Balsa Wood Fairings?

There are so many interesting facts we have learned about the construction of the original Spirit of St. Louis as we have been moving forward with our reproduction.


One bit that many people don’t know is the fact that the wing struts were covered with balsa wood in order to create the ‘streamline’ shape we see when we are looking at the airplane.


John has spent hours running the balsa wood boards through the planer to get them smooth before gluing them together to get the proper length and depth “blank” he will need for each strut.

The next step is to cut the ‘blank’ down the length and then carve out the center to the proper depth and curve so the ‘blank’ will fit together again around each strut.


I see lots and lots and lots of balsa wood chunks and sawdust in our future ūüėČ

Balsa Wood Blanks with watermarkedited~ H

Fuel Tanks and Stringers

June found John working steadily every day as he installed the forward fuel tank and oil tank in the motor mount on the JNE Spirit of St. Louis.


Once the tanks were in place, John was able to begin the process of running the fuel lines, the tachometer cable, the throttle line, and more ~ from the cockpit forward to the front of the aircraft where they will eventually hook up with the engine when it is installed.


When we returned from our visit with the original Spirit of St. Louis in Washington, DC, John discovered the stringers he had were not long enough.¬† ¬†ūüôĀ

John tried to find a 20′ long Spruce board to cut new stringers out of …¬†but ended up having to purchase¬†a board¬†that was 26′ long in order to get the straight, clear, knot-free wood he needed for the 1/4″ thick stringers that form the shape of the aircraft.


Once he got all the stringers cut and formed, he secured them in place by wrapping them with cord just as the original had been done.


Then he moved on to “framing” the door with wood and making the window frames.


The JNE Spirit of St. Louis waiting patiently to see what this new part is that John is making …





To “Patch”, or Not to “Patch” …

Charles Lindbergh wrote of an incident in his book, about when they were checking the

fuel level of the original Spirit of St. Louis with a length of rubber hose.

The story was that the rubber hose slipped into the main fuel tank.

They had some discussion as to whether they should just go ahead and leave the hose in

there … or if they should try to find a way to get it out.

Due to the possibility of the hose deteriorating in the fuel, and possibly coming apart and blocking one of the fuel lines, the decision was made to remove the hose.


There is no discussion to be found to tell us HOW they removed that length of rubber hose, leading one to wonder, “… did a rubber hose REALLY fall into the tank?”


John questioned that himself because there is a 90 degree angle in the fuel filler neck, making¬†it difficult to insert a piece of hose into the tank …¬† much less for it to get dropped inside!


That question was one John wanted to answer for himself while we were in

Washington, DC with the original Spirit of St. Louis.


Once again the portable VJ-Advance video borescope camera from RF System Labs

in Traverse City, Michigan came to the rescue. ¬†ūüôā


John ran the borescope camera around the main fuel tank to see what the sides of the tank looked like.


Suddenly, right there between the forward tank skin and the first vertical baffle aft; and

between the top¬†&¬†second horizontal baffles down; John found a¬†“PATCH” in the side of

the tank!


They had apparently cut a hole in that location in the side of the fuel tank to retrieve the rubber hose.

To repair the hole, they riveted a piece of plate over the hole and soldered around it to make

it leak-proof.


What did that mean for the JNE Spirit of St. Louis?


Well, to be an EXACT replica aircraft, John was going to have to put a patch in the side of HIS tank as well.

As much as I pleaded with John NOT to put a patch in HIS main fuel tank; John said, “The

original has one, so mine needs one too.”

I argued that he could simply TELL people that there is¬†SUPPOSED to be a patch there, but he didn’t need to put one in because nobody would ever even SEE¬†that patch¬†since that section of the aircraft is covered with fabric!

John replied, “If I’m building an¬†EXACT replica, it needs to be to be there!”


So, John took the time to “patch” his main fuel tank, even though there was no rubber hose for him to remove from¬†HIS tank.¬† ūüėČ

Fuel Tank Patch

Once John completed the “patch” (seen at the bottom¬†of the fuel tank in the photograph above) ¬†he painted the tank to get it ready to put into the fuselage as he continues working on the Final Assembly of his Definitive Reproduction Spirit of St. Louis!


~ H

Beginning the Final Assembly …

Our visit to the original Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC in March proved to be highly beneficial.

John learned that the fuselage he had built was nearly identical to the original.

The month of April found John making a few minor changes to the fuselage structure (such as lowering the instrument panel brackets just a bit) based on the information he learned off the original, and then he began the final welding.

74-hours later … he had completed all the welds that he had previously only ‘tack’ welded together.

From there, he sent the fuselage and tail-feathers off to be sandblasted.

At the time, they told John they would be finished in just three days …

A week and a half later … John was able to bring the fuselage and tail-feathers home again. ¬†Lucky for him, we were having a wonderful, warm, sunny day here in the Pacific Northwest, and he was able to get all the parts painted right away ūüôā

fuselage painted May 2015edited

He then installed the Trim Control Quadrant, the Throttle and Spark Levers, and the Seat.

With that, he has begun the FINAL ASSEMBLY of his Definitive Reproduction Spirit of St. Louis.

~ H

Spirit Visit

John and I have just returned from a visit to Washington DC, and the National Air and Space Museum where we had the rare opportunity to get “up close and personal” with the original Spirit of St. Louis ūüôā
John Norman with the Spirit of St. Louis on 26 Mar 2015

We had the privilege of not only taking copious photographs, but also detailed measurements of many parts of the aircraft.  These details will help John be able to complete his definitive reproduction Spirit of St. Louis in the most authentically accurate way possible.

John Norman taking measurements on the Spirit of St. Louis on 26 Mar 2015

We were given the opportunity to inspect the Spirit of St. Louis with a portable VJ-Advance video borescope camera from RF System Lab of Traverse City, Michigan.

John Norman inspecting the Spirit of St. Louis on 26 Mar 2015

Here John is inspecting the area forward of the periscope on the port side of the Spirit of St. Louis.

The great excitement of the day came when John was using the VJ-Advance video borescope camera to inspect the area under the main fuel tank, and made an interesting discovery!

Pliers found by John Norman on 26 Mar 2015

There, lying on the belly fabric, beneath the fuel tank, amongst the ‘dust bunnies’,¬†a pair of pliers that had been in the Spirit of St. Louis¬†from 1928 or earlier!


~ H

Moving Forward …

We finally made it through the first month of 2015.

It’s difficult to see very much progress, but we really HAVE been moving forward.


In between waiting for various parts to arrive so that John can keep moving ahead on the Wright J-5 Whirlwind engine re-build … he has been working on the second fuselage fuel tank and the oil tank.¬† Both of these tanks fit between the main fuel tank (that he completed last summer) and the engine.


All of the pieces for the fuel¬†tank have been cut out, the baffle holes have been cut & rounded, and the outside edges have been turned so that there is a ‘lip’ all around them to enable them to be riveted¬†together.


John has even cut out the skins for the oil tank and has the whole thing clecoed together and temporarily placed in the fuselage to check the fit.  As he put it in place, it was with a sigh of relief because the whole thing simply slipped into place as if it was meant to be there!

Imagine that!


I’d like to share a wonderful photograph that our dedicated “Team Spirit” photographer took of the cockpit area of our Spirit of St Louis back in late 2013.¬† This¬†LINK will take you to the photograph on his webpage.¬† You may purchase a copy of¬†the image¬†by clicking on the “buy” link at the top of the photograph if you would like to have your very own copy of the Spirit of St. Louis cockpit and instrument panel.


~ H