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Volunteers Replicating 1917 Airplanes in 2017

logistics and maintenance museum parks family

Those Magnificent Men Who Build Flying Machines

Inside of wingWe have noticed two major kinds of museums. One kind is very big, because they do a lot of fundraising, get big grants, and pay for the best in displays and marketing. The result is often a very good experience for the public, and such museums can be a child's first clue that history might be interesting.

However, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and the other kind of museum is usually quite small because of prioritizing freedom above money - the freedom to tell the history the way it really was, rather than get a board's permission on every statement. The result is that often smaller museums are the best if you want the real, unvarnished history.

Without the money to pay staff, smaller museums survive through the help of volunteers. The museum has to work with volunteers' schedules and skills, both of which could be minimal. On the other hand, you can't buy passion, and volunteers wouldn't be there if they didn't care deeply about the museum. Also, in many cases  volunteers are some of the greatest experts in the field, retirees doing for free what they've already spent decades being paid for.

Cockpit under construction If you get the chance to visit the VAFM in person, your first priority should be to get a tour from Andy Parks; there's nobody else in the world with his knowledge of the people in the collection as well as personal experience of aviation and with building WWI replicas. But after that, talk to some of the mechanics and ask them how they build WWI airplanes with the materials, fuels, and regulations of a century later. 

Notice the attached picture of the inside of a wing - or is it a side view of a bridge? or some part of a grand piano? That is actually stitching between the fabric skin on the wing's top and bottom, using string that looks like heavy dental floss. There are a whole lot of little wooden parts in there, and in WWI instrument makers were often involved in airplane construction because they were the experts on making precisely curved wood. (Note also the picture of the smooth curve of the under-construction cockpit.) Besides, in wartime there is not so much demand for string instruments and pianos.  

In the picture of one of the young mechanics currently learning from VAFM experts, you can see the outside of the wing she worked on; the bluish stuff around the seams is dope that keeps the fabric from ripping, which would do bad things to the aerodynamics of the wing. One danger during WWI was that too violent a maneuver could cause airplanes to shed the fabric on one wing - or both - also shedding the aerodynamics keeping the pilot in the air.

Finally, we include a picture of the inside of a toolchest to show the professionalism and seriousness of these dedicated mechanics. Their brilliant Snarkometer invention displays the current snark level, warning bystanders of the danger of dropping an inflammatory comment.

Read more about the work on the airplanes in this recent article from the Times-Call Local News.Snarkometer

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