Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Cessna landmark will soar again

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Apr 19/02) - Inuvik's landmark weather vane airplane will soon be back atop its perch at the edge of town to greet the town's visitors.

The 1956 Cessna 170 that's twice crash landed from its spinning spire is now being rebuilt with some new engineering that should keep the big bird in the air.

Frank Chopoidalo, an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) for Arctic Wings Ltd., says 400 hours of work will be required to make the old tail dragger shine like she was new.

"The whole back end of it was crinkled and crunched like an accordion," Chopoidalo said. "We had to replace the whole tail, rebuild all the bulkheads."

Using the crumpled old sheet metal panels as templates, the crew has fashioned new panels from aircraft aluminum and would be flight worthy, if not just for show.

"She's as square as an aircraft should be," Chopoidalo said. "We're rebuilding it as an actual flying airplane."

For the community

Arctic Wings owner Olaf Falsnes said the plane originally belonged to his son Carl, but was put up to pay respects to a Delta pilot.

"It represents the same kind of aircraft Fred Carmichael used to fly," Falsnes said. "The town's fathers decided to put it on the pole as a commemoration to what Fred has done here."

Arctic Wings will likely lose money on the rebuild, but he says it's a project for the community.

"We're not skimping on anything -- we are actually building it stronger, to withstand the snowslide of sitting up on that big pole," Falsnes said. "It will be stronger than it used to be."

Project Manager with the Department of Public Works, Ahmad Alkhalaf said a new internal support system will ensure the Cessna stays on the pole this time.

"We realized that the problem was with the structure and the plane itself," he said. "By changing the centre of gravity and also adding some structural support underneath the plane the force will be spread over four struts."

"We're making sure this time that it's not going to fall down," he said.

The project is being funded by Resources Wildlife and Economic Development and the budget was divided three ways: repair of the Cessna was budgeted at $8,500, design of the new structure at $22,690 and the cost of mounting the plane at $8,000 to $10,000.

Engineer Phil Nolan, of Structure All Ltd. in Yellowknife, is the structural engineer on the project. He's consulted pilots and other engineers to come up with a blueprint for a stronger support.

"We took a fresh look at things," Nolan said. "We talked to pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers both here and in Calgary."

He explained that the 1,400-pound plane generates a lot of lift and gets buffeted by winds that create enormous stress on the pivot. With the previous design, all that stress is concentrated on a single point.

"What we're doing differently is, we're going to distribute those forces over a much larger surface area," he said.

Using steel plates, the centre of gravity will be shifted to be directly over the support pole and stress will be distributed to the four main points where the plane's floats would be fixed.

"We now have four points of support, rather than the previous design's one point," Nolan said. "I try to over-estimate mother nature and at the same time, under-estimate the capacity of the materials to withstand it."

They will also employ a special bearing, called a slewing bearing to take the stress. The new design also incorporates a spinning propeller.

The engineers built a three-dimensional computer model, added the wind load to experiment with the force generated and what's required to bear that load.

Nolan says the big green bird won't be grounded again. "Not on my watch."