Dakota Territory Air Museum’s P-47 Update May/June 2018

Work gathers apace on the Dakota Territory Air Museum's P-47D Thunderbolt currently under restoration at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota. Here is the latest update on progress with the project during May/June, 2018. (photo by John LaTourelle)

WarbirdsNews has just received the latest report from Chuck Cravens on the restoration of the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s P-47D Thunderbolt 42-27609 at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota. We thought our readers would be very interested to see how the project has progressed since our last article on this important project. So without further ado, here it goes!

Skin sections are going on the P-47 forward fuselage. (photo by John LaTourelle)

This month a lot of work was done on preparing the lower fuselage frame for skinning. The production of skins is a process involving cutting, trimming, many trial fittings, and finally riveting the new skin sections in place. At the same time, the upper fuselage components are being prepared for the next step in the restoration. 

Also this month, the P-47’s wings are being disassembled. Wing parts are also being inspected and classified as reusable or for patterns. 

Lower Fuselage Frame 

After months of work, the lower forward fuselage frame has been permanently assembled and the last few steps before skinning took place.

Robb works at trimming one of the wing attachment doubler plates. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Here the doubler is clecoed in place; it reinforces the wing attach area. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Randy uses a hand rivet squeezer to begin attaching the doubler permanently. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The first few rivets are visible at the top of the doubler. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Randy works at finishing the riveting. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Hunter applies rivet tape to hold the rivets in place as the auxiliary tank floor is moved or tipped over. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The auxiliary tank floor is ready for the first rivets. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The lower fuselage framework is ready for skinning. (photo by John LaTourelle)


The underlying frame of the lower P-47 fuselage is completely painted and reassembled. Next is the long process of producing skins. First, a clear plastic template is created using both the engineering drawings and test-fitting it in place on the actual fuselage. Then, once the template fits perfectly, an aluminum skin is cut, drilled, and fitted. 

Hunter works on the lower right fuselage skin. This one is the most forward of the large skin sections. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The rectangular hole is where the intercooler cooling air exit doors will go. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The left side, forward lower skin is clecoed on. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The right side rear framework is shown before skin fitting.. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The left side rear fuselage framework is the mirror image of the right side before skins. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The right side rear lower
skin has been clecoed on. (photo by John LaTourelle)
A straight side view of the same skin section shows the relationship to the entire forward fuselage. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Robb duplicates the process on the left side of the rear lower fuselage. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The right side has the same opening. (photo by John LaTourelle)

Upper Fuselage Components 

Permanently skinning the lower forward fuselage signals the impending completion of this step so parts for the next step of assembling the upper fuselage are being prepared. That ensures the restoration will continue without delays once the lower forward fuselage is done. 

Christmas tree tank parts await assembly on a shelf. The Christmas tree tank is a unique feature of this P-47; they were installed in some P-47s in the SW Pacific theater in an attempt to increase the P-47’s range. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Parts that will make up the top fuselage frame await completion of the lower fuselage. (photo by John LaTourelle)
.Lance presses out an old bearing
from the P-47 control stick. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Here is a closer view as the bearing is pressed out. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Here Denzil is stripping paint from flap hinge fittings. The large hole would contain a bearing that the flaps rotate on as they are extended and retracted.. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The plastic helps do the job without wasting too much stripper. (photo by John LaTourelle)
In this shot we can see the intersection of a wing rib and flap linkage. (photo by John LaTourelle)
The rivets have been drilled out and the skin removed from this wing section. (photo by John LaTourelle)
Mark works on drilling out rivets. (photo by John LaTourelle)

Restoration Shop Manager: Ryan Underwood

Ryan Underwood is our restoration manager. He has been with AirCorps almost from the day the doors opened in 2011. He is a Bemidji native and a great example of the available workforce in this part of the country where many folks still have skills working with their hands. 

Ryan Underwood at work. (photo by John LaTourelle)

Ryan has a Bachelor of Science in industrial technology and his early career was in the field of construction management. His attention to detail and efficient management of the restoration workflow are big reasons for the quality reputation that AirCorps Aviation’s warbird restorations have earned. 

Ryan is a licensed private pilot. He is really looking forward to working on one of the projects coming up after the P-47 – that project is the P-38 Lightning, his favorite warbird. 

And that’s all for this month. WarbirdsNews wishes to thank AirCorps Aviation, Chuck Cravens (for the words) and John LaTourelle (for the images) for making this report possible! We look forwards to bringing more restoration reports on progress with this rare machine in the coming months.

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