Mellow Yellow - Cornell's First Start

When Vintage Wings of Canada first opened its doors, it was to a new world of vintage aircraft operation and restoration. Prior to this, Ottawa and Gatineau were ostensibly barrenlands of restoration knowledge... hell, we'd have been lucky if we ever saw a single vintage aircraft pass overhead in a year. In the years since, we have seen that a determined group of volunteers lead by key experienced folks like Deryck Hickox, Andrej Janik, Guy Richard or Oscar Verdugo can strip a wreck or barely flyable aircraft down to nothing but unconnected parts and bring it back, not just to flyable condition, but to a world-class level not surpassed by anyone. And do it with joy and camaraderie.

In a world where our outside experience has been disappointing at times, our own ability to do it ourselves, to do it right and to do it efficiently, leads us to believe that much more is possible. In a world where, in another project, a simple radial engine gets sent out for overhaul and comes back four and a half years later - damaged and in less than expected standard, our Fairchild Cornell stands out as the gold, or shall we say, yellow standard in aircraft restoration on a tight schedule.

Yesterday, Tuesday May 17, 2011, the team rolled the completed Cornell out to the ramp and fired her up. She started almost immediately and in a matter of moments and a few tweaks, was running like a John Deere tractor rolling off the assembly line. Today or tomorrow, she should be flying and before long she will set out upon a journey of discovery and outreach.

The Yellow Wings program will take her to Alberta, the West Coast, Oshkosh and the East Coast. She is not only a flying testament to the accomplishments of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, but to the skills of committed volunteers and technicians and to the drive of an organization dedicated to success. In many ways, VWC is a latter day BCATP - a system of knowledge transfer, a bastion of professionalism and a spirit imbued with passion.

Let's fire this baby up!

New Wings 12

Just one year ago, the Cornell was down to her skeleton, and the volunteers happily set to work. Photo Peter Handley

As the days counted down to an on-time completion, every AME, mechanic and experienced volunteer at Vintage Wings lent a hand to finish multiple tasks, installations and tests simultaneously. Months of man hours were put to the task in a matter of weeks - no complaints, no frustrations, nothing but can-do. Photo by Peter Handley

AME extraordinaire, Paul Tremblay, was in at 730 a.m. last Saturday to secure the cowling panels so that our “Aircraft Decorator” can install the remaining 712 numerals. Photo Peter Handley

The finishing touch. While working in and around the mechanics, while they toiled to ready the Cornell in time for the Yellow Wings launch, the aircraft decorator transformed a Cornell into THE Cornell. Now she wears the markings (albeit not as crude as back in the day) she once wore when in the employ of No. 15 Elementary Flying Training School, Regina, Saskatchewan. Photo Peter Handley

On the last day, volunteers swarmed the beautiful yellow aircraft, finishing details, clearing snags and laughing all the while. Here Steve Skelly finishes cutting away a new under-wing access panel and closes the hole with a plate. Photo Peter Handley

On Tuesday May 17th, the canopy is attached and scratch proofing removed and she is ready to be rolled out to the ramp for her first engine test.  Photo by George Mayer

You don't have to be an expert to see the quality of the restoration work completed by the large team of volunteers, metal workers and mechanics. Photo by George Mayer

Out on the ramp under threatening skies, mechanic and pilot Paul Tremblay lights up the Cornell. Photo by George Mayer

Out on the ramp, Yellow Wings Fairchild Cornell from No.15 EFTS, Regina comes to life after nearly 70 years. Photo by George Mayer

Manager of Maintenance, the affable Guy Richard, leans in to check for leaks or problems as the Cornell's Ranger engine coughs, barks and roars to life

Kudos for the Cornell team from aircraft manager Blake Reid:

Hi Oscar,

With the Cornell hitting its milestone of actually doing a runup today, I would like to express my gratitude on the fantastic job you did on this aircraft. To be able to come in and pick up the pieces of this partially completed project and see it through to its completion in time for its first Yellow Wings scheduled appearance is a great accomplishment. There were many who thought that an on time completion date was doubtful. Yet it was done even though your attention initially was diverted by other projects.

Of course we always knew about your expertise in sheet metal work but it appears that your woodworking skills are on a similar level. A project like this involves much more than just the hands on work. Managing the large amount of details including delegation is extremely important and it appears that this was done with great success with your high calibre team. In a project like this there are inevitably various opinions on how certain techniques should be accomplished. You showed an amazing amount of patience from the various opinions given and even errors made that had to be corrected.

From a restoration point of view, I appreciate your willingess to include many of the suggestions that I had in an attempt to make this aircraft as original as possible. From a pilots point of view, I appreciate your never ending commitment to make repairs of a high standard always in accordance with the best practices. This aircraft had many problems that sometimes seemed never-ending. Yet they were all dealt with methodically.

With the Cornell restoration soon in the past, there will no doubt be similar on the horizon. I think it is safe to say that the warbird community has a new top notch restorer on its doorstep.


Blake Reid

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