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Wed, Oct 22, 2003

Florida's Gems: 'White 1' Museum

Tiny Museum Highlights a Work in Progress

By ANN Senior Editor Tim Kern

"As far as I know, there aren't any," said Mark Timken, when I asked him how many Focke-Wulf 190s are flying today. He's out to change that. "I got lucky in the stock market," he explained, "and I cashed out when it was worth something. I moved to a smaller house... I've put everything into this," he explained.

"This" is a FW-190F-8 restoration project. Mark's plane was featured in Aero-News a few years ago, when it was just a mile down the road in Kissimmee (FL), and on Tom Reilly's Flying Tigers Warbird Museum 'to-do' list; but Reilly's projects kept growing, and the FW-190 was... getting older, so Mark rented an air conditioned industrial building in a strip mall, not far away, where he and a handful of devotees are remanufacturing the rare Nazi warbird.

"The air conditioning really helps," Mark explained. "Not only is it nicer for the people who come here to see the work; but it's really easier to work where it's cool -- and there's a whole lot corrosion damage," than in the open air of central Florida, where Summer is hot, wet, and humid... and lasts for seven months each year.

An example of some of the truly rare and eclectic items Mark has preserved is a perfect wooden drop tank -- aluminum was in such short supply that they made gas tanks of wood (right). It's a truly amazing example of the art of a desperate regime. Other examples of assemblies -- bomb racks, for instance -- show the evolution of manufacturing, as they got simpler and used fewer resources, as the Third Reich faced shortages of materials and encountered increasing difficulties in transportation; these were compounded by the increased use of slave labor, which was neither highly-trained nor willing. There is so much commentary on history, even aside from the machine itself, that one can easily get lost in imagining what it could have been like in the early 1940s in Germany, either as a laborer, or even as an engineer who had to overcome the rising tide of Allied domination.

Weisse Eins ("White 1"), FW 190 F8, W Nr 931862, has a rich history and saw action while serving with JG 5 in Norway. The aircraft was last flown during the famous Battle of Fordefjord on February 9, 1945. It came to rest on a snow covered mountain after its pilot was forced to bail out. In September 1983, it was recovered and displayed at Flesland airport, for the Royal Norwegian Air Force Aircraft Museum. Several years after that, the aircraft was sent to the Texas Air Museum for static restoration.

Mark has been meticulous about the project, which is a concours rebuild. "Rebuild" is too light a word; the project is a total remanufacturing. Virtually nothing of the original was usable as it was when Mark bought it. Some of the hundreds of jewel-like machined parts are on display at the bird's website -- if you're a machinist, you'll appreciate what's gone into this project so far. As for realism, Mark's shop even sports some original FW factory fixtures and jigs -- and he's using them again...

Now that Mark's collection has been moved to the new digs, he is of course, interested in sharing the project. He has set up a foundation (a 501 c3) to help fund the program, and he has set up a lot of the interesting bits of the FW in display cases, so you can see what it's made of.

There are little vials of original hydraulic oil, for instance; and instruments, including some rare and unusual ones. Manuals, photos -- it's hard to imagine how much of history can be held in such a compact area. Some of the most-interesting items I saw are the "before" and "after" renderings of original parts and subassemblies. Seeing these side-by-side gives some idea of just how huge this project is. If you're not getting close enough to the treasures, Mark (above, in the 'electrics room') will pull the parts out of the storage boxes, in the workshop.

When you've made your donation (Mark asks for $15), you then get a personally-guided tour, where each of the airplane's systems -- electronics, avionics, and all mechanicals -- are laid out. Ask him anything -- he knows what he has, and can give you the history on it. Don't think of the donation as a steep price of admission; think of it as your part in the million or so dollars that are still needed to get it back into the air. Another thing that's unusual about your tour, is that the 'curator' himself conducts it. You'll get your money's worth... When you're visiting (or on line), you can also help the effort by buying a very nice T-shirt, or a cap.

There are two fuselages -- one's a sort of guide, a buck; the other will fly. When Mark needs a part, he first tries to find it. Failing that, he has it made. There are thousands of brand-new FW parts in that building; I mentioned that Mark must know every machinist in Florida.

"The whole country, more like," he joked. Anything that was too corroded, or rusted, or bent -- or shot full of holes (as below) -- Mark has a new one made. Even some fairly complicated stampings (above) are not out of the question. If the plane needs it, the plane gets it.

Mark has spent time with the octegenarian pilot of his machine (Heinz Orlowski) [the family of another of the plane's pilots, the late Werner Gayko, shared many of their treasured photos with Mark's website --ed.], and has learned a lot of the lore that goes along with a combat veteran. He's willing to share those stories, too -- an uncommon treat, and well-appreciated. No -- I won't give away White 1's history; I'll say that it's worth hearing, however.

So, you, walking through the museum, get to see a restoration project, a massive sorting project, a collection of eclectic spares (sometimes Mark would buy a particular lot of parts, and some of them wouldn't be for his airplane -- anybody out there want a V-12 Jumo, like this one?), and enough parts to build probably two or three nearly-complete FW-190s, plus his one complete, flying example. The other thing about White 1 that you'll like is that you can ask nearly anything about the airplane, and find out the answer.

Mark, interestingly enough, isn't a pilot. He's planning on flying the old fighter, but first, he wants to make sure it's going to fly. He can be ready to fly it, he figures, long before it's ready to be flown. When it does fly, though, you can be sure it will be ready.

FMI: www.white1foundation.org

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