Once the SHAR was unloaded at Georgetown, DE in early 2006, we had a chance to really look over the airplane and assess the condition for flying. A quorum of mechs attacked the airplane and the publications, and came to the conclusion this was indeed a potentially flyable airplane. I suspected that all along, but it was comforting to get the opinions of the actual mechanics who would be doing the work
The bad news was the mechanics couldn’t drive all the way to Gerogetown and work on it, weekend after weekend.
There just weren’t enough hours in a weekend to do that, so the consensus was to MOVE the airplane to St. Mary’s County, Maryland. That way, work could be done after hours and on weekends. It needed to be accessible to the crew, so we boxed the plane and parts, loaded them on trailers and shipped them across the bay to St. Mary’s, where it has remained ever since.
Next, we had to find a way to assemble the airplane. The wing is a single piece that attaches to the fuselage with 6, very strong bolts. They are close tolerance, precision fit.
As is usual, 4 of the six bolts slid right in. But the 2 remaining bolts did not line up. Was the wing warped? Did the wing get bent during shipping? We did not know, but decided NOT to use the big hammer approach. Call in the Marines….
An ad in a local Cherry Point, North Carolina newspaper received instant response. We had a crew of Marines, who would gladly drive 6 hours to work all weekend and return in time to do Marine stuff, for meager pay. They wanted the challenge to do something no one had ever done by flying a civilian Harrier.
The wings assembly was much easier than we suspected. The wing was NOT warped, but the bolts rarely align perfectly. The solution is to find someone with a large rear end and have them bounce up and down on the wing tip, while another mechanic gently persuades the bolts home with a ball peen hammer. Finally, a job I was built to do, so I assumed the wing tip as the bouncer. A few quick bounces, and the bolts were seated.
So for the next several weekends , we were invaded by the Marines. They took charge of the situation and went over the Harrier, stem to stern.
They inspected everything. They determined that even though this was a different model of Harrier than what they were used to seeing, it was more similar to the AV-8B than different. The basic systems were the same – engine, hydraulics, electrical, fuel, landing gear, etc, etc. Even the servicing panels were in similar positions, so they felt right at home working on the Sea Harrier.
Once we had a ‘complete’ airplane, they pronounced it ready to start the engine, after sending me to procure 5 gallons of alcohol.
When Marines ask for ‘5 gallons of alcohol’ I must admit I questioned the purpose. We were way too premature for a celebration. But it turns out the alcohol was to throw down the engine intake with the engine turning, to dissolve residue from mice, which had inhabited the engine bay. It would clean the compressor blades, so 5 gallons was produced.
But the first planned engine start, did not occur that day. When I pressed the engine start button, there was absolute silence. A small crowd had gathered to witness the first engine start, but as the mechs took off panels to inspect, the crowd slowly dispersed over the next 2 hours. After 2 hours of searching for circuit breakers, loose wires, and anything that could halt the start, someone announced, “we need to check the start/sequencing unit.”
Actually, as a former maintenance officer, I was quite familiar with the little box. I said,” take off the port panel in front of the port cold nozzle. The unit is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and has two wires going to it. Hit it with a chock!!”
To our surprise, the box was missing. I also knew from experience, that there was no way we were starting that day. We needed to get the unit from the UK, so we declared partial victory and sent the Marines back to home base. On the following Monday, a quick call to Everett Aero had the part on the way. It was scheduled to arrive before the next weekend and we’d be back on track.
Next up, preliminary engine runs.