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Harpoon Rescue

By Taigh Ramey

Ever wonder who’s restoring what? Taigh Ramey and Vintage Aircraft have been up to a lot. This isn’t exactly a Mustang in a barn, more like a Harpoon in a field. The Lockheed PV-2D Harpoon, one of 35 D model Harpoons built, was on land that had been sold, and the aircraft needed to go as the new land owners didn’t like old aircraft like we do. The old warbird had been sitting since 1994 and had become the home to many different creatures over the years. She was buried in the ground past her axles, and the belly tank was resting squarely on the ground – a sad sight indeed. But the derelict would eventually become a cloud dancer once again.

We recently took on the challenge of resurrecting an old air tanker that has been sitting since 1994. The land she was resting on was sold, so if this old warbird/air tankerwasn’t moved soon, she would be cut up and scrapped. I went to take a look at the Harpoon. As ugly as she was, she still looked beautiful to me, and to the guys that work for me here at Vintage Aircraft.

Here’s what we saw when we flew in to check out this old tanker.

Harpoon Rescue

She had sunk into the ground so far that she was resting on her belly tank. Amazingly enough, the tires held air and rolled her out of the rut she was in.

Harpoon Rescue

Thanks to a remote location, she was unmolested by humans for the last 16 years. She even had her original WWII Navy eight-day clock still in the updated instrument panel.

Harpoon Rescue

Even though she was untouched by humans, she was a home to a variety of other creatures. The oil coolers were a high-rise condo to countless leaf rollers. There was also a family of ground squirrels living in the right wing. It took a while to get them all out, and we’re still removing what they left behind. The environment where the Harpoon called home was mostly warm and dry, so even though there was surface rust on the steel fasteners there was little corrosion.

Harpoon Rescue

We flew up in the Twin Beech to work on the Harpoon which was about 84 miles each way for the Beech. The Twin Beech was great for this job as a sky truck, hauling all of us and our tools, parts, fuel, and oil. We made about a dozen trips in the Beech and one in the van/trailer hauling the big wing jacks for the gear swing.

Harpoon Rescue

Day one was spent on opening up the engines and checking to see what kind of condition they were in. The oil screens were clean except for a little carbon. So far, so good. The left fuel system was in decent shape, and the boost pump came alive and pumped the new fuel into the left carb to start the soaking of the diaphragms and seals. Later that day, we were able to start the left engine. She didn’t fight us much at all. Here’s a YouTube video of that start: http://www.youtube.com/user/twinbeechdotcom#p/u/3/5AtXwfX4qaA

Check out Rickyas he seems to be startled by the engine firing up! Too funny.

We needed a boost pump for the right fuel tank as the water in the tank had rusted the pump pretty badly. We replaced that pump and were able to run the right engine on day two. Again, so far, so good.

Harpoon Rescue

Both engines ran okay, but the right didn’t like going much above 1,600 rpm. Both of the carbs had been overhauled just before the Harpoon was flown to California in 1994. So overhauling the carbs was likely going to be mandatory, and the corrosion found in the right carb screen made the decision pretty easy. Off to Aero Accessoriesthey went. The fresh overhauled carbs sure looked pretty, especially next to the crusty-looking engines.

Harpoon Rescue

New wheels, brakes, tires, and tubes were found and built up. They also looked awesome and worked even better. There were a few weeping seals on various hydraulic components, but for the most part the system was tight and helped thepressure. The flaps worked flawlessly and silently which is a great contrast to our PV-1 SuperVentura project.

With the new carbs, wheels, and brakes, it was time to drive her around, and that was a lot of fun. She sure kicked up some dust. One of our runs was done with the leading edges between the fuselage and engines removed. While scooting down the runway at a good clip, all of the crap that was kicked up by the props went right in the open leading edges which ported right under the pilot and copilot seat. As I was pulling 42 inches down the runway, I was smiling from ear to ear and spitting dirt and crud out of my mouth at the same time. Time to get the shop vac out once again!

The power runs were great although we found a lot of carbon in the right oil screen. We dumped the oil and installed an oil filter to catch anymore carbon that might be swimming around. It worked; the screen was clean the next time we checked it.

After prepping the rest of the airframe, it was about time to fly the beast. I had been working with our local FSDO (FAA Flight Standards District Office) about getting an LOA (letter of authorization) so I could fly the PV-2 myself. Since it’s over 12,500 pounds gross weight (33,000 actually), it requires a type rating which I don’t have. There’s a regulation in the FARs allowing an LOA in lieu of a type rating for ferry, maintenance, and flight training for those who can demonstrate collateral experience that would allow the safe operation of the aircraft. I have a type rating in a B-25 only, with limited time in the DC-3, B-17, and B-24, along with some PV-2D time 20-plus years ago in my friend Doug Lacey’sHarpoon. I think the 3,500 hours in the Twin Beech is what helped the most. After the Beech, the Harpoon feels like a heavy, slower responding version of about the same aircraft. I’m looking forward to getting to know the Harpoon a lot better.

My local FSDO tossed my request around for two weeks and then decided that I should talk to the Sacramento FSDO as the aircraft was in their district. The Sacramento folks were very nice and were familiar with our shop and work. They were very helpful and issued the LOA and a ferry permit. With the paperwork all in order, it was time to get her back in the air.

Harpoon Rescue

The hill up ahead and the fact that there were a lot of houses just off the end of the runway necessitated a pretty good right turn just after the last tree on the right. Here we were on the takeoff roll. Jim Dunn took this shot and the other air-to-air and air-to-ground shots except for the ones Roger Cain took with his credit line of the image.

Harpoon Rescue

I also want to thank Cliff Everts and Marty Hall for their generosity and help in saving this great old Harpoon.

Harpoon Rescue

Here are two videos of the flight out of its resting place for the last 16 years. We put three video cameras on the aircraft: one on the top of the left vertical stabilizer, one in the right gear well, and one in the cockpit. Between these cameras and another one that Vince used from our Twin Beech photo ship, we came up with some very interesting shots. The video is in two parts: Part 1  |  Part 2

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