Lightnings Downunder – P-38 Restoration Report

Both nacelles trial fitted successfully. (image by John Parker)

Our good friend John Parker from WarbirdsOnline recently visited Historical Aircraft Restoration Ltd’s workshop in Albion Park, New South Wales, Australia. The workshop sits inside one of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society’s hangars and is run by world renowned warbird recovery expert, Rob Grienert. Currently, there are three P-38 Lightnings under rebuild here, and we thought our readers would be interested to see John’s report on recent progress since his last visit in November…

On his most recent visit to the facility, John was surprised to see the rapid progress which has taken place. The aircraft’s two engine/main landing gear nacelles are now well on their way to completion, with internal finishing mostly concluded. On the day of John’s visit, these complex components were undergoing trial-fitting to the center section for the first (static) P-38 Lightning project to ensure they align properly prior to re-skinning their exteriors.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning engine nacelle mounted in fitting jig prior to trial installation

Rather pleasingly, the nacelles snugged together into the center section smoothly, without any major adjustment – testifying to the remarkable skills of those involved in this work. Indeed, the jigs just for mounting these components alone are a work of art, being fully customizable to allow precise adjustment during fitting.

Now that the team has proven the nacelles are structurally accurate, they will remove them to finalize the remaining internal details and rivet in new external skins prior to final-fitting with the center section. The tail booms and horizontal stabilizer are also well on the way to completion, so logically these  will be the next items trial-fitted.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (static example) – centre section awaiting trial fitting of engine nacelles

The first fuselage pod is also nearing the final stages of its structural restoration. It will have all its internal details completed, including cockpit fit-out prior to trial-fitting to the center section. Once fit-accuracy is confirmed, it too will undergo a similar process for re-skinning and final-fitting.

The first set of outer wing panels, which are also presently under construction, will complete the basic structure for this P-38 restoration to static condition. Following this, the restoration team will install all of the additional components required to complete the aircraft, including landing gear, removable panels, cockpit glazing, undercarriage doors, wiring, hydraulic systems and numerous other detail items. As anyone familiar with aircraft restoration knows, when the aircraft is 90% finished… there is still 90% left to do… fitting all of those detail items takes a lot of time and patience to complete.

We will continue following these remarkable efforts and bring additional news as soon as we can. Many thanks indeed to our friend John Parker at WarbirdsOnline. We also wish to thank Robert Grienert and the team at Historical Aircraft Restorations Limited for granting access and assistance in preparing this article.

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