Apart from the riblets of the leading edges and trailing edges, there were ten ribs for each of the four wings. Each of these was made of twenty-one pieces of spruce, no thicker than cardboard. Every piece must be in its right place, glued and tacked there, and the rib must fit tightly to the spars. We plugged away, and slowly the job yielded us its secrets. We acquired skill, and at the end of a week’s work we knew something about building an aeroplane. We could plug and glue old screw holes, cut, glue and tack pieces of rib together; fit trailing edges; clean, screw, measure, saw, shave and shape like a pair of old factory hands. Each wing had two main spars, with a metal strut inside the wing between the two spars. It was a surprise to find each of these struts inside the wing full of sea water, although five weeks had already elapsed since the seaplane was wrecked. We finished the woodwork of the first wing and it looked pretty good to me. We painted it all over, every corner, stick and cranny, with waterproof Lionoil.
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Secondly, it must have a coat of dope-resisting paint, to prevent the cover from sticking to each rib. I had forty gallons of paint, but could not find this one. It was on the invoice so must be there. There was one tin not on the invoice; it was labelled ‘Thinners’. So we slapped on a coat of thinners before laying the light brown linen fabric 14 foot by 10 foot on the frame. Should the cover be sewn on tight, or loose? Roley and I disagreed. ‘If sewn on tight at the start, I said, ‘the dope would shrink it tighter, and would split it in half. ‘No, sew it on tight, said Roley. By nightfall we still had not agreed, so we left it draped over the wing skeleton. Next morning I said, You know, Roley, you were right, sew it on tight. ‘That’s funny, he said, ‘I was just thinking that you were right, and that it ought to go on loose.’
We split the difference, and next day Minnie offered to do the sewing. She was a generous, warm-hearted creature who helped Auntie once a week, singing away at her work from morning till night. She was like a tall radiant sunflower that looks happily and generously at all comers until a slight touch contrary to its fancy makes it curl up its petals, angry or hurt. With next day’s sun she joyfully uncurls them all again. Minnie sewed away in great style, until she came to a corner where I said the fabric must be turned in and sewn with just so many lock-stitches to the inch. Now Minnie was an expert, the island’s wizard at converting chiffon, ninon, voile, georgette or what have you to the latest fashion. The fabric, she said, must be sewn with so-and-so stitches to the inch.
‘But, Minnie, I pleaded, while Roley, I could see in the corner of my eye, was barely suppressing his mirth, ‘naturally so many lock-stitches would not be needed for a skirt.’
But no, my way was wrong, the stitch was wrong, the number of stitches was wrong. At last I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to fly the thing, why not let me have it the way I want, even if it is the wrong way?’
‘Now you’ve done it, said Roley as she stalked off. However, with next day’s sun she was as cheery as ever. Our tiff of yesterday was quite forgotten – but so was the sewing.
The curved surgical needles remained stuck in the fabric. I began to think I must have been posted as an impossible boss, and that we should have to do all the sewing ourselves, when Eileen, surprised to hear that we had no seamstress, enrolled on the spot. She was Gower’s eldest daughter and what a jewel! She often suggested an improvement to de Havilland’s written instructions, and it always turned out to be an improvement. There was a lot of sewing; there was 92 foot of it just around the edges of the wing, and tape had to be sewn over the top and bottom of the forty ribs, each 4% foot long, with a lockstitch every 3 inches. During the night, after Eileen had finished sewing the first wing, I suddenly woke up to realise -to be told from within, I would say – that I had forgotten to lock the bracing wires inside the wing bay. Poor Eileen had to take the fabric half off again.