Lightning Progress Downunder – P-38 Restoration Report – January, 2018

Just some of the original P-38 wing components on hand at HARS in Australia for the reconstruction of three examples of the "'Fork-tailed Devil". (photo by John Parker)

Two years ago we published a fascinating report HERE from our good friend John Parker at Warbirds Online detailing progress on not one, but three Lockheed P-38 Lightnings currently under restoration at Historical Aircraft Restorations Ltd., in Albion Park, New South Wales, Australia. The workshop sits inside one of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society’s hangars and run by world renowned warbird recovery expert, Rob Grienert. John Parker recently revisited the Lightnings to see how things are shaping up, and we thought our readers would be interested to see his report…

Lightning’s Downunder

by John Parker

Since our last visit, work has focused on the daunting task of rebuilding and, where necessary, remanufacturing everything required to assemble a P-38’s wing. This process began by dismantling a wing center section from a wrecked P-38 and reverse-engineering it all from the ground up. The first stage involved removing the wing’s core, its main spar. A P-38 Lightning has a 52 foot wingspan, so the main spar is huge! Once they separated the main spar from the wing itself, Greinert’s team built a fixture to build up a new unit, using the original as a template. This phase alone took considerable time and resources to complete.

Greinert’s team removed the main spar from this wrecked P-38 wing center section. Note the P-47 Thunderbolt in its jig in the background. (photo by John Parker)
The P-38’s original main spar is in the foreground, while a jig to the rear holds the new spar assembly. (photo by John Parker)
The new main spar assembly coming together in its jig during July, 2017. (photo by John Parker)

Once the main spar was complete, Greinert’s team removed it from its fixture, and began the herculean task of designing, then building a full wing jig. A full P-38 wing jig is a significant undertaking, given the sheer size of a Lightning, however, as with all aspects of this project, it has been accomplished with excellent attention to detail, accuracy and professionalism. Last winter (summertime in the USA), the freshly-completed main spar was installed in the new full-wing jig, and work commenced on building the first of the three new P-38 wing assemblies, using an original Lightning’s wing as a pattern. This first wing will take some time to complete, but the two subsequent examples should move forwards at greater pace once the team builds familiarity with the intricacies of the process. As previously reported, the first two wings will be for static aircraft only. By the time the third (airworthy) wing is constructed, the team will be old hands at P-38 wing building!

This image shows the P-38’s freshly reconstructed main spar now installed in the full wing jig. (photo by John Parker)
Another shot of the P-38’s main spar in the wing jig. As sub assemblies are completed, Greinert’s team will gradually install them and build up the wing structure. (photo by John Parker)
A detailed view of the main spar in the full-wing jig showing where the outer wing panel will attach. (photo by John Parker)

The Albion Park team has also accelerated progress on other parts of the P-38 rebuilds such as the ailerons, elevators, horizontal stabilizers, tail booms and cockpits. Work on these components was also much in evidence as we toured the workshop. There is, as always, no completion date yet for this first P-38, however the pace of work is such that it shouldn’t be too long before some of the major sub-assemblies are complete and mated together again, ready to be hung on the core wing assembly when it too is ready. The next two machines will follow in due time.

A pair of partially complete tail booms are now in storage, awaiting completion of the wing before they too can be fully reassembled. (photo by John Parker)
The P-38’s horizontal stabilizer and elevator assembly is already close to completion. (photo by John Parker)
A Lightning aileron in its jig. (photo by John Parker)

In addition, a pleasant surprise for the team was a recent visit from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to inspect the P-38 restoration projects – certainly a great honor for the Lightning restoration team and HARS.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull, (left) visits HARS and takes in the work on their P-38 Lightning restorations. (photo by John Parker)

Warbirds Online will continue to follow the story of these “Fork Tailed Devils” over the next few years, including the first Lockheed P-38 Lightning to fly in Australia since 1945 as part of the great HARS collection.

 


WarbirdsNews wishes to express our gratitude to John Parker and, by extension, to Rob Greinert, for the article and images published here. We expect to hear from them again before too long!

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2 Comments

  1. No mention of P-38’s should EVER be made without reminding readers that this is THE plane used by America’s Ace of Aces, Maj. Richard “Dick” Bong. My Dad, an USAAC Ordinance Officer, served with him briefly in New Guinea. (& our second highest # of kills by An American Ace, all-time, was also in a P-38; “nuff said!!!) USAF”70-74

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