History Snapshot: A World War II Wooden Airplane

A video and discussion of an Australian World War II fighter plane built with wood and glue. February 19, 2013


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Forum Responses
From contributor P:
It struck me that the wing does not have metal in it. Seems impossible from an engineering perspective? Yet it flies at 400mph, and so does a bumble bee...

From contributor D:
I see that slight compound bend coming off the forms and then see it fly and realize we have - as an industry - lost the ability to stand on the shoulders of those that went before us. If we took that knowledge collectively and built upon it instead of constantly starting all over, cranking a tablesaw in the garage - imagine where we could be!

From contributor P:
What comes to mind for me is that volume and necessity creates higher skill. Today neither is as present. To truly pass the skill on requires apprenticing. Even the carpentry apprenticeship program did very little genuine apprenticing. The one guy who did apprentice me will always have my gratitude. I think this is what makes Germany so good at manufacturing. My accountant told me of one machinist in Germany who did a 15 year apprenticeship. Today he nets 500k a year. But apprenticing is done at the job. How many guys on these forums are self taught?

Most if not all of the pattern making is done off shore or with a 3D printer. Most of the construction is done with immigrant labor. I can't say I would recommend this trade to anyone as a career. Too many points of control have been taken from the trade.

From contributor E:
Cool stuff. Those Merlin engines are enormous and powerful for sure.

From contributor S:
Love it - the original "composite material." Have a look at MTB's from WW2 - made from plywood - although inferior torsionally, the strength to weight ratio of wood was as good as that of duralumin or steel.

From contributor L:
Wooden build-it-yourself planes are still being made. A priest here in Lincoln is building a single seat low wing. All structure is wood. Body is plywood skinned over wood frames, wings are truss framed and fabric skinned. He's done a beautiful job of it.
WW2 planes used a glue that was two component. One component put on one face, the second put on the other. Activation/set occurred when the parts were brought together.

I've made all the wooden parts for a 1940's aerobatic. The basic frame was truss, thin steel tubing. All the shape was plywood bulkheads with notches for the T shaped wood formers that the fabric was glued to. Wings had a main spar of spruce and the rest was thin plywood and little sticks fabric covered. The doped fabric was what seemed to hold the whole thing together. The plane was capable of all the maneuvers you see at air shows.

From contributor U:
The DeHavilland Mosquito - the plane the Air Ministry didn't want. So Geoffrey DeHavilland used his own money to build the prototype and put on his own test flights to show exactly what it could do. Using the mass-mould system meant they could be constructed in workshops all over the country, making it harder for enemy bombers to put the production out of action.

There are many examples of the plane in museums around the world, but only one flying. No one will issue a certificate of airworthiness because they can't guarantee the glue will hold together after all this time. The one that is flying is the result of a labour of love by a Kiwi who stripped down an existing plane and rebuilt all the woodwork, after first copying the structure to make his moulds. This plane is now in flying collection in the US and the guy in New Zealand has started on a second for a UK firm that offers up-close flights to old warbirds - you get a flight in a KingAir and they buzz it with a Spitfire!