Restoring Old Aircraft Parts ( Control Wheel )




Hello to all aircraft and restoration lovers.
My name is Greg, and this is my first instructable.

I work at an aircraft salvage yard. Everyone who works here loves airplanes and the owner has several. One that I'm in love with is a 1946 Aeronca Chief. The 1946 Chief is a fabric skinned aircraft and has been re-skinned recently ( the ceconite fabric process weakens and fades over time so it needs to be redone, not like aluminum aircraft of today).

The interior is in rough shape, often bush planes are that way. I decided to give the airplane a little clean up and restore to its former glory, as close as I can get without spending a lot of money.

This instructable is about my first step, the aircraft control wheels.

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Step 1: 2012 Vs. 1946

I chose to start with the control wheels because it's the first thing I notice when I look inside an aircraft. The second is the instrument panel.

In 1946, control wheels were metal and to make them comfortable to grip for hours they wrapped them with rope.

Unfortunately, after years of use, sweat and moisture gets trapped in the rope and rusts the wheel. After the rope frays and tatters, it looks like a rusty old frayed noose.

So here we have the cockpit of the '46 Chief when it was new. The second pic is what it looks like today, the third is how we're going to make it look.

Step 2: Removing the Control Wheel

There's really nothing to removing the control wheel, one bolt, I think it was 7/16".

The only problem is the control wheel was painted on the control shaft by the looks of things, so I used a blade and elbow grease to loosen wheel from the control column. I jammed the pilots control wheel against my knee and pulled and rotated the copilots wheel to get it free.

Step 3: Removing the Wheel Rope

So , let's get that silly rope out of the way so we can clean this thing up.

The rope was attached on the back with glue so I cut a slice down the wheel with a utility knife and unravelled it as much as I could, cutting the rest free or scraping it off.

The entire wheel area covered with the rope was quite rusty, it will need a good cleaning when we get all the old paint off.

Step 4: Wire Wheel the ... Wheel

Great that nasty rope is off, for our next trick, we'll get off all the tattered paint and wash the grime off the wheel.

Running the wire wheel is easy, but as you can see in the pics the paint on the inside surface of the control wheel is a bit tricky to get at, just like the paint on the spokes. We'll use another tool for that in the next step.

Get your beautiful shop assistant to clean up the control wheel with your wire wheel, and then move on to the next step.

Step 5: Drill With Wire Brush

Next we use an electric drill with wire brush attachment to clean off the hard to get at parts of the control wheel.
Not shown: after wire brushing, soapy water to wash off the wheel and get ready for paint.

If you're into the au naturel look then re-install on the aircraft like that, but that will surely rust again in a year or two.

Step 6: Hang and Paint

The control wheel is cleaned up and ready for painting.

My strategy here is to hang with some wire and use spray bomb black glossy paint in two applications.

The tricky part is to make sure you get coverage on the spokes, you will have to make many passes to get all surfaces.

Also, cover up surfaces around your work area so you don't spray your lawn tractor and welder black.

Step 7: Reinstall

Putting the control wheel back onto the plane is simple.

I needed to sand down the control column a little bit with fine grit just to get everything to slide together nicely. Bolt it back on and a job well done.

Step 8: Thank You, Please Raise Your Hand With Comments and Questions.

Go flying!

Do not go flying unless qualified under the licensing standards for your country/state/province. Do not fly in an aircraft unless it is properly maintained according to manufacturer and country standards. Do not fly an aircraft unless you are trained on the type and class you intend to fly. Do not fly an aircraft unless you are current on the type and class you intend to fly. Do not fly an aircraft in any weather or conditions you are not qualified for. Do not fly an aircraft in any weather or conditions the aircraft is not manufactured to withstand.

Thanks for reading!
I appreciate all questions and comments about planes, and my instructable.
If you know lots about Aeronca champs and chiefs I'd love to hear from you.



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    18 Discussions

    That's great thank you! Again, sorry about the harassment that all these random people threw up on your other instructable. Apparently we should all know the ins and outs of every feature of the instructable server space. Personally I don't have time for that.
    Really cool place you are living in there. I hope you don't think it too ignorant of me but I had no idea the aircraft there would be in such good shape, museum or not.

    Thanks. They may appear to be in perfect condition in the photographs, but up close there are many fixes to be done. I don't have many pictures of the aircraft and you would only have seen a handful of them. I don't usually have time to take photos because I mostly just go there to give tours.

    Nice place to start livening-up the interior. I live in South Africa and volunteer at th Air Force Base Ysterplaat Museum and we have restored (and currently are restoring) many aircraft, including a C-47 Dakota, an F86F Sabre, a Sikorsky S-55 and even a rare old De Havilland Vampire FB.5. We also have the world's last airworthy Avro Shackleton and occasionally do ground-runs with it. It has 4 Rolls-Royce Gryphon 54s EACH producing about 2450 Shaft Horsepower. It does however weigh about 52 tonnes in total, so it needs every bit of power it can get! We also recently received a Blackburn Buccaneer which will hopefully be a future project. The strange thing is that you probably still have a bigger budget than us! We would restore more aircraft to flying condition but it is pretty close to impossible with the money available. Nice work on that Chief, have you done any other aircraft?

    1 reply

    I've done a bit of this and that but I'm not qualified to do repairs, so everything I do has to be under the eye of a master mechanic.
    I think I've heard about your outfit before, maybe when I was in Air Cadets I think.
    If you have time I think I speak for us all when I say I'd love to see pictures of work you are doing. But take caution to keep it simple for us simpletons.


    7 years ago on Step 8

    :) Darn, and I was just about to hop the fence at the airport and give it a try, after all I'm pretty handy, how hard could it really be?

    just joking, nice instructable

    2 replies

    Hahaha well if I can do it, I sincerely think almost anyone can.
    There is the odd person who gets violently ill in an aircraft all the time, but if you can juggle, or at least rub your belly and pat your head at the same time, then you can become a safe, reliable pilot.

    Also in Canada, there is a graduated licensing system, just like for a drivers license. So there is a pilots license to suit anybody's needs.

    Thanks for you comment!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    If you have a copy of Microsoft FSX you can get the aeronca champ here



    7 years ago on Introduction

    I built an Aeronca Champ model a few years ago. Balsa and tissue... so not much like what you're working on here! This looks like a pretty serious project. Good luck!

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    You might be surprised, the chief is wood and fabric exterior, but it does have a metal skeleton to carry the loads.
    The entire service manual is 80 pages long or so.

    Thanks for your comment! You still into flying?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I dabble in r/c. But I've always been intrigued by real aircraft. So it would be interesting so see any more work you do on this plane. Please continue to post your progress!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Do you intend to get the aircraft back in the air?

    It must have ended up in the salvage yard for a reason

    Done up in flying condition it looks like it could be worth between $25,000 and $30,000 so scraping it unless beyond economical repair looks like a big loss.

    Nice project!