her. Joe himself has had a D17-S for 8 years so John K Desmond knew N25K was in good hands while in Joe Flood’s care.
As Joe was departing, after leaving us with our 985`s life blood oil, he gave N25K a smooch on her cowling and said goodbye to and old friend. Joe is a remarkable restorer, pilot and has a flying family who all take part in his aviation activities. Thank you so much Joe!!!