Extreme Makeover, Aviation Edition – Restoring a poor Cessna Skyhawk to some of its former glory

By me
All photos me too
Cleaning, complaning and cursing me and Dean T.

Deciding to be useful for once, I offered Dean T. – who’s always been my man for the job for access round Lučko – to come one day over the weekend and help out with the various odd jobs that inevitably pile up around the field. And sure enough, I had just arrived at 10 AM one Saturday when I saw him pulling an old, neglected Skyhawk out of the tall grass. An odd look and a couple of questions later, it had transpired that the aircraft – on the ground for the past 6+ years – was probably going up for sale and needed to be spruced up as much as possible…

Shot about two months earlier, 9A-BDR - a Reims F172M or N - was a forlorn sight, tucked away in the corner of the apron. With a Certificate of Airworthiness expired in 2003., this poor thing hadn't moved from this spot in ages

Shot about two months earlier, 9A-BDR - a Reims F172M or N - was a forlorn sight, tucked away in the corner of the apron. With a Certificate of Airworthiness that had expired in 2003., this poor thing hadn't moved from this spot in ages

It was a warm and humid day and, in need of refreshment and fun, we threw ourselves into it.  However, a quick survey of equipment showed our total inventory at just three sponges, some detergent and a special wiping cloth. Not much to go on, given the magnitude of the task…

The typical BEFORE shot :). Rolled forward for the first time in years, the first thing on the list was to pump up the tires to make maneuvering on the ground easier

The typical BEFORE shot :). Rolled forward for the first time in years, the first thing on the list was to pump up the tires to make maneuvering on the ground easier. That didn't help much as apparently one of the brakes had locked on

Next, we had to remove the covers... which we regretted a moment later. They apparently haven't been lifted once in the past six years and in the heat all of the dust and dirt under them "baked" onto the fuselage. The wings - thankfully uncovered - were just plain dirty :)

Next, we had to remove the covers... something we regretted a moment later. They apparently hadn't been lifted once in the past six years and in the heat all of the dust and dirt under them "baked" onto the fuselage. The wings - thankfully uncovered - were just plain dirty 🙂

Exposed to the elements for as long as it was, we were surprised that this was the only paint peeling off

Exposed to the elements for as long as it was, we were surprised that this was the only paint peeling off

We were curiously optimistic about the task, as it soon transpired that much of the dirt on the wings and fuselage was quite easy to wipe off. A bit of an oddity really, but it made our life considerably easier :). The only problem was that we couldn’t get at all the tiny places and openings normally found around the controls – and lacking a high-pressure water source, we couldn’t even try and wash them out with by brute force…

Contrast; a definition :). While Dean started on the left wing, I got to grips with the cowl and soon got it glowing

Contrast; a definition :). While Dean started on the left wing, I got to grips with the cowl and soon got it glowing

The scale of the problem on top. In the end the covers did more damage in the long run than the elements...

The scale of the problem on top. In the long run the covers did more damage than the elements...

Cleaning out the control surfaces. Despite appearances, everything down here came off easily in just one pass, as seen on the elevator

Cleaning out the control surfaces. Despite appearances, everything down here came off easily in just one pass

The major constraint was that this was basically a cosmetic, outside makeover – which ruled out any possibility of opening a panel or two to check out the structure and control lines underneath. I has also wanted to crank the engine to give it some air and clean out the cylinders, but a quick yank on the prop – which had gone round surprisingly easy despite the magneto switch being off – scratched that as well. Upon further questioning and investigation, I had found out that, aside from a full oil tank, the engine had no alternator, starter, magnetos or battery. While we could have done without the alternator – and even the magnetos – we’d need the starter and battery (an external power supply wouldn’t have helped, as it has to go through the battery itself).

And, if the more eagle-eyed readers noticed, we had to change the position and orientation of the aircraft every once in awhile due to a very short water hose :). Having to manhandle it around the tail and landing gear, we though it simpler just to re-orient the whole aircraft.

A lunch break gave me an opportunity to peek inside while we let the upholstery breathe a bit. The panel is surprisingly nice, well equipped and with only the ADF radio missing. I had dearly wanted to test out the instruments - most of them having run out of service life - but before being "stored", the battery, started and generator were removed, so zilch on that

A lunch break gave me an opportunity to peek inside while we let the upholstery breathe a bit. The panel was in a surprisingly good state, well equipped and with only the ADF radio and indicator missing. Though this is all academic, the instruments having certainly ran out of service life after having been neglected for six years

Getting there bit by bit... :)

Getting there bit by bit... 🙂 You can still see the remnants of the aircraft's old registration under the current one: YU-BDR. After the breakup of Yugoslavia back in 1991., all aircraft registered in Croatia were re-registered with the country's new prefix, 9A (with a temporary RC prefix in the meantime). On many aircraft this change was hastily done by simply painting the YU over and applying 9A

Now this looks more like it :). Cleverly choosing a point which hid the paint damage, I could have been fooled into (briefly) thinking this aircraft was actually well maintained :)

Now this looks more like it :). Cleverly choosing a point of view that hid the paint damage, I could have been fooled into (briefly) thinking this aircraft was actually well maintained 🙂

And five hours, one pizza and two liters of coke later, we reckoned we’d done it! Though the faded paint job was a distraction, we felt it came out beautifully in the end – cleaner at any rate than some of aircraft that fly every day :).  And by a twist of irony, half an hour later it was back in the same place it spent the past six years, still waiting for a buyer…

And the AFTER shot :). Pretty good, no?

And the AFTER shot :). Pretty good, no?

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