Two days of solid progress

The march towards the cutting process continues: almost down to bare metal!

As predicted, the circuit breaker panel on the captain’s side was somewhat easier to remove. I continue to be slowed by tenacious stuck fasteners, some covered with a thick layer of paint courtesy of some past United Airlines refurbishment project. Today after breaking not one but two damaged fastener remover bits, I decided to direct my efforts at something less frustrating: cleaning out the overhead area. The pictures show the results. Hopefully another two days will have the inside metal surface of the airframe completely exposed and ready for cutting into sections.

These plastic trim panels below the side windows are secured with several screws, usually very difficult to remove.
The overhead area after removing the forward and aft Dzus frames. The remaining grey plastic is a tray that is held in place by the support rails on either side. This piece will have to come out in order to find places to cut the structure. Another mystery waiting to be solved.
Large beefy beam defines the aft limit of the flight deck. I plan divide this arch into three sections during the cutting process.

Work starts back up on two fronts: the real nose section and the avionics test bed.

In late October my wife and I finally moved into our dream house: a place big enough for our menagerie of two dogs and two cats, with ample room left over for the ultimate man cave: a full size, fixed-base Boeing 737 simulator in the basement! Unfortunately all the tasks associated with moving brought progress on the sim to a grinding halt for close to six months.

The avionics test bed in my basement. Looks pretty spare right now, but in a few weeks this will be all lit up by a network of five computers to start testing avionics.

I did manage to bring home most of the gear I had acquired prior to taking the major leap of buying an entire nose section. I set this up in the basement with the idea of making an avionics test bed for the additional real Boeing parts that I continue to find on eBay and other internet sources. The dual-linked flight controls, throttle quadrant and projection screen were made by Art May-Alyea of Northern Flight Sim. I had a steel frame made at my local metal fabricator that allowed me to hang the overhead panel in the proper position on the ceiling. It’s not flying yet, but I will need to get it running soon, as I just acquired a real fire control panel and other real parts that need to be interfaced.

The lav, left, and the galley, right, flank the cockpit door.

The nose section of N332UA still sits out at the airport, where I continue to remove parts from the interior in anticipation of cutting it into sections small enough to fit through the standard residential door of my walkout basement. The galley was easy enough to remove, as it is essentially a single assembly bolted to the floor, and attached to the top of the airframe by only one large pin. Removing the plumbing and electrical connections was relatively easy, especially compared to removing the lav on the captain’s side. The walls of the lav were bolted to the floor some 24 years ago, and almost every fastener was stuck enough that removal required drilling. A side benefit was that I finally figured out how to use those damaged screw removal kits they sell at Sears.

The galley, liberated. A lot of really mediocre coffee and food passed through these cubicles, some of it still stuck to the insides.
After removing the galley, the F/O side circuit breaker module comes into view.
Extraction of the F/O side circuit breaker module required removing a section of the composite floor below the galley. The assembly was attached to the airframe in at least 15 different places, only a few of which are seen here along the bottom of the zinc chromated (green) wall. Believe me, no one ever intended these things to be removable.

The disassembly phase continued to the wall of circuit breakers behind the first officer’s seat. For better or for worse, I had seen a really cool video online showing how the interior of the 737 is installed, and it was very clear (see it at 0:25 into the video) that the structure housing the circuit breakers was an assembly that rolled in and bolted to the airframe. While it was probably made to be easy to install, it was never intended to be removed ¬†and it took a couple of days of removing wire bundles, ducting and insulation before I found all of the fasteners holding it in place. There was also quite a bit of head-scratching and occasionally swearing. Several times I was certain I had found all the screws and bolts but a vigorous shaking only revealed that it was still attached somewhere. It finally came loose and fell backwards onto the floor, with a very satisfying thud and a genuine feeling of progress.

The circuit breakers behind the F/O's seat, early on in the removal process.
The circuit breaker assembly on the F/O side, finally liberated from its many attachments to the airframe and free to fall on its back.

The wall behind the captain’s seat consists of a much smaller circuit breaker assembly, as well as a wall and a jumpseat. If anyone ever had the idea of burrowing through the front of the first class lav to break into the cockpit in flight, let me just say that it’s never going to happen!

Captain's side circuit breaker panels and jump seat.

Now that I’m basically up to the rear of the crew seat area, the next step is to remove the rest of the interior so I can start cutting the structure into sections. To that end, I’ve had some paired brackets made that I will rivet into place on either side of the section lines. The hole in the receiving bracket is elongated, to allow for some play during the reassembly process. With continued good weather, I should be cutting sections within the next two weeks.

Pair of brackets ready for installation on the airframe.

I’ve been making quite a bit of progress on another front: making a working 737 simulator for my friend Radcliffe, a WWII veteran of the Army Air Corps who learned to fly in Stearmans and T-6’s. Before he saw combat, the war ended and his flying dream ended along with it. After discharge from the military he found himself with no money and no opportunity to keep flying, so he went to work for the US Government Printing Office. In retirement he has rekindled his dream by building increasingly complex 737 simulators. Currently he has one large one in his garage and a smaller one in what used to the living room of his house. Working on this sim has been a pleasure as Radcliffe has invested in some really nice avionics from Flight Deck Solutions, Northern Flight Sim and CP Flight. This week we managed to take off and fly for a couple of hours on the autopilot, with a fully functional overhead.

Radcliffe during flight training in 1945


Radcliffe in his latest sim, formerly the living room of his house
Radcliffe's sim, complete with overhead panels from Flight Deck Solutions