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Curtiss Seagull

Curtiss Seagull

As related elsewhere, no restoration work was carried out at Rockcliffe from the completion of the Aeronca C–2 until work started on the Curtiss Seagull in October 1970. The Seagull arrived at Rockcliffe in May 1968 and a trial assembly was made in June. The machine was found to be complete except for the bracing struts from the lower mainwing roots to the hull and the stabilizing struts from the rear of the engine bearers to the upper wing.

Curtiss Seagull
The Seagull following a trial assembly at Rockcliffe in June 1968.

Inspection of the hull showed that the plywood covering had deteriorated and required replacing. This was not surprising and is typical of older plywood made before modern adhesives became available. This would be a major restoration project and the Museum, understandably, was reluctant to undertake it as the aircraft was then only on loan. An exchange was subsequently arranged for the Seagull and restoration began in October 1970. The job was started with much enthusiasm, as flying boats had carried the lion's share of early northern aerial operations in Canada and this was the first early example obtained by the Museum.

Removal of the plywood, which was screwed to the framework, revealed a structure consisting of an ash keel and longerons and sprucetrussing, a far simpler arrangement than on the Curtiss HS–2L and other early Curtiss flying boats. All the frame members were in good condition, but the glue had vanished from the joints, possibly as a result of the aircraft's period in the tropics. The whole framework had to be disassembled, cleaned and glued, and reassembled. Also, all the screw holes in the framework had to be filled with plugs in preparation for installing new plywood. This operation was not difficult, but the large number of holes made it a tedious job.

Curtiss Seagull
The hull joints are being cleaned and reglued.

Curtiss Seagull
The finished Seagull hull with its varnished mahogony plywood and multitude of bright brass screws gives the impression of a piece of fine furniture.

Obtaining the proper mahogany plywood for the hull proved the most difficult task in this restoration. The hull had been made using long plywood sheets that enabled the hull sides to be enclosed with only one splice. These sheets were no longer made in Canada and in spite of numerous inquiries in the United States and Europe no supplier could be found. Regretfully, the Museum had to complete the hull using smaller sheets with two splices and these were secured to the framework with the same multitude of small screws as had been originally used.

The missing struts posed no problem, as their construction details were confirmed by checking another extant Seagull and a similar Curtiss MF flying boat. There were no problems with the Curtiss C–6 engine restoration, as no parts were missing, and it needed only the usual disassembly, cleaning, refinishing, and reassembly. However, it was found that the cylinder head had been installed in reverse, which must have led to cooling problems.

Curtiss Seagull
The Seagull's cockpit was unusual in that it had wheel control fitted on the left seat but stick control on the right. The reason may be that its first pilot, an ex-USN officer, was used to the wheel control, while its second pilot, a USAS officer, was used to stick control.

Curtiss Seagull
Installation of the Curtiss C-6 engine in the Seagull.

The wings and tail surfaces required a great deal of work, as they had to be completely disassembled and cleaned; many pieces had to be spliced in, and new cap strips and metal trailing edges had to be made and installed. Everything then had to be reassembled, reglued and varnished before covering.

The standard factory finish for Seagulls was clear doped wings and a clear varnished mahogany hull. However, for use at the equator the Hamilton-Rice Expedition had their machine overcoated with aluminum as protection from the sun. It bore the name Eleanor III on each side of the bow, with a Brazilian flag under one wing and the American flag under the other. The original painted flags and names have been preserved and are on display near the aircraft. The specimen was finished with aluminum doped wings and a clear varnished hull. It was completed in February 1974 and went on display officially on March 12, 1974, after a brief ceremony.

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