Tiger Moths, Sea Eagles and Passion: Chapter II | West Wind Hardwood

Picking up the Story from April 2017 – Newsletter #69

As previously mentioned we have stayed in touch with Noel and his wife Val of South Africa.  We left him in April struggling with ill health and are so very pleased to hear that he’s made a resounding recovery finally making it to San Francisco to see his new granddaughter.  That’s a journey and then some from South Africa.

Noel has kindly forwarded an update on his friend Gavin’s project of passion!  Thank you, Noel!

finished wing panels

My friend Gavin Michal is still slaving away on ‘impossible’ projects! Here are photos I took yesterday, 10 Nov 2017, of his latest project, a Stampe SV4 aeroplane. This is/was an 80-year-old military training aircraft of French design and manufacture.

finished wing panels

Restoring ‘old’ aircraft is nothing new! I’ve done it myself a few times. Such an undertaking is always a challenge but it is always a very rewarding experience. What makes this particular project a very remarkable one is the fact that Gavin had not a single sketch, let alone a drawing, to work from! All he had was an 80-year-old airframe. And that is where the story really begins!

Normally when one begins a project such as this you will study the drawings carefully and work out a work schedule for yourself. Group components of similar size together and prioritize your cutting schedule according to the material specifications. Using the drawings one can then make full-scale sketches which will help you in assembling the components. This is particularly important in cases where the components are not of regular or simple shape, i.e. they are tapered or curved or, worse, have compound curves and tapers.

The Stampe SV4 has irregular shapes by the ‘truck-load’! In order to save weight almost every piece of timber is tapered. It is of large dimension where it needs to be strong and tapers down to a smaller dimension where it only needs to be less strong! And, in addition to that, every piece of timber has routed flutes to reduce weight even more. To compound the problem he faced Gavin had to make sure that the ‘new’ fuselage and wings could be fitted with the ‘old’ metal parts and work perfectly without modifying a single one!!!! That is a ‘tall order’!

I have to concede that I would not have taken on such a project myself! But Gavin was more than up to the task! How did he do it? And the answer is ….. “With great care, expertise and patience!”

fuselage details

First, Gavin carefully disassembled the ‘old’ wings and fuselage very, very carefully down to its individual component form. Every single piece was catalogued, measured, sketched and a work schedule compiled. Well, this all sounds very straightforward and should not prove to be problematic. But he soon noticed a problem. A very troubling problem! For those who are not familiar with aircraft design and construction designers and builders go to great lengths to ensure that the components that make up an aircraft are identical in size, shape, form and mass from the left to the right side of the aircraft. Components may be of opposite hand but they must be a mirror image of its corresponding mate. This is to ensure that the aircraft will ‘fly right’!


The ‘problem that now faced Gavin was that over time, many of the ‘old’ components had become deformed either as a result of shrinking or mechanical damage. Matching pairs of components no longer ‘matched’ each other. The question he had to find the answer to was… “Which one is correct?” A good question indeed!

The Second phase of this project became a very time consuming one in which Gavin had to reconstruct the aircraft on paper using the different sized components and determine which component best suited the existing metal components which had to be used in the aircraft! Actually, a mind-boggling task if you ask me! But he did it!

old stripped fuselage

Phase Three of the project could now commence! Construction. And this is where I played a small part in the project. I supplied all the Sitka Spruce and Plywood used to construct the ‘new’ Stampe SV 4. And, in your turn, West Wind Hardwood Inc. (Jan and Shelley Nielsen) supplied me with the Sitka Spruce.

Gavin has now completed the construction of the aircraft after an estimated 2,500 hours of work. It is a magnificent work of art! The photos do little justice to the effort that was expended in completing this project. But then I don’t claim to be a photographer!

cockpit details

All I can say is …… “Well done Gavin and congratulations on an outstanding piece of craftsmanship!”


Noel Otten





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