By Malcolm Uhlman, Greenwood Military Aviation Museum|
CP Argus 717 has been exposed to the elements for 20 years outside #4 Hangar and an additional 10 years at the Air Park, Greenwood Military Aviation Museum. Blistered and faded paint, signs of corrosion, windows foggy in appearance, all in all a tired looking bird. A refurbishing job HAD to be initiated to save this venerable old servant of Canada's east coast waters and flagship of the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum.
Where and how to begin?! Who would have the knowledge and expertise to tackle such a humongous project? Consultation was begun and it was determined that a job of this magnitude could only be done as a 14 Wing Project.
Discussions were started with 14 Wing's Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (14 AMS), the people who do this kind of procedure for a living. Time and money are the twin evils hindering many projects in today's financial climate and the same holds true at most museums. 14 AMS were willing to commit one SME (subject matter expert) and an assistant to spearhead the project. Also they would allow any volunteers, if and when work commitments would allow, time on the project. Several technicians from different trades stepped forward and to date twenty nine men and women have volunteered and have embraced this project as their own.
Where to start?! First of all, a project of this kind is never conducted outdoors! With such a large beast temporarily housing it would be cost prohibitive. The Museum's budget could not afford a structure large enough to enclose an airplane of this size. Thinking of refurbishing the Argus outdoors would be a difficult task given weather concerns, rain, wind, and cold. But surely our usually temperate valley climate would be kind enough to allow enough good weather for completion of the project.
Problem one! Location! Zeke's Creek is a mere 25 yards from the site where Argus 717 sits. The last coats of paint on Argus 717 contained lead paint. Need we say more! In today's environmentally sensitive climate this could be a major contaminant. Obviously, residue from the old paint could not be allowed into the waters of this small steam which flows into the Annapolis River. After much deliberation, a site across the Museum/Canex parking lot was cleared by environmental assessments.
Problem number two, moving an aging 60,000 pound behemoth. Again we approached Museum friends at 14 AMS. A team of 14 men and women donated a Sunday to attempt the movement of the monster across the lawn and parking lot to a temporary home well away from Zeke's Creek. Would the sun exposed tires still hold air, are the wheels still free to rotate, would the pavement of the parking lot hold up such weight. All problems were considered and inch by inch the big airplane began moving once again after 10 years. Three doubled ¾ inch plywood paths, totaling 1½ inch in thickness, were laid down under the nose wheel and both landing wheel assemblies to help distribute the massive weight and prevent the wheels digging into the lawn or breaking through the pavement. Within the first few feet of movement, something was not quite right! Due to the alertness of MCpl Chris Scanlan it was noticed that the nose was very light! Because the aircraft is empty of all inside equipment, gas tanks empty, Argus 717 is tail heavy. Quickly several of the volunteers scrambled inside to the cockpit area to make sure the nose did not come up. Several cement curbs were borrowed from the parking lot and hastily loaded into the rear hatch and lugged forward to counter-balance the tail weight. The rest of this hot Sunday afternoon went without a hitch. Again, the Museum is indebted to another group of unsung volunteers for a job well done.
Last year's Tow Crew Members: Sgt Brian D. Smith - Tow crew I/C, MCpl Chris Scanlan - Tow driver, MCpl Phil Weedon - Wing walker, MCpl Todd MacDougall - Tail walker, and MCpl Andrew Arab - Wing walker
Enter another crew of 14 Wing volunteers led by MCpl Bruce Souter, an Aircraft Structures Technician from 14 AMS. Bruce brings lots of expertise to the table having been involved in several previous refurbishments, including the Tracker, the T-Bird, the CF 100, and the F86 Sabre found at 16 Wing Borden ON. Comparing the Argus project, all these previous projects added together would not add up to the total magnitude of one Argus! Volunteers are from various trades of aircraft technicians and are "on loan" when available. Aircraft overhauls, repairs, safety checks, timed out aircraft obviously take priority over the Argus refurb. Thus we see a rotating crew at the Argus. In a controlled building or refurbishing hangar things would be much different. Outside the powerful paint removers, such as "Turco" would definitely be a no-no. Containment is the watch word all during this massive project. A water-based, environmentally friendly paint stripper was found, slow but ultimately effective. No dry sanding or scraping that would allow dust particles containing flecks of lead paint could be allowed to enter the air or wind currents. The solution was found to be in the paint stripper itself, which was of a gel consistency. Each morning, four large heavy polypropylene tarps were placed on the ground and staked in place, one under each wing and another 2 under the nose or tail, wherever the team was working that day. Stripper was applied and left for a couple of hours, then the "elbow-grease" came into action. Lots and lots of scouring pads were used. The primer coat was hardest to take off as there is a chemical bond to the metal surface making adhesion and further paint coats last longer. The gel stripper held all traces of the old paint (scuffing) and was dropped on the poly below, which was carefully folded up each night and reused the next day or until it was necessary to dispose of it. Kudos to these dedicated personnel who laboriously scrubbed and prepared the surface for a fresh new coat of paint.
The underside of the Argus was severely corroded. This is not uncommon with all aircraft which are flown in a maritime environment due to the salt waters which tend to accumulate as it drips down the sides of the aircraft and finds its way to the underside and evaporates. As we can appreciate, most of the summer was taken up by this gruesome unglamorous work. But these guys persevered and painting began in late summer.
The Preventive Medicine (Pre-Med) folks, who are concerned with worker safety, detailed a full cover suit for our painters. This protection was necessary for inhalation and skin absorption of potential contaminants. The suit consists of full coveralls with hood and a full face mask and finally rubber gloves. Not just any mask will do. The volunteer started out undergoing a full Hazardous Medical Test. This included a lengthy spirometric test given by the respiratory department at Soldier's Memorial Hospital in Middleton. Then a face mask was fitted at the Wing Fire Department by Sgt Paul Veinot after which the volunteer was issued with his properly fitted mask and authorization for use. The full suit brings it's own problems with it's use. In the hot humid summer temperatures the human body will perspire in its attempt to cool off. With the loss of electrolytes the body will not function safely and could end in unconsciousness. Thus rehydration fluids have to be administered to the painters. Surprisingly, most of these volunteers have never painted before! Under the guidance of team leader Bruce Souter and 2 i/c SME Cpl Yannick Robitaille, several practice sessions were held with each volunteer using excess paint on different objects such as old 45 gallon drums until the student was comfortable with the procedure.
Painting brought its own series of problems. Most paints of the past used highly volatile, toxic solvents which would naturally be prohibited in our project. An eco-friendly paint was found, EKO-POLY paint a water soluble polyurethane. This allowed for water cleanup but gave the tough, long lasting qualities of polyurethane. A draw back, again from being an outdoor project, the temperature has to be 16 C or above, ideally for 24 hours. Temperature is important in the mixing sequence of paint preparation. How much activator to add in the cooler temperatures of the morning and will this be too much for the hotter temperatures of the afternoon causing the paint to cure too quickly and the nozzles to gum up? The ambient temperature must be 16 C but this does not necessarily mean the substrate temperature is 16 C. It would take time to heat up the massive amount of metal in an aircraft as large as the Argus. Also rain would actually wash off any fresh paint. Paint application instructions did allow for paint to be rolled on BUT the second part of this process necessitated using a dry two inch brush to poke the tiny bubbles left from the paint roller! Imagine the time this would take over the entire surface of an Argus aircraft! So, a spray program was discussed. The environmental people accepted a HVLP system, high volume/low pressure. This allowed atomizing the paint with only 40 pounds pressure at the tank and an amazing 4 pounds at the nozzle. This allowed for little or no overspray resulting in air born droplets and waste of paint. Two coats of primer are applied, then two coats of finish paint, although it was found that the upper white color took several coats as white does not tend to cover underlying paint well.
Battling the weather elements is a story in itself. The summer in the Valley is usually fairly temperate. The summer of 2010 proved to be much warmer and much more humid. This made the labor intensive work on the Argus much more physically draining. Often the crews started work early in the day to escape the heat of the afternoon. Once the "grunt work" was out of the way and the painting begun, time started to run out as the cooler fall temperatures inhibited the heat sensitive painting to be done. Thus work had to be suspended because of the cold. There was rain, within a period of two days we had up to 8 inches of downpours, not the best of conditions for water based paint! The spring of 2011 was a wet one! Few days were fit to paint so the return of the Argus to its display pad was delayed several times. Despite the idea of rinsing your hair in pristine rain water, rain water leaves a film on the surface of the Argus. Ideally, after a rain the surface should be pressure washed and dried before attempting another coat of paint to insure good adhesion.
Then there was the wind! One wind storm blew two cockpit windows out of the Neptune! We even had Hurricane Earl. In anticipation of his arrival, several more heavy cement pylons were chained to the tail of Argus 717. Painting a colossus out of doors you ask! Light wind speeds of 5 to 7 km/hr can be tolerated but because of the low 4 psi pressure at the nozzle gust of higher that 5 to 7 km/hr will blow paint away. Ideally the distance from the nozzle to the surface should be consistent to ensure and even coat. Gusts of wind obviously hinder this ability. The white paint does not cover well under the best of conditions and it is even worse in wind. The team has already used two coats of white on the top of the fuselage and expects to use two more before the surface is covered to their satisfaction. Wind is also a problem with masking. Green painters tape is great but not meant to be used in windy conditions. Plastic sheeting acts like a kite in wind and any little hole will result in it blowing off. Regular masking tape tends to pull of the fresh paint or leaves traces of glue which is tedious to remove.
Humidity is another major hindrance which can ultimately be controlled in a controlled environment. Paint will not adhere to a wet/moist surface. Joints around windows, antennas, even rivet heads tend to retain moisture, even microscopic drops in high, even medium humidity will result in poor adhesion of paint.
Interestingly, the only electric hand tool used was a drill used on the Plexiglas windows. By using emery paste and a pad, the scratches and film was taken off the cockpit and other windows to bring back their clarity. Work is planned to paint the lightening strike on each side once the last coat of white is painted on the top of the fuselage. A concern here is that the paint be dry and hard enough to apply and take off the tape necessary to detail the edges. Two seven foot roundels are ready to be applied to the top of each wing. Also two four foot roundels are waiting to be applied to each side of the fuselage as well as the remainder of the aircraft markings. The Museum will purchase the tail art from 14 AMS. The squadron has a special machine to cut and design the original configuration found on the tail of 717. Basically it is a 3M product made of special vinyl for direct application. Another method to accomplish this would be a cut stencil and the application of the different colors of paint. Again this would require the paint to have time to dry before the next coat could be applied.
More unsung volunteers over in 10 Hangar, Cpl Mathew Peddle, Cpl Dave Michaud, Cpl Steve Mofford and Cpl Raymond Lambe have cleaned up the radome cover (chin bubble), filled cracks and gouges with body filler and have a fresh coat of gloss black polyurethane paint. The propeller nose spinners as well as several antennas including the tip of the MAD boom have been cleaned of old paint and freshly repainted or clear coated, ready for reinstallation. Stencils and Decals were manufactured by Cpl Ross Francis and Cpl Kevin LaCroix
Finally, after months of trials and tribulations, on July 10,2011, the mighty Argus 717 was towed back to its place of prominence at the entrance to the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum. Much was learned from the original move and incorporated into a successful return. All who see the finished product come away raving at how crisp and clean the Argus now looks. Team leader MCpl Bruce Souter declared how proud he was of his team who perservered under trying circumstances to finish the job. Well done all!
Project OPI Capt Natalie Wispinski Team Supervisor ACS SME MCpl Bruce Souter and this springs 2 i/c SME Cpl Mike Norden Team members: Sgt Donald Ellsworth, MCpl Jean-Francois Tremblay, MCpl Yves Perreault, Cpl Gerard MacLean, Cpl Nathaniel Afonso, Cpl Rob Bennett, Cpl Todd Lunn, last summer SME 2 i/c Cpl Yannick Robitaille, Pte Chantal St-Jean, Pte Adam Trace, Cpl Chris Lindsay, Cpl Samuel Cormier, Cpl Chris Neufeld, Cpl Savannah Ward, Pte Shane Jordan and Cpl Ryan Pyke