OWATONNA (AP) -- It's easier now, this building of a 1927 Sikorsky S-38 amphibious airplane from scratch and original blueprints, now that the Born Again Restorations crew has had some practice.
This is crew members' second Sikorsky. But they're as proud as if it were a second child.
Gary Underland, 66, a farm-trained mechanic who worked on both planes, ran a hand along what would be the bow if this were just a boat.
''This is a dodo bird,'' he said fondly. ''We took something that was, then wasn't, and made it again. We resurrected it.''
None of the approximately 110 original Sikorsky S-38s survived. ''They crashed or rotted away and were pushed into dumps,'' Underland said. ''The wood structure meant that salt water was terribly hard on them.''
Pan American Airlines had about 30 of the planes in the 1930s, ''when the areas where Pan Am wanted to go -- the Caribbean and South America -- didn't have airfields,'' said Dick Anderson, 62, an engineer and project manager. ''They could carry 10 passengers and a pilot and co-pilot. It was the golden age of amphibious planes, but it didn't last long.''
Born Again Restorations, operating out of several hangars at the Owatonna airport, has restored or re-created a variety of early aircraft. The company built its first Sikorsky S-38 two years ago for a family-owned company that shares some history with the plane. Sam Johnson, the company chairman, flew the plane 7,500 miles from Wisconsin to Brazil to re-create a 1935 flight by his father, who was looking for Amazon palm oils for his business.
The reborn Sikorsky will weigh 10,500 pounds when loaded and reach an air speed of about 100 miles per hour. It looks like a big, gawky seabird that doesn't quite know what to do with its wings; the 72-foot wingspan is nearly 2 1/2 times the length of the fuselage.
Two 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engines will burn 50 gallons of fuel an hour.
''It's not a cheap airplane to fly,'' Underland said.
''It didn't get any cheaper in the last few months,'' Anderson added.
The engines are antiques, too, only slightly newer than parts salvaged from original Sikorsky planes and used in this restoration, including the center wing section and tail booms. ''The engines have been rebuilt,'' Anderson said. ''They're fresh.''
Underland started working on planes full-time about 1960. He had been working on a truck farm south of Owatonna, but his interests banked sharply when he started flying in the 1950s.
''My brother wanted to farm more than I did,'' he said.
He works from about 400 original blueprints from Sikorsky and Federal Aviation Administration files. But some parts had to be handcrafted from drawings that Anderson made after studying old pictures, including a watercolor painting of an S-38 landing in Duluth harbor. Northwest Airlines used two of the planes to deliver mail to Duluth before the city had an airport.
The ash frame is covered with an aluminum skin. (Underland calls it tin. ''Easier to say than aluminum,'' he said. ''Saves time.'')
The project ''is more like building a boat than a plane,'' he said, ''but you have to be more concerned with weight and everything has to be sealed.
''Pilots seemed to like the plane. Mechanics didn't like them as well because of the way they had to work on them after they'd been out in salt water.''
When Born Again Restorations built its first Sikorsky, ''we made a lot of extra parts,'' Anderson said, ''and we learned a lot that makes this job easier.''
The basic design, shape and flight characteristics are the same, he said, but he used modern adhesives, wheels and brakes. ''We didn't want to do anything silly just to make it old.''
Their plane will have better instruments, some required by federal regulations. The original had no lights and ''used Morse code radios, if they had radios at all,'' Anderson said.
''It has to be a mix of old and modern,'' he said. ''We're going to fly this plane, not set it in a museum. It's a safety issue.''
Parts of the plane sit in three separate hangars now, and it won't really ''look like an airplane'' until about Christmas, Underland said.
Dana Ulen, doing woodwork on the fuselage, was restoring a train depot in Owatonna when R.W. ''Buzz'' Kaplan, president of Born Again Restorations, happened by and asked him to consider working on planes. Dennis Lubbers works in the tin shop, assembling the wing sections, fuel tanks and engine mounts. In the next hangar, Brent Langer sews Dacron fabric onto tail sections and rudders that were made from scratch. The fabric is heated to 350 degrees to ''shrink-wrap'' the pieces, then stitched and sealed with several coats of aluminum filler paint.
''It's not a weekend project,'' Lubbers said. ''You have to be practical, and you have to look down the road and see what you're going to need in two weeks. It might take you two weeks to make it.''
Langer flew on the first rebuilt Sikorsky, lurching in back as the plane landed on remote stretches of Brazil's Amazon River.
How did it fly?
''Good, but slow,'' he said.
Anderson said the second S-38 could make it to Hollywood.
''They'd love to get it into movies,'' he said. ''Charles Lindbergh flew these a lot.''
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