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Restoration Of A Grumman "Alley Cat" - Airframe    

engine overhaul

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During the summer of 2003 we decided that our Grumman AA1A "Alley cat" needed a face lift and although I was ready to tackle the job myself, my good friend and retired Air Traffic Controller, Werner Griesbeck offered to do the painting. The dirty work was of course sanding down the existing paint, as stripping was not an option.

The Grumman series of light aircraft are bonded aluminum and the use of chemical stripper to remove the paint was not recommended for do-it-your selfers.

The Alley cat is 32 years old and it had been stripped and painted in 1991, which has led to bonding problems. On initial inspection we found minor corrosion on the airframe and I wanted to make certain that the aircraft was going to be in the best of condition when the job was finished.
The little 2 seat trainer has been a lot of fun for the past seven years that I have owned her and now I wanted something very striking in the way of a paint scheme. I scanned the drawings from the maintenance manual then, using Adobe Photo Deluxe, started laying out various schemes, including many military designs. We attend a few fly-ins and air shows every year and although the red scheme shown here is OK, it makes the aircraft almost invisible when flying in the mountains…so that, combined with my favourite RCAF scheme lead to my decision to make her very bright and visible.

We examined many paint chips and automobile sales lots looking for just the right shade of yellow and red that would be very close to the original RCAF colours used on training aircraft. And of course Werner had his ideas on the type of paint! We settled on a single stage Urethane finish by Sherman-Williams called "Sun fire".

Flying continued during the summer, with flights to Orcas Island, Arlington, Washington for the North-West EAA show and a few other places where pilots and their aircraft gather. The start date for the work of preparing for the re-paint was 1 September 2003 and with a bit of apprehension, I armed myself with lots of sand-paper and rags and started on the little beast. Of course we had to do some flying during the good weather and at times we would have liked to be able to hide the aircraft, it looked that bad! I had plenty of encouragement and advice, and for the next month, I sanded and cleaned that machine 8 hours a day for what seemed an eternity.
With the sanding finished and the corrosion taken care of, it was time to take the aircraft apart and haul it over to Werner’s paint shop. I am fortunate in having friends like Werner, Dan Holliday and Jim McRae, without whose help this would not have happened. The airframe was transported in sections to the paint shop where every piece was inspected, repaired as necessary then prepped for re-finishing. To make the re-assembly easier, we installed Grumman approved inspection panels. Dan loves doing metal bashing and he was very meticulous on this job. Of course Werner was peeking over our shoulders constantly to make certain that we did it right. Along with Pancho Barnes, the cat.
The inspection holes were rough cut then trimmed to close tolerances so that we would end up with flush panels on the underside of both wings.

That big sewer pipe is the main spar and fuel tank! And all of that aluminum is epoxied to it. We inspected the interior of the wing and found it relatively clean after all the years that it had sat outside in the elements.

Here, Dan and the Old Barnstormer are hard at work on the project. It will take nearly a month to finish the repairs, paint and re-assembly and we were at it nearly every day. We had plenty of supervision and advice from the constant flow of visitors to the shop. When it came to sanding the dreaded underside of the fuselage, we got the services of a young fellow, David Barkum, who did a very good job. It was a very refreshing to see a young fellow put so much effort into doing a really nasty job.

During the repair sessions, I learned a lot about metal work, with the help of Dan and the supervision of Werner, I must have squeezed a few hundred rivets.

We also replaced the flexible fuels lines with a more durable rubber tubing. The pitot static line was replaced along with all of the vent lines. Once the wings and control surfaces were prepped and primed with Ultrafill White primer, they were given three coats of the Sun Fire GM Fleet Yellow. The cowling was repaired and painted in the same manner. These were then taken back to the hangar at Langley Airport and the old master tackled the fuselage.
With everything sanded, repaired as necessary and then masked off, Werner started shooting the primer on the fuselage. This consisted of two coats, followed by a lot of fine sanding, tacking and cleaning in preparation for the Mellow Yellow finish coats. We did manage to keep Werner busy with the spray gun for quite some time while Dan and I goofed off for a while.
The paint shop took on a foggy appearance while the White primer was being applied. Here the old master is shooting the wing root fairings and nose wheel fairing with the primer. For the model builders, notice the safety precautions: full face mask with fresh outside air, goggles and rubber gloves as well as a full throw-away chemical resistant suit. How many of us even wear a face mask when we are painting with an airbrush?
With everything painted and returned to the airport, it was time for the old geezers to start the re-assembly. Unlike the shake’n bake models from Tamigawa Bros, this thing had to go together very carefully. It is quite disturbing to find that you have pieces left over which cannot be identified! Dan is hard a work here. It took us one day to get the main components back together. Then Werner and I had to inspect the structure so that it would comply with the airworthiness certificate. Any time the controls are unhooked, it requires two people to inspect and certify the re-installation.
And then it was time to haul it out into the sunshine for the first time. And was it ever bright! An engine run-up was required to ensure everything was normal, and as a matter of courtesy I called the tower to let them know that I would be on the taxi-way for about ten minutes. The response…"Hey Barney, have you got a dimmer switch on that thing?" As you can see, there were no markings on the aircraft at this time but I did have proper RCAF decals made and here is where the modelling fraternity played a part. I needed a Canadian Red Ensign Flag for the tail and after a request for help on the Aircraft Resource Center web forum, one of the guys sent me a file which I had printed as a vinyl decal. Thanks again Jeff.
All of the markings are in correct ratio and correct font as I had Patrick Martin’s latest book as a reference. The book, Royal Canadian Air Force, Aircraft Finish and Markings, 1947-1968, is an absolute must for anyone building RCAF model aircraft.

The fuselage serial is the "Last Three" of this aircraft serial number and complies with the EOs of the time.

Am I happy with the final results? You Bet! And that STAR on the spinner looks like flames with the thing running. This is one aircraft that will be seen in the air.


Per Ardua Ad Astra


 Aerial Photos taken by Wendy Griesbeck.

engine overhaul



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