July 29, 2013 - Conrad Huffstutler's four-week-old FM-2 Wildcat restoration at AirVenture 2013 is an encyclopedia of vintage detailing. From a pair of new old stock (NOS) drop tanks that he uncrated, to the 4-gauge shotgun starter in the wheel well, this Wildcat exudes authenticity.
Conrad and his father bought this FM-2 and two other non-functional Wildcat projects in 2009 when the younger Huffstutler was 21 - the same year he soloed the family P-51. The Wildcat was missing its right wing, a holdover from its use after World War II as a set decoration by Universal Studios.
Bought by pioneer warbird collector Ed Maloney, the FM-2 was displayed with a non-flyable dummy wing for years. Conrad used computer numerical control (CNC) milling machinery to manufacture a wing spar on which to hang all the other aluminum he had to make to replicate the Wildcat's right wing.
Conrad's family operates Sierra Industries, a jet modification center in Uvalde, Texas with the equipment to foster such thorough restorations. Conrad matched the machinery with his own drive for perfection as he shepherded the Wildcat back into flightworthiness.
Shunning the convenience of an electric starter, Conrad has only the original shotgun starter to crank the Wright engine on his FM-2. It takes a big 4-gauge shell loaded with Cordite to produce enough force to engage the starter and crank the engine. For now, Conrad has 11 cans of - yep - NOS 1943 starter shells, each containing 21 rounds that he uses to fire up the Wildcat. When those are eventually depleted, he plans to get the job done using new-made brass shells loaded with an appropriate chemistry.
Conrad's education in the Wildcat reveals traits of the narrow-tracked fighter; he says it "waddles" as it taxis. And it is particular about crosswind takeoffs. "Left crosswinds are good, right crosswind bad," Conrad says.
A right crosswind will exaggerate the effects of engine torque on the right wing. "Torque's going to lift that wing up," he explains. This can put the Wildcat in a precarious left-wing-down stance on takeoff, which may be beyond the ability of the ailerons to overcome.
Once that takeoff quirk is mastered, the new Wildcat pilot is faced with hand-cranking up the landing gear. Conrad says the task is quite easy between 80-100 mph; above that, air loads on the gear make it much harder to crank. And that can exacerbate a natural tendency for the gear to come up easily on the first part of the retraction cycle, and get increasingly resistant toward the end, he explained.
The Wildcat has a vacuum-operated flap system that is a nifty secret weapon. If flaps are selected above their safe operating range, they will not deploy until the Wildcat slows down. If the aircraft accelerates beyond flap speed, they will streamline automatically. Conrad says some Wildcat pilots learned to select flaps in dogfights, letting them extend or retract as dictated by air loads
The detailing in modern warbird restorations like this FM-2 was unheard of in the early years of the movement, and is in evidence at AirVenture 2013.