PHASE III: OVERHAUL AND FINAL ASSEMBLY

Beginning of the end: the road to the first flights.

 

Extensive fabrication and component assembly work had taken place at the Texas Airplane Factory between 1994 and 1996; however, contract difficulties emerged between CFII (the project's owner) and TAF (the chief subcontractor) just as the most difficult and demanding phase of the project was about to begin.  The project sat dormant for an extended period in 1997 while the two parties sought to reconcile their differences, and in the end, it was decided that CFII should "peacefully recover" all program assets, tooling and airframes from Fort Worth and assign another team to complete the work.

CFII's President, Steve Snyder, approached Bob Hammer -- then the Vice President of DCAC/MRN at Boeing's Commercial Airplane Group -- about completing the aircraft and supervising the flight test program.  Hammer ultimately accepted, and retired from Boeing shortly thereafter, enabling him to devote his full attention to the Me 262 Project.

If anything, Hammer was clearly overqualified for the task.  His career with the Boeing had been marked by countless milestones, including service as Chief Engineer, Director of Quality Control and Director of Engineering for the B 757.  Hammer had designed the composite tail sections of the B 757 and B 767, and was also the Chief Engineer of Structures in the B-2 bomber program.  He holds the current U.S. Patent for the B-2 bomber's wing.

Of equal importance in this project is the fact that Hammer is an experienced builder of numerous experimental aircraft of his own design.  Hammer's HH-1 Zipper (completed in 1980) proved itself a world-record breaking milestone as the first homebuilt jet aircraft.   He has continued to develop innovative new machines, with the latest being the amphibious Sea Fire, recognized as the Oshkosh '98 Grand Champion. His expertise is unparalleled, and the project could not be in better hands.

The Production Team

In early 1999, the five production Me 262s were transferred to the Seattle area for the final phase of the project.  Even before these assets were on hand, a team of some 20+ hand-picked paid and volunteer staff made ready.

 

With Jim Byron (another retired senior manager at Boeing) on hand as Hammer's "chief of staff," the group was assembled in record time.

A great many of the men who answered the call are retired technicians, machinists, and fabricators who had spent their entire careers in the aviation industry ... in many respects, they represent some of the best in American aeronautical know-how.

Jim Byron (left) and Bob Hammer (right) on the shop floor.

Jim Byron (L) and Bob Hammer (R) on the shop floor.

 

Since 1998 or so, the "core team" has included ...

  • Mike Anderson – airframe crew chief
  • Guy Sperk – A&P mechanic – cockpit, fuselage, wing
  • Bob Murray – mechanic – sheet metal
  • Adrian Catinas – mechanic – general airframe
  • Richard Parks – mechanic – general airframe
  • Frank Skagan – general mechanic – quality inspector
  • Jason Feyen – airframe mechanic (part time)
  • Cecil Hendricks – assembly specialist – elevator builder (part time)
  • Bernie “BJ” Johnson – avionics & electrical crew chief
  • Chris Wisneski – airframe mechanic (part time)
  • John Martin – airframe mechanic (part time)
  • Tom Susor – machinist (part time) –  project lead

Of course, volunteers have long formed the backbone of the project (and this includes the top-level management, as well as technical support crew!!).  These have included ...

  • Bob Hammer - project director
  • Jim Byron - project coordinator 
  • Barbara Sudderth - secretary
  • Bob Sudderth - fuel systems and computer assistance
  • Lou Markey - hydraulic systems
  • CPT Thomas E. Naugle, U.S. Army - antenna systems
  • Nick Cirelli - photography and inventory

"Boeing 262s"

There is obviously a very high level of aviation expertise in the Seattle area, and the project has made extensive use of a network of subcontractors.  Steve Snyder, the project's original organizer, recognized this production distribution method immediately and often joked that the team in Seattle appeared to be in the process of building "Boeing 262s."  This was in part a reference to the high population of former Boeing specialists involved in the effort, but -- more to the point -- it was also a nod of approval to Hammer's masterful approach to project management.

Loss of a Visionary

Of course, the dream belonged to but one man in the beginning: Stephen L. Snyder, an aviation pioneer in every sense of the word.  No one had worked harder, devoted more time or committed more of their personal fortune to recreating the Me 262. Incredibly, tragedy struck in late June 1999 when Snyder was killed in an F-86 Sabre crash near his home in New Jersey.  After seven years of dogged determination and close oversight, the most central figure of the entire program was dead at the age of 64.  Speculation ran wild and the nay Sayers came out in force: clearly the project was over ... or was it?

The Snyder family was quick to quell the mounting tide of rumors when it was announced that the project would continue undaunted, and in accordance with Steve's wishes.  In order to stabilize the effort and set the stage for long term success, two courses of action were identified:

(1)  It was decided that only those jets with contracts against them would remain in an active production status.  The remaining airframes would re-enter an active status only after a purchase order had been issued.

(2)  The groundwork was laid to transfer ownership to CFII's preexisting customers.  These parties formed the WTMF organization to facilitate a formal change of responsibility, and a transfer agreement was signed in early 2001.

Where We Are Today

Even as the effort moves inexorably forward, new technical challenges continue to appear on a near-daily basis.  The restoration of the original reference aircraft was completed in the fall of 2000, and that aircraft has been returned to its home at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Pennsylvania.  The fact that this aircraft had arrived from Fort Worth stripped, and without any documentation of the teardown process, forced the team to take frequent breaks to consult with leading experts and historians -- virtually all of whom were affiliated with the Stormbirds web site in one way or another.  In the end, however, their mission was completed in grand fashion, and the Navy took delivery of their prize according to the terms of the 1993 agreement.

Engine fitting and procurement woes have presented some anticipated challenges along the way, as the team has rather stringent and specific requirements. The integration of the J-85 series engine into the Jumo castings also continues to receive a great deal of attention, and any customer-directed modifications to the original specifications must be incorporated into final assembly. There are literally hundreds of decisions to be made every day; yet despite these odds, the project has steadily gained ground.  

As we move into the summer and fall of 2001, watch for the ground test program to enter full swing, as engines are mounted, test run and mated to the airframe.  Taxi tests will likely commence shortly thereafter, and we are wholly committed to reaching the flight test phase before the end of 2001. As we have been so fond of repeating over the course of the past decade, "the legend will fly again," and our goal grows closer to reality with each passing day.

 

© 2001 Sabre Design Group. All rights reserved.