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A snapshot of a dope and fab shop

This is a scene from my past, the “dope and fabricating” shop.

As shop mechanics “dope” (paint) the Super Cub’s control surfaces,

an old guy, maybe the shop super, sits in a chair, reviewing how it used to be “back in the old days.”

The Cub’s wings can be seen resting upright in a rack behind the painters

as one man brushes the rudder with a doped aluminum undercoat, the man next to him sprays the ivory finish coat on the starboard elevator suspended from the overhead. The paint compressor can be seen in front of the blueprint table.

A blueprint can be seen spread out on the table inside as another man brings more blueprints in the front door.

Meanwhile, two mechanics out back fit the port elevator onto the Cub

as a “grease monkey” (that bears an odd resemblance to myself) works out front on the Cub’s engine with tools laid out on a portable table.

As with the Quonset hut, all figures are pinned to the base and removable, with the exception of the figure in the chair that is glued to the base. The Cub, held in place by scale wheel chocks, is also removable. I have more work to do on this display, primarily weathering the ground

that requires disassembly of the display, but I thought I would post my current effort and add more photos after the work is completed.

20 additional images. Click to enlarge.


16 responses to A snapshot of a dope and fab shop

  1. This is a beautiful scene. Great Diorama which depicts a nice memory. I have a little bit of experience as an A&P mechanic learning how to repair a dope and fabric bird. Worked a lot on this at A&P School back in the early 90’s but no real opportunity to do it after that. We had to build a small airfoil section out of sheet metal from scratch, then cover it in Linen and dope her up. Then instructor would bust it and we would need to patch it. Fun time. Great job with the model. Unique subject.

  2. G, having never worked on an airframe, this is instructive to me. “What it was like in the old days.” At least one guy in the outfit does that, sometimes more than one. No matter what the job is. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into the arcane (to some of us) world of aircraft repair/renewal.

  3. Hi there, G. I adore these dioramas that you craft from your memories. There can be few things more intriguing to look at than a hand sculpted personal moment from the inside of another person’s brain. These models you make are artifacts from a lived life and I honesly feel privileged to share in them.

    Wonderful work on all levels, G. Keep ’em coming.

  4. Excellent,this is a pleasure to see! I too was taught dope and fabric in the Aviation H.S. that went to so many moons ago. We made the wing section out of wood, and yes the worst feeling was when the instructor took a razorblade and a pen point to the skin and said ‘now fix it’. Did not use the skill outside of school, but I did learn some sewing skills.

  5. Nice lookin’ dio, sir….I can see a lot of thought went into this. Good work.

  6. G, every time you do something like this, it brings back memories from my GA days, except I seldom had the luxury of working in a hangar. Worst fabric repair I ever did was on a DC-3 elevator at DFW airport one freezing night in January. It was Ceconite, the glue wouldn’t thaw enough to flow, even after setting it on the exhaust manifold of the truck, and it was raining. Surprisingly, the patch stayed on for several weeks before it warmed up enough to replace it.

    Nice work!

    I picked the wrong time of my life to quit sniffing dope…. 🙂

    • I also have memories of DFW. It was a flight in a Falcon 10.

      I had checked the weather, preflighted and filed for LAX. Like any kid with a new hot rod, (and for me, the Falcon was more exotic than any Italian sports car) I could not wait to get airborne. Ground cleared us for taxi, but we when we finally threaded our way onto the taxiway, we discovered an endless row of heavies waiting in line before us. I remember looking down the seemingly endless row of glistening aluminum tubes disappearing into a shimmering, distant sundown with a distinct feeling of aviatory interruptus.

      Some 45 minutes later we were cleared for the active, but by that time the thrill was gone and it was all business. Still, while the the climb out was anti-climatic, it was a joy to rocket into a red-ball, Texas sunset. Now it seems like recalling another life from someone else’s past, maybe like an old “B” movie. But then most my life now seems like a dark, grainy “B” movie, a film noir of reality.

      I gave up dope for Coverite.

    • Regarding patching, my wingman once went too close under the wires on a trim pass. I was sure he would catch the berm with his landing gear, but was amazed to see him come out intact under the high tension wires.

      He came out from under the wires immediately making a sharp turn towards our operation with me following close behind. After landing, we examined the damage to find he had shredded the bottom of his wings on the scrub brush lining the berm’s ridge. We got out the “hundred mile an hour tape” and within a short time went back to work with his lower wings looking like Boris Karloff in the Mummy.

      After finishing the day, he asked me what to do about the wings. As there was no time during the season for a proper recovering, I gave him my copy of the 4313-1a and told him to learn the baseball stitch.

      Almost a week later, during a weather pause, he worked day and night sewing up the underside of his wings with no supervision. After he finished, I inspected his work and was amazed to find how quickly he had developed a much better baseball stitch than mine.

      We then proceeded to dope patches over sewn repair lengths so far out of acceptable methods and practices that had we not been ag, the FAA would have surely had us shot at sunrise for gross insubordination to the rules.

      In tribute to my wingman’s sewing skill, the Cat flew two more seasons before it was sold with the wing patching still looking good. In fact no one ever seemed to notice.

      • Wow! By Cat do you mean the Grumman AgCat?

        • Yes, the Grumman G-164 Ag-Cat. The last Cat in Grumman’s “Cat line.” Some of the Cats I flew.

          4 attached images. Click to enlarge.

          • One waiting to finish restoration. Cradle of Aviation.

            1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

          • Yep, an antique – just like me.

  7. G. love your real world stories. Like being there.

  8. Beautiful story you’re telling here, G. Ley!

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