2100 Miles from your Toolbox

This is the story of the unexpected challenges of Demating and crating 78H for a cross-country trip on a flatbed trailor..BC

What do we need to know?

If there's one thing that we knew going into this, it was that we had never done anything exactly like this before, and our seller had. One of the things we negotiated in our purchase agreement was that he would assist us in getting 78H dissassembled and crated. That was probably the smartest thing we ever did.

Where can we work?

Fortunately, Steve and Bill both are not strangers to working outside of your normal shop. Steve routinely goes to other folks airplanes at their locations to perform maintenance, and Bill, in his long stint with military aviation, often would have to maintenance in, uh, 'less than ideal' conditions, including the Saudi Arabian Desert.

Knowing that shelter is your best friend, we contacted the local FBO in Monroe and confirmed that we could arrange for some sort of hangar space. Our telephone conversations gave us a gaurantee of overhead cover, but nothing else, so we made arrangements to rent both a generator and an air compressor if necessary from the local equipment rental company. Fortunately, when we arrived we found available space in an enclosed hangar that provided both electricity and air (although it was VERY wet, provided through a compressor that had not been used for many years), with the extra added bonus of a restroom in the hangar. Some may think that the cost of $100.00 per day was a little high, but only if they have never had to work outside under a trouble light turning every fastener by hand. Oh, did I mention the overnight temperatures got into the twenty's?...

What do we need to bring?

After September 11th 2001, air travelers have been severely limited on what they can carry OR check on an airplane locked up, so we needed to have a good plan for what we should bring versus buy on site. This tool list was also colored by the fact that we could only spend a few days completing the project. We ended up shipping a 187lb. Airline Transport Association(ATA) rated container via FedEx ground to our hotel room loaded with all the handtools we expected to need, 100 ft of air hose, and pneumatic ratchets, impact wrench and stapler. (Is this the part where I confess that we forgot to pack a single hammer?)We limited our tools to basic wrench and socket sets and a small selection of special tools, such as the crankshaft spline adapter for hoisting, stork pliers (don't EVER leave home without them, as they are truly lifesavers!), a couple of Makita drills, a Makita rotating head flashlight, and a load tested hoisting strap.

What should you plan to buy/rent?

We knew that we were going to need a hoist of some sort to demate the aircraft and that the FBO would not be able to support us. Before we arrived in Monroe, we arranged to rent a propane-powered warehouse forklift from the local equipment rental company. At this point, I'll note that after we had that forklift for a couple of days we discovered another that lived right outside our hangar was available from another tenant for less than 30% of the cost, so don't stop keeping your eyes out. We planned on needing the forklift for one day and ended up needing one for four, so the other lift really helped on 'budget creep'.

We also knew that we would need LOTS of lumber and fasteners to build our crates. In fact, we knew that as neither of us are structural engineers, there was little doubt that we would 'overbuild' the crates tremendously just to stay on the right side of the safety margin. We located a Home Depot within 5 miles of the airport and knew that would be our lumber source. Our expectation was that they would have a low/no cost truck available for hauling our lumber just like they all do in California, but that turned out to not be the case. Of the three truckloads of lumber we ended up purchasing, our seller hauled the first two in his pickup, but what about the third? Here's where luck helped us tremendously. When we arrived at the rental counter in Jackson Mississippi, Bill joked to the attendant that he would happily take one of their Chevrolet Suburbans for the same price as the mini-speck-compact that we had reserved, and although he didn't have a Suburban, he DID give us a mini-van for the same price! (Here's a picture picture of that last load) The moral of this story is plan ahead..


You Betcha! The first surprise was when we couldn't get the propellor nut off of the crankshaft. We hadn't brought any special tools for this job, so we went over to Home Depot and bought a 3 foot long 'Gorilla Bar' crowbar to use. Upon the first application of the crowbar, we bent it a good 60 degrees, so what did we try next? We turned it around and bent it straight! Again, luck intervened and we found a bulk steel supply place on the outskirts of the field, and 45 minutes and $20.00 later we were the proud owners of two 6 foot sections of 7/8 inch bar stock (they only sold it in 12 ft lengths, so they cut it in half for free). With our new 'tool', the prop was off in about 6 minutes.

The next surprise came when we thought we had everything disconnected and the wing assembly ready to drop. That's when we discovered that we had mis-identified two bolts in the cabin as wing attachment bolts, but in reality the front lower bolts were only accessible from under the plane through the main gearwell behind another inspection panel.

The wing assembly certainly wasn't done with us yet! There are approximately 65 fasteners holding the two wings and the staion zero rib together, and seven of them were internally stripped. Of course, all seven of these fasteners were only accessable from INSIDE the wing, and by the time we discovered the problem we were about 28 hours into that days activities (remember the time schedule?) After a well deserved 12 hrs sleep and some food, we came up with an inventive way to engage the threads on the bolts, which was to use the forklift at the very center of the assembly so that the wings would 'hang' and put tension on the fasteners. All seven of them were able to be removed, but not all as we thought. One of the bolts literally exploded when Bill started turning the nut under tension!

Remember the crates? First off, we found out that there was no local source for staples that fit Bill's pneumatic gun, so all the fasteners had to be put in by hand, which EASILY added 100 man-hours to the project. If we had it all to do over again, we'd have taken staples with us as well as an air-nailer.

Stuff you can't plan for...

We thought we had everything covered, and we were wrong, but we had no idea just HOW wrong. All the other stuff mentioned above pales compared to the phone call Bill got as we were finishing the wing crates and about to move on to finishing the big, ugly fuselage crate. It went something like this...

"Hello, Staff Seargent Clark? Staff Seargent McKinney here from the unit. I am reading this statement from the Commander"....etc..."ordered to Active Duty..."etc..."report date 27 January"...etc..."See you there, bye-bye"

That little phone call made Bill leave a day early, which ended up forcing Steve to stay an additional couple of days. Additionally, it has stopped most of the forward progress on the project, but that's both a temporary delay, and the start of another story...

The story doesn't end here though. Steve spent another two days getting everything crated up. Did I mention that this put us past our window on the transportation we had arranged? We were fortunate enough to have contracted with a freight forwarder that was local to us, so arrangements were made for a truck to come by and pick up the crates in our absence. For a very reasonable fee, the owner of the forklift we had been using (they were ALSO a frieght company) agreed to supervise the loading.

Happy Ending

After a couple other challenges, such as the wrong type of trailor showing up the first time, our 'baby' arrived at it's new home at 4AM on 2 February 2003 and both Steve and Bill were there to unload the crates off of the truck. After living in the parking lot for a couple of days, unpacking revealed about $200.00 worth of total damage after being disassembled and crated by two very cold and tired guys in a hangar 2100 miles from their toolbox.