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Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

6. Neglected alternative i: plywood stressed-skin construction,   pp. [114]-134

Page 119

Figure 6.1. Amelia Earhart's wooden Lockheed Vega with NACA cowling. National
Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution (SI neg. no. A-45812D).
concrete molds were relatively inexpensive and easy to make. The fuselage
shell itself consisted of three layers of spruce veneer with the face grain
longitudinal. Each layer was first assembled from veneer strips and held
together with paper tape. This method permitted each layer to be handled
as a unit, reducing the time required for handling and applying the glue.
Using the pre-assembled layers, it took only twenty minutes to assemble a
complete shell in the mold. When all three layers had been covered with
glue and placed in the mold, a heavy cover with a large rubber bag on the
inside was bolted onto the mold. The bag was inflated to twenty pounds per
square inch, placing the fuselage shell under uniform pressure. The shell
remained under pressure for eight hours before being removed for drying
(figure 6.2). When dry, the completed shell was glued and nailed to the
framework of longerons and laminated-spruce rings.16
The wooden Lockheeds sold well until the 1929 stock-market crash and
were used by many airlines. The Wasp-powered Vega was priced under
$20,000, costing no more than competing models while providing substan-
tially greater speed. With its monocoque fuselage and plywood wing, the
Vega seemed to provide a clear advantage in performance with no increase

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