Old seaplane back in the air, if only to be admired

July 24, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Roy Shine watched yesterday as the past five years, three months and "untold hours" of his life rose to the ceiling of the Baltimore Museum of Industry to be hung from cables.

It looks like an airplane -- a pre-World War II seaplane made of aluminum and spruce -- but since 1987 it's been Roy Shine's baby.

And now it is on its own.

"It's sad, even though I'm glad to see it finished," said Mr. Shine, staring across the Key Highway warehouse where he and a dozen or so other men restored the old "Tadpole Clipper."

"Yeah," said Gene Ambrose. "All the fun's over now."

The excitement started a little over five years ago when Mr. Shine was touring the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and happened upon the derelict carcass of a 1937 Glenn L. Martin Co. seaplane prototype known as the

162-A. In his days with Martin, he had worked on the craft -- a twin prop capable of reaching a speed of 120 mph in its day -- and admired it often in the years it hung from the ceiling of the Middle River company's paint shop.

In 1953, it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution and parked in a corner, where no one gave the old bird much thought until Mr. Shine stumbled upon it three decades later.

Mr. Shine and a crew of aging, plane-crazy volunteers, many of them retired Martin employees like himself, brought the 162-A back to mint condition. A few of the men would not live to see the project completed.

When vintage spark plugs that still fired could not be found, the volunteers lobbied the Champion folks to restore a batch for the four-cylinder engine.

When missing parts could not be replaced, the men built new ones from scratch.

The plane probably would not fly today -- the wood is too dry -- but the engine turns over.

There's even a Martin pencil in the cockpit.

.5l Seconds before the 1,700-pound plane was about to be raised, Mr. Shine was still running around with a brush and a bucket of silver paint doing touch-ups.

"They did a beautiful job, exemplary," said Bill Reese, a Smithsonian shop foreman and aircraft-preservation expert who brought a crew to the Museum of Industry yesterday to raise the plane and hang it from the ceiling.

"The workmanship speaks for itself -- just look at the screws, look at the cockpit," he said.

Ollie Williams, who logged 3,024 hours on the project, put in much of that time restoring the cockpit.

He hated to see the plane leave the ground.

"Nobody's going to be able to see the cockpit up in the air," he said. "It deserves to be on a pedestal."

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