24 Hours in Seattle, Part II

From:         rna@gsb-crown.Stanford.EDU (Robert Ashcroft)
Organization: Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
Date:         18 Jan 96 14:50:33 
Followups:    1 2
Next article
View raw article
  or MIME structure

The Museum of Flight Restoration Center is located just inside the
main entrance to Paine Field in Everett, off to the right.  There are
a couple of fairly anonymous hangers there, so I went in one and
found myself amoung a bunch of old airplanes in various stages of
(dis)repair.  Probably the most impressive of these is one of the
original old F-8U Crusader prototypes.

The folks in charge are quite relaxed.  You're free to poke around,
so long as you don't take anything home and don't hurt anything (or
yourself).

It was interesting, if not wildly so, and I meandered aimlessly for a
while.  Then I spied what appeared to be part of an New Zealand RAF
Vampire up on a rack, so I wandered over to one of the guys in charge
and asked him about it.  He showed me the rest of the Vampire but soon
admitted that his real interest was commercial aviation (clearly a man
after my own heart) and happened to let drop that the Restoration Center
has a DeHavilland Comet 4C "out the back".

"Huh?  A Comet, here?"
"Yep"
Boggle.
"Can I see it?"
"You can go on board if you like."

So we went out the back and there it was, an ex-Mexicana Comet 4C from
the dawn of the jet-age, resprayed into old BOAC colors.

It's a tragic story, actually.  This and a sister ship (that, for a long
time, was stored at O'Hare by the Smithsonian, before being broken up
for want of sufficient funds) were the pride of the Mexicana fleet.
The Comet 4C was built specifically for Mexicana, a high-performance
model that could take off from hot-and-high Mexico City airport and
make Madrid nonstop.

In 1978, Mexicana flew the craft to Paine Field, where the new owner hoped
to use it for charters.  Somehow this fell through and the airplane sat
unattended on the field for 15 years.  Nasty things happen in a wet
climate in such a situation.  Water got in, and the rain and sun did their
worst.

When the aircraft was finally towed to the Restoration Center and opened
up, every internal surface of this once pristine aircraft was covered
with green slime.  Heartbreaking.  Corrosion and rot have afflicted the
entire aircraft.

Anyway, Mr Robert Hood and his colleagues have been steadily working on
this aircraft, trying to restore the interior to the way it was when
delivered.  All the seats have been removed, the interior is being cleaned,
and the cockpit being renovated.  When I visited the aircraft, several
floor panels were also out, meaning that in places I had to step from
floor beam to floor beam to walk the length of the aircraft.

The Comet, of course, was the very first jet airliner in commercial service,
entering service in 1952, I believe, a 6-7 years before the 707.
DeHavilland payed for being the technology leader when the Comet I suffered
a series of catastrophic hull failures resulting from stress fractures
around the sharp edges of its rectangular windows and rectangular cutouts.
It was withdrawn from service in 1954, and the Comet only returned in
its Mark 4 model in 1958, shortly before the 707 entered service.  The
Comet 4C was never a commercial success---only 75 were sold.

It's nonetheless a fascinating aircraft.  The Comet pioneered multi-axle
landing gear (bogey landing gear).  The link between the axles, unfortunately,
was prone to break if subjected to tight radius turns, which could result
in the landing gear strut punching a hole in the tarmac.  Special wide-
radius turns were painted on many airport taxi-ways, with the label "Comet".

The distinctive feature of the Comet, of course, was that its four engines
were buried in the wings (the Soviets copied this feature in many of their
early jet designs) close to the fuselage.  This meant that the landing
gear, located _outboard of the engines, could not fold up into the fuselage,
as in most modern designs.  So, instead, they folded the otherway (outward)
into the wing.

The 4C also had extra fuel tanks in bulbous tanks about 3/4 the way out
the wing.

DeHavilland also built the airplane to survive a bellylanding, since
DeHavilland aircraft historically had trouble with landing gear that
wouldn't extend.  So out under the gas tanks, and also on the tail,
are fibreglass fairings.  Under the belly is a steel plate.  In the
event of a wheels up landing, the fairings scrape off to reveal small
tires to protect the wingtips.  The aircraft will then skid along on
its belly plate and its auxiliary wheels, with the expectation of a
return to service within a week.  Given the engines are in the wing,
they're in no particular danger of being damaged.

What else?  The cockpit---five places, four of them functional.  Pilot,
Copilot, Engineer, Navigator.  Navigation by dead-reckoning available
through a periscope sextant through the ceiling of the cockpit.  Sight
a star, read your chronometer, plot your position and steer accordingly.

The nose, of course, is identical to that of a Caravelle---the French
licensed the design.

In any event, as you can tell, this is quite an airplane, and an experience
not to be missed if you do any aviation tourism in the Seattle area.
I'm not sure that you can count on going aboard this thing, I think I
just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  If you really
want to see the machine, advance arrangement wouldn't hurt, I suspect.

This is by no means the only interesting commercial artifact at the
Restoration Center.  Their other impressive displays are the #1 727
and a Boeing 247 (pre DC-3 airliner) in _flying condition.  The
Restoration Center is, in fact, an approved FAA maintenance facility
for the Boeing 247, not surprisingly the only such facility in the world!
The 247 has been restored to its 1935 condition, and is gorgeous inside
and out.

There's also another SR-71 cockpit section, recovered from a wreck.

Anyway, after this wholly unexpected pleasure, I set off back south to
return to Sea-Tac airport.  However, I went via I-405 rather than I-5
and checked out Renton on the way.  Renton is where Boeing builds the
737 and 757.

There are, unfortunately, no public tour of the Renton facility.  However
the gift store is there on Park Dr, so I went in an bought myself some
airline geek stuff.  It's on the corner of Park and 757(!)

Having nothing better to do, I drove into Renton airport, and followed
a service road around.  Boeing Renton is just across a small river from
Renton Field, and a bridge joins the two, over which airplanes are towed.
I followed the (public) service road around until it deadended---said
dead end _being the aforementioned bridge.

There was unfortunately little else to see.  The Renton flightline was
event more depleted than the Everett one, only a single 737 evident,
still in "green" (the skin panels have protective vinyl coating on
them during construction, which gives the aircraft a metallic green
color).  I returned to Sea-Tac airport.

Incidently, Sea-Tac is itself one of the better airports for watching
airplanes, since its terminals have an excellent view of the parallel
takeoff and landing runways.

And that's how I spent 24 hours of aviation tourism in Seattle.

RNA