As we begin to take occupancy of our new home in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center’s new wing, and begin the process of outfitting the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, we are faced with the daunting task of moving all of our equipment into the new spaces and setting up an environment which will be favorable to the preservation and restoration of our priceless artifacts for decades to come. This is likely to be a lengthy process but we have begun to deliver selected artifacts so that when the viewing area becomes accessible, visitors will be able to see examples of our gems in the rough. Each of these aircraft has been in storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland for years, where the Museum's restoration work had taken place for decades. These aircraft are seldom seen by the public, and are all in need of preservation or restoration treatments. By far, the largest of these chosen artifacts is the Sikorsky S-43 / JRS-1 (U.S. Navy version) flying boat. It is actually a twin-engine amphibian design, which has an overall length of more than 51 feet, a wingspan of 86 feet, and weighs over six tons. The airplane is constructed mostly of aluminum along with extensive use of fabric coverings on the control and lifting surfaces, and powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney radial engines. This particular airplane has historic significance in that it was stationed in Hawaii on Dec. 7th, 1941, and survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Once assigned to the team tasked with relocating this large object, I began, as I usually do, by researching the project. This meant a visit to the National Air and Space Museum Archives which are also currently located at the Garber Facility, but will be moving to the Udvar-Hazy Center. The helpful staff was able to find the material I needed in the form of a manufacturer’s maintenance manual. The document contains a wealth of information and addresses the transport, assembly, and rigging of the airplane. Having this important information available for a 73-year-old airplane that was produced in relatively small numbers, and of which there are only a few left in existence, is an amazing testament to our Archives Division. After reading through the relevant information, we came to realize that, by design, the large flying boat would separate into manageable sub-sections, as the airplanes were often crated when they left the factory to be assembled upon reaching their final destination. This would prove invaluable for transport of the pieces over the D.C. beltway to Chantilly, Virginia. While looking at the fully assembled airplane in a storage building at the Garber Facility, we concluded that although the disassembly, move, and reassembly would be rather involved, it should be a fairly straight-forward process. However, by virtue of the Sikorsky’s sheer size and weight, this would not be an easy job.
Prior to beginning the actual disassembly process, several preliminary steps had to be taken. We removed all of the access panels which covered the assembly hardware and applied penetrating lubricant to all the bolts. This would help loosen potentially stuck or corroded mounting bolts. All of the support struts and bracing wires were tagged as to their relative location on the airplane to help during the reassembly process. Several rigging slings were fabricated in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines for the purpose of lifting the large sections. We bagged and tagged all loose mounting hardware to ensure nothing got misplaced along the way. During the removal of the propellers from the engines we encountered a problem that resulted in a unique solution. Once the exact Hamilton-Standard propeller model had been identified, I found that we did not have the proper tool needed to remove it. A co-worker suggested I look in a Japanese engine and propeller tool kit that we had in the collection. As it turns out, the American-made Hamilton-Standard propellers had been produced under license in Japan prior to World War II, so the Japanese tool kit contained the exact tool needed to do the job. In order to avoid a delay in fabricating welded stands to support the engines once removed, we decided to take a different approach. Rather than remove the engines from their mounting rings, we instead pulled the engine mounts from the nacelles at the front of the wing. This allowed us to rotate each engine vertically and utilize the four-point mount itself as a stand. Although this required more work to disconnect the various components, it saved time in the schedule.
The rest of the disassembly work proceeded on schedule, and then the relocation of the aircraft to our new home near Dulles airport began. Five tractor trailer loads were required to transport all of the various sub-assemblies. The largest section was the one-piece hull, which exceeded “normal” dimensional limits and meant that requisite permits had to be obtained through both the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles for transport of a “wide load” on our open trailer. The route chosen for transport was also carefully evaluated to avoid “choke points” such as low overpasses, beltway construction, and “Jersey” barriers.
Through much planning and coordination on the part of the team, the move went smoothly and the big Sikorsky now awaits its public debut alongside the other artifacts in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hanger.