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Chapter III

THE SEAT

 


The pilot seat... which is the only seat... in the original Spirit of St. Louis is wicker.

John knew that meant he would need to put a wicker seat in his Spirit of St. Louis as well, but he had never done any reed weaving before and wasn't sure he wanted to take on that challenge.


He did some research and located an individual who was in the reed-weaving business. Through multiple telephone conversations and email exchanges he was able to describe (and illustrate with photographs of the original seat) what he was looking for.

This individual assured John that they could and would accurately reproduce a wicker seat to the specifications of the original, so John sent them the seat frame he had made.

After waiting several months, we finally got an email with a photograph of the seat this individual had created. It had taken them 88-hours to complete the seat, and it was anything BUT an accurate reproduction of the original seat.

There were rows of reed on this new seat that are not on the original, and it had been stained a very dark brown with a streak of color midway across the seat back. It was difficult to understand how this person could provide this particular seat as an ACCURATE reproduction when photographs had been provided of the original.

Not one to be slowed down for long, John resorted to the thought that has driven him his entire life: "If somebody built it once... I can build it again."

John began researching again and located an outlet where he could purchase all the cane and reed he would need. He built a new seat frame and began teaching himself how to weave reed to create a wicker seat.

 

The first step was to soften the reed in order to make it pliable so that it wouldn't break when it was being wrapped or woven...

 

After steaming the reed to soften it, John then wrapped the entire frame with the pliable reed.

The next step was for John to install the ribs through which he would weave the reed as he built the

seat. In order to keep those "ribs" in place as he was weaving the reed, John installed removable guides held in place with zip-ties.

By the end of July, John was well on his way to completing his wicker seat. He removed the first two "guides" that kept the "ribs" in place as he wove the reed in and out between the ribs.

On August 3, 2012 John was nearly finished with the seat. Only one guide remained to keep the ribs in place as he continued weaving the reed between the ribs.

Just five days later ... and only 22-hours after he started ... John had finished weaving and oiling the wicker seat and now had it installed in the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE...

John decided he needed to try it out to make sure the seat was positioned correctly so that all the controls and pedals were adequately accessible by the placement of the seat.

Now the only thing left to do with the seat was to find the right fabric (color and texture) to make the armrests with ........ and to find the right materials with which to make the seat cushion.

After making our research visit to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC in March 2015, John had the details he needed to make the armrests accurately.

John's father had restored some antique automobiles in the past and had a local upholstery shop make the seats for his 1908 Model "T" Ford Touring car in the late 1980's. The shop owner had old cars as well and the two men belonged to an old car club, so they were friends.

One day in the spring of 2015, John and his Dad went to the shop (now owned by his friend's son) to visit and reminisce. While there, John mentioned that he was looking for something to make the seat cushion with. The owner brought out some fabric he had just removed from the seat of a 1919 Stanley Steamer.

THAT was just exactly what John had in mind. The fact that it had come off a vehicle of that vintage, prior to the time the original Spirit of St. Louis had been built, would simply add to the authenticity aspect that John had been focusing on as he was building the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE.

John asked how much he wanted for enough of the fabric to make the seat cushion, but the owner said, "Why don't you let me make it for you?" Given that John had a lot of other work to do on the project, he agreed and gave the owner the dimensions we had gotten off the original while we were doing our research inspection on it in March of that year.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Reichlin of Cedardale Upholstery in Mount Vernon, Washington for the seat cushion he provided for the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE.

THE WING

While on vacation with his parents in December 2011, John was showing his father how he could use his "smart phone" to look up information. John had been wondering about where he could find "Terneplate" ... the metal used to build the fuel tanks in the Spirit of St. Louis ... so he showed his dad how the search engine provided (limited, in this case) information about "terne" metals.

Thinking about the terneplate reminded John of a vacation trip we had taken his parents on 2- years earlier when we visited the San Diego Air and Space Museum in California.


John had discovered volunteers at the museum were building wing ribs to sell as souvenirs for $45.00 apiece. These wing ribs were built on the same wing-rib jig that the ribs for the original Spirit of St. Louis had been built on, using the same aircraft spruce ... period-correct laminated plywood gussets... tiny finish nails that date from 1927... and came with a Certificate of Authenticity and a letter explaining the details about the rib... so John purchased one.

Having built ribs for the Stearman aircraft we'd had, and building ribs as the first stage of our own business venture, he KNEW how time and labor intensive it is to build wing ribs. The ribs the volunteers were building were of excellent quality and were truly "works of art."

Each rib is stamped with "Made by Volunteers, San Diego Aerospace Museum" and in another location they are numbered, dated and the volunteers' initials are added.

As we drove across the New Mexico desert on that final day of 2011 ...John thinking once again about building a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis... his father watched and listened while John used his "smart phone" to call the San Diego Air & Space Museum. John asked if it would be possible to order 50 wing-ribs? He was told that it would probably take them at least a year and a half to get that many built... so John said, "Well, you better get started then!"

Knowing he had now "committed" himself to purchasing 50 wing-ribs, he then set about locating the spruce he would need for the wing spars onto which those 50-ribs would be placed.

When he located a company in Port Townsend, WA (where he purchased 4-spar grade, Sitka spruce, clear, vertical grain, boards, 24 feet long and the appropriate widths but thicker than what he needed for both the front and rear spars) he had no idea that the spars for the wing in the original Spirit of St. Louis had also been sourced on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

We knew that John could only work on the wings during the warm summer months since our shop was still an unheated building at that time. The glue he would be using required specific temperature ranges in order to adhere and cure properly, so it wasn't until June of the following year that the wing work began in earnest.

The first step was to plane the Sitka spruce boards down to just 1/2-inch thick boards, to match what the spars in the original aircraft were.

It was heartbreaking to see those lovely, 2 1/4-inch thick boards, being reduced to shavings and sawdust upon the wood-shop floor. Fortunately, it was not a total loss since I was able to "recycle" that wood into mulch for the trees and shrubs we have in our landscaping around the property.

Once the boards were planed smooth, down to the 1/2-inch thickness required; we carried them to the main shop where John had built several tall, narrow, "stands" to put them on so they would be easier to work on. We lined the two, 24-foot long by 8-inch wide, boards ... that would make up the front spar ... end to end on the stands so that he would be able to cut angles on those ends to splice them together in order to make ONE, 46-foot long spar.

Once he spliced them together, he had to add tapered strips of spruce along the edges to make up the "I" shape of each spar.

It took several days for John to get the strips glued into place ...

(Below) The splice completed... Then, sanding the excess glue away, and fine-tuning the edges... And attaching the reinforcement "spar-stiffeners" and fuel tank strap mounts along the length of the spars.

SO MUCH MORE TO THE STORY IS ON ITS WAY!!! Please check back often for updates!