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Team Working to get Aluminum Overcast Back in the Air After Freak Hailstorm

AirVenture fabric workshops play key role

B-17 hail damage
Photo shows hail damage to the top of Aluminum Overcast's right aileron.

B-17 hail damage
Wider view shows expensive damage to the right aileron.

June 8, 2012 - An impressive display of teamwork is occurring this weekend in Denver, Colorado, to get EAA's B-17 Aluminum Overcast back in the air after a surprise storm on Wednesday night pelted the airplane and temporarily grounded it.

The freak hailstorm hit late Wednesday evening while the airplane was parked on the ramp outside Signature Flight Service at Denver's Centennial Airport. The B-17 suffered extensive control surface damage as hailstones as large as ping pong balls hit the aircraft. The airframe itself will not require repair, but that was not the case for the fabric-covered ailerons and elevators.

"It came out of nowhere," said Sean Elliott, EAA director of flight operations, who happened to arrive in Denver just hours before the storm hit to participate in the weekend tour stop hosted by the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. "We were told by a meteorologist it was a freak occurrence that came with virtually no warning."

Elliott added that the hail came straight down and punched holes in the fabric-covered control surfaces. After the initial damage assessment, the word came to get new control surfaces - ailerons and elevators (and a rudder - just in case) - shipped to Centennial as soon as possible. Fortunately, EAA has all the needed replacement parts on hand, thanks to the AirVenture fabric workshop run by EAA A&P mechanic Gary Buettner. Each year at Oshkosh, volunteers instruct attendees on stitching and covering skills, with B-17 control surfaces among the hands-on projects. After AirVenture, the covered surfaces are inspected and painted silver by EAA staff so they are ready at a moment's notice.

The replacement parts were sent out Thursday on a flatbed truck driven by EAA's Justin Shepard and Casey Ludwig, who were scheduled to arrive late Friday night. B-17 crew maintenance officers Nick Hirsch and Meredith Whillock, along with Gerard Putzer and Mitch Zehr from EAA's Kermit Weeks maintenance hangar in Oshkosh, will replace the control surfaces so Aluminum Overcast can resume flight operations next week.

"It's a significant effort to 'keep 'em flying,'" Elliott said. Outstanding assistance also came from Wings Over the Rockies staff led by President/CEO Greg Anderson, as well as Signature Flight Service FBO. The goal is to get the B-17 back in the air on Monday, June 11.

To ensure that the many people who booked B-17 flights have the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience, EAA is keeping the aircraft in Denver through next weekend in order to complete the repairs and provide all scheduled passengers with their flight experience. EAA appreciates the patience and understanding everyone has shown after the unfortunate incident. The schedule tour stop in Kansas City on June 15-17 will be rescheduled for a later date.

If you are interested in flying in the airplane while it's in Denver, you can still book a flight. Visit the EAA website for details, or call 800-359-6217.

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