The Spirit of St. Louis
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John has long been interested in the story surrounding the iconic flight of the Ryan NYP commonly referred to as "The Spirit of St. Louis".

In the early 1990's John thought he'd like to build a replica NYP but had no idea where to find plans for the airplane.  After a bit of research ... prior to the advent of the 'world wide web' and the internet as we know it today ... he contacted the San Diego Air and Space Museum in California to see if they might be able to steer him in the right direction.

Sure enough!  They had copies of what were known as the "Ed Morrow drawings", and John could have a set of those drawings for $1,000.00 ... however, he would need to provide them with a written statement that he would NOT build an airworthy aircraft using those plans!

What good were those plans if he couldn't build the plane to fly?  He passed on their offer and did more research.

Eventually he was given the phone number for Ed Morrow himself and gave him a call.  

Ed was the 'metal-fitting' foreman (a.k.a. 'welder') and part of the more than 35-person crew who built the original Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

Ed had drawn a set of plans from memory several years after the original aircraft flew  and those plans were used to modify the 'replica' aircraft built for the movie "The Spirit of St. Louis" starring Jimmy Stewart in 1957.

When John told Ed what the folks at the museum had said, Ed told John he would send him a set of plans himself if the museum wouldn't send them without a waiver!

Unfortunately, "life" got in the way and with a young family to raise, John put his plans to build the replica 'on hold' and moved on.  He failed to get those plans before Ed passed away in 1994.

Nevertheless, after the kids were grown and on their own John found himself once again thinking about that famous aircraft and wondering what it would take to build one.  He knew he wasn't getting any younger and figured if he was going to build one in THIS lifetime, he had better get started.

In late 2011 John once again contacted the San Diego Air and Space Museum to see about ordering a set of those plans.  This time he was pleasantly surprised when they asked for his address and told him they would send out a CD with the plans on them the next morning.  No request for any amount of money and no request for any kind of a statement about NOT building an airworthy replica!

Thus began the next project on John's agenda.  A replica "Ryan NYP".  At this point John was not thinking about making his project an exact replica.  He planned to use a Lycoming 680 engine on it since he doubted he'd be able to find a Wright J-5 Whirlwind like the original had.  He was also unaware how many errors there are on the Ed Morrow drawings when compared to the original.

John had a lot to learn about his newest project and we will share some of those discoveries with you as we take you along on the journey we experienced during the construction of his Definitive Reproduction Ryan NYP!

Construction:

Once the CD with the 'Morrow' drawings arrived in the mail, John got right to work building a plywood 'jig' into which he would put the tubing to keep it all in place as he welded the joints together.

John ordered the tubing he would need to build the fuselage for the Ryan NYP replica in April 2012.  It arrived in a single, 20-foot long by 8-inch wide and 8-inch tall crate.  Who would ever imagine that all the tubing one would need to build the fuselage of an airplane the size of the Spirit of St. Louis could fit in a crate that size?

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Fuselage tubing in the crate on the floor.  

Wing spar material on the sawhorses above.

During that same month John also ordered the four Sitka Spruce wing-spar 'blanks' he would need for the one-piece, 46-foot long wing he would need to build for his replica Ryan NYP.  Each 'blank' was 24-ft. in length. 

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John immediately got to work measuring, cutting and fitting the tubing into the jigs he had built.

By early June he had the fuselage tubing welded together and the single door on the starboard side of the fuselage in place.

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With the fuselage tac welded together, it was time to add a few of the controls that belong in the cockpit.  John built and installed the rudder pedals, the control stick, the throttle quadrant and trim control.  Additionally he cut out a new plywood instrument panel into which he began to install some of the instruments he had already begun to collect for the project.

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Then it was time to build the motor mount that would eventually hold the engine.  John needed to find something he could use as a template around which he could bend the tubing to get a perfectly round 'ring' of a specific size.

As he looked around his shop he realized the chuck on the pre-World War I lathe that sat against the wall of his shop was exactly the right diameter he needed.

He filled the tubing with sand and welded the ends so the sand would not fall out.  Then, using his torch to heat the tubing, he had his son Mike pull the tube around the lathe chuck until it was all the way around the chuck ... and then some.

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After removing the sand, and welding the ends together, he had a perfectly round 'ring' to build the motor mount with.

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By July 2012 John had completed the motor mount and installed it on the fuselage.

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Authenticity:

It was about this time that John discovered a photograph of a 'Lunkenheimer' fuel manifold while searching for parts online.  This discovery allowed John to meet Ty Sundstrom, the owner of the manifold, and subsequently led him to make the decision to build his replica as authentic to the original as he possibly could.

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Ty, as it turned out, had been researching the original build for nearly two decades by then.  He had already built more than one replica and was fully aware that the "Morrow" drawings were not accurate.  He informed John that the tubing called for in the drawings was too thick.  He also told John that the drawings have the fuselage 2-inches too tall at the rudder post!

That meant that John had to cut his fuselage down ... from aft of the door ... all the way back to the rudder post ... on both sides!

What a dramatic difference that made in the angle of the slope from the cockpit to the tail.  When compared to photographs of the original Ryan NYP, it was clear to see that Ty was correct!

Ty was kind enough to send John numerous photographs of the original aircraft as it was being built in 1927.  Several of the photos he had marked with details he felt were important for John to take note of as he was building the Spirit of St. Louis by JNE so that it would be as accurate as possible.

The original had many modifications made to it throughout the one calendar year it flew.  Each modification created a different "look" than it had before.   Once John realized he was going to build his replica accurate to the original, he then had to decide which time frame he wanted his replica to represent.  After much discussion, and reviewing multiple photographs of each modification, John decided he wanted his aircraft to exactly resemble the original aircraft as it appears to visitors today when they see it hanging in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Gallery at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

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The original Ryan NYP known as the "Spirit of St. Louis'" as it hangs in the Smithsonian's NASM

 
 
 

More details on the way ...

Check back again soon ...

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