John's original plan was to simply build his replica Spirit of St. Louis according to the "Ed Morrow" drawings he received from the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and use a Lycoming 680 for the power plant. He anticipated the entire project would only take him about 2 or 3 years to complete. He knew he would only have a couple of hours available to work on it each day before he would have to go to work at Boeing ... the job that provided the funds for each of his projects.
John's plans changed however, when he discovered a photograph of a Lunkenheimer fuel manifold online. He sent an email to the individual who had posted the photograph and asked if he could put him in touch with the person who had made the manifold ... thinking it was a replica.
John soon received a reply informing him that the manifold he had seen was an original manifold ... one of only 3-known originals at that time. The author of the email, Ty Sundstrom, introduced himself to John letting him know that he had built 3-replica Ryan NYP's and had lots of information on the original if John was interested.
Naturally, John WAS interested, and this began the transition from simply building a replica Ryan NYP ... to building a DEFINITIVE Reproduction Ryan NYP ~ The Spirit of St. Louis by JNE.
The first thing Ty told John was, "Throw those Morrow drawings away! They aren't accurate!"
Ty said some of the errors are that the tubing size called for in the drawings is too thick; the rudder shape is wrong and the height of the fuselage at the rudder post is 2-inches too high.
The Morrow drawings were suitable enough to build the replica aircraft used in the Hollywood movie "The Spirit of St. Louis"starring Jimmy Stewart in 1957, but they wouldn't hold up to close scrutiny when being compared to the original airplane.
So, we set about learning what we could do to find accurate information on the original Spirit of St. Louis, in order to build a replica that was authentic to the original in every conceivable way.
VISITING THE ORIGINAL
One day in May 2014 while I was making sure the various links on our website were all still intact, I clicked on the one for the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.
Upon arrival at the site I discovered an article entitled, 'Where's the "R"? which explained what happened to the Ryan insignia on the right side of the Spirit's rudder when Lindbergh landed in Paris on May 21, 1927.
Along with the information provided about the missing "R"; this article revealed that just one month prior,"Boeing announced a most generous donation of $30 million to the museum to promote our educational programs and to reimagine and reinvent our signature main hall."
The article went on to say that they would consequently be lowering the Spirit of St. Louis to the floor for the third time since it was installed in the National Air & Space Museum's new hall (it's present location) in 1976.
My mind began to race with anticipation of what that meant to us ... and how we might be able to make a trip to the museum while it was on the floor ... and where do we even BEGIN to find out who to contact about such a request ... and so much more!
When I showed John the article, he was as excited as I was. We both understood what a wealth of accurate information we might be able to obtain with a visit "up close and personal" to the original aircraft.
John immediately sent an email to Ty... who knew a guy... who knew a guy...
In a very short space of time I was communicating directly with Dr. Robert van der Linden, the responsible curator for the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum "Milestones of Flight Gallery" (and coincidentally, the author of the article 'Where's the "R"?'). After explaining the purpose of our request to have access to the aircraft, he graciously granted us permission.
Once Dr. van der Linden provided us a time frame for when the Spirit would actually be ON the floor, I made all of the reservations we needed for our research trip to Washington DC ... John put in his vacation request at Boeing ... and we began making a list of all the information we hoped to gather during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
On the 26th day of March 2015 we signed in at the security desk at the National Air and Space Museum where we received our "visitor" badges and were then allowed inside the cordoned off area surrounding the Spirit of St. Louis.
One of the most difficult questions we had been working on was the actual curvature of the rudder. We had dozens and dozens of photographs to study, but without having anything to determine the exact angle the photographs were taken from, there was no way to definitively scale the photographs to obtain the exact curvature. Therefore, one of the first things we did as we began our research on The Spirit, was to make a paper 'tracing' of the actual rudder.
Another area of particular interest was the landing gear. In the photo below we have John measuring the amount of "travel" that is available for the shock as I record the measurement the tape reveals.
Ty and his friend Mike Gretz joined us for this research trip. Mike kept busy taking photographs of every nook and cranny he could find on the aircraft, as well as overall photographs as we and Ty were taking measurements of various, specific parts. Below he helped as Ty measured the length of the call letters painted on the under side of the wing.
Once we knew that we were going to be able to go back to Washington DC to do our research on The Spirit of St. Louis while she was on the floor, John made some inquiries to see if he could get his hands on an RVI (Remote Visual Inspection) camera. Being an inspector at Boeing, he knew the value those cameras could provide for looking into spaces that cannot be seen by a simple visual inspection.
John knew that we would not be able to remove any of the fabric off The Spirit of St. Louis to see what lay beneath it. Still, there were so many burning questions in his mind about what that fabric could be hiding, that he wanted to at least TRY to find a way to see behind ... around ... and under ... that fabric and other areas that were hiding what he wanted to see.
John contacted a representative at RF System Lab in Traverse City, Michigan. After explaining what he was looking for, and WHY he was looking for it, they offered him the use of their VJ-Advance Video Borescope ... free of charge! They even paid for shipping the unit to our house as well as the return shipping when we were finished with it. How could we pass up an offer like that?
Ty watched the camera screen over John's shoulder as John used a length of 1/2-inch PVC pipe to direct the end of the RVI camera into the area above the main fuel tank, inside the wing, where the original center, wing fuel tank had once been installed. That tank had been removed from The Spirit when Charles Lindbergh landed at Teterboro, New Jersey on the homeward leg of his USA Tour in 1927, and was never re-installed.
Another question John was able to answer with the help of the RVI camera was exactly WHAT the "fresh air" vent tube was made of ... and HOW it was designed. Most people are not even aware that The Spirit of St. Louis HAS a "fresh air" vent, but in the photo below we can see the "intake" location on the wing as John shows Malcolm Collum (the chief conservator from the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center ) what can be seen on the RVI camera screen.
John had read about a time when Lindbergh's crew had been checking the fuel level in The Spirit with a rubber hose. For some reason the person checking the fuel had lost his grip on the hose and it had gone down into the main fuel tank. There had been some discussion back and forth about whether they should try to remove the hose, or just let it stay there. The concern was that the fuel may cause the hose to disintegrate and bits of the hose could then end up getting caught in the fuel screen and block the flow of fuel to the engine. Therefore, they removed the hose.
What John never could discover though, was the method by which they removed that hose.
That is, until he was studying The Spirit of St. Louis, using the RVI camera on 26 March 2015. When he directed the end of the RVI camera back toward the cockpit, between the fabric and the main fuel tank, from just below the leading edge of the wing ... he discovered a large "patch" where the tank had been cut open, and then repaired, on the right side of the main tank. The question has now been answered!
Another piece of the puzzle that John was curious about was Charles Lindbergh's lost log book. The story is that it was stolen after he landed at Le Bourget in Paris on May 21, 1927 and has never been seen since. John wondered though ......... could it possibly have just slid under the floorboards ... out of sight and out of reach?
That was a question that John HAD to answer for his own peace of mind. What better way to get that answer than with the RVI camera? So, from the cockpit John directed the end of the RVI camera in below the right rudder pedal and beneath the main fuel tank to take a look around.
I think it is important to note here that John is not one to use any kind of profane language to communicate any emotion he might be experiencing. That is simply not in his nature. So you might imagine our surprise when after maneuvering the end of the camera around to see what he could see, suddenly we all heard him exclaim, "Holy Crap"!
I'm sure the visitors to the museum that morning must have wondered what happened to have the ten or so of us inside the cordoned off area surrounding The Spirit of St. Louis suddenly all converge around John with the RVI camera. I knew that he had hoped to find the "stolen" log books that recorded Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris nearly 88-years earlier, AND I knew he did NOT normally use language such as what he had just uttered, so I was particularly excited to learn what he HAD discovered.
As it turned out, it was not the log book, but rather it was a pair of pliers lying on the belly fabric below the main tank, surrounded by "dust bunnies". John could see evidence that the pliers had been there for quite some time as the center belly stringer showed discoloration and scrapes from where the pliers had slid back and forth against the stringer.
After we returned to Washington state, Malcolm Collum was eventually able to retrieve the pliers. Once he had them in hand, it was clear to see the paint on the handle portion of the pliers.
When compared to the paint on the fuel manifold (as well as the oil and fuel tanks) of The Spirit of St. Louis, it became obvious the paint on the pliers was likely the paint used at the Ryan Aircraft factory when The Spirit was being built in San Diego, California.
This indicated that the pliers had left San Diego in The Spirit with Charles Lindbergh when he headed to New York to begin his solo, non-stop, cross Atlantic flight in May 1927.
What an amazing discovery!
Heather Goss of the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine wrote an article for the magazine that was published in their August 2016 edition entitled, "Look What Lindbergh Left Inside the Spirit of St. Louis" which tells more about the discovery.
We were not able to get a clear photograph of the "patch" on the main fuel tank while we were with the original Spirit of St. Louis in March 2015. To date, we have not come across any photos taken from the time the "patch" was originally put on the fuel tank either.
However, we did take photographs of the "patch" that John put on the main fuel tank for the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE just to show the degree of accuracy John is putting into his definitive reproduction aircraft!
We have taken photographs of the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE all through the project. We have made a concentrated effort to capture photographs at key stages along the way in order to be able to make comparisons to photographs taken of the original aircraft at roughly the same stage. We have done our best to capture our photographs as close to the original angle, and distance as the photographs of the original were taken. Clearly we could not accomplish that with every single photograph, but most of them are close enough to be able to give a fairly comprehensive comparison.