The amazing AN-124 Air Lift
On the 29th of August 2010 onward a world first occurred, which no other Fairey Gannet in history has ever encountered, as you will further read.
For quite some time we had been working on the most suitable option to retrieve "Janet" without exposing her to any unnecessary risk, being fully aware she is irreplaceable. Dictating circumstances were ever changing which were consistently pushing her recovery and operating logistics further down the line, and anyone who has ever been to Goose bay will know, there is only a short window of summer weather before severe cold, winds and deep snow drive hard through the terrain.
Goose bay is located far north of Canada the last flight hop before Greenland, where local sightings of caribou and black bears are an every day occurrence.
Not far away from where "Janet" was stored stands another venerable old timer, an Avro Vulcan XL361 which has stood outside for many years due to technical problems in her service days that led to her sad permanent grounding. A sobering thought that "Janet" was launched at Farnborough as a prototype along side this Vulcan's grandfather, the prototype VX770. This brings a lump to ones throat, realising what little of aviations unique "firsts" still remain, and what does is worth all the effort in the world to keep as such.
For many people who don't fly themselves or operate aircraft they are probably not aware how much effort and attention go into just the normal every day upkeep of a historic aircraft. So when things don't go to plan away from base this effort multiplies by tens if not hundreds, small problems back at base become mountainous problems in remote areas. All of your comfort zones disappear in such remote places.
"Janet" was now overdue on her maintenance and the lack of availability to parts and equipment were further obstacles to overcome. Time constraints were also now becoming a factor, everything that could go wrong seemed to be doing so at a quickening pace.
I was now at a point forced to make a decision to save "Janet" the best and safest way possible instead of her flying out under her own glorious power.
By ship was a concern, this would have meant towing her through the town at night to the docks, then trying to lift her via crane on to a vessel. Anyone who has even tried moving smaller objects would understand that if a sling moves or the object hits anything while suspended it can create damage beyond belief, not to mention the salt air and movement on the ships journey. Then at the USA end it would have to be specially hauled by truck for many hundreds of miles from the port. This was all a recipe for damage or loss for sure.
By road was not an option at all, her size would not allow it and trying to break her down into smaller parts was not going to be any benefit as she has a vast centre section still to wide for any normal load on single carriage ways. This option would still have had a very high risk factor of damage which could make her totally unserviceable, let alone trying to dismantle her with very limited equipment and tooling.
We came up with one thought, which seemed impossible and outlandish. So I looked up internal dimensions of cargo aircraft thinking something as big as a US C5 Galaxy might just do the job. Wrong again this C5 even as big as she is wont allow "Janet's" width to fit inside.
The Airbus Beluga again is too small and loading it with "Janet" would have been an impossibility due to its elevated loading area, not to mention these aircraft are usually tied up solely with Airbus work.
I had seen pictures of the mighty Antonov AN-124 but thought for sure there wouldn't be any possibility of one of these at all as they are so busy, but as time was running out I made the call to the Antonov operators and told them about "Janet's" plight and her need to be rescued.
Almost immediately Ruslan International Ltd operators of the AN-124 at Stanstead Airport called back, wanting to help save her, and so we both started working on the details. It was incredible, Ruslan had worked out with the Russian and Ukrainian crew of the AN-124 a way of fitting "Janet's" rescue into their planned work schedule, but it had to be done within days of our first conversation for it all to work. A member of the Antonov's Design Bureau took all of "Janet's" dimensions to work out loading on their computer, and came back letting us know the outer wing panels had to be removed for the move.
Everything was so efficiently handled by Ruslan, however on the other hand we were now the ones under pressure to get our team flight tickets up to Goose bay from various parts of the world in forty eight hours with a strategy in place to remove her wings with no specialist equipment and prepare "Janet" for her one in a lifetime trip in four days time!! And the clock was ticking before the AN-124's arrival.
Just before "Janet's" team set of for Goose bay, we were contacted by the production company of Discovery Channel's Monster Moves, and before long our wagon train of people just grew and grew, as their camera crews were being immediately deployed from Toronto to cover a world's first move.
On the teams arrival in Goose bay to prepare "Janet" they encountered various delays, and during this time ran through again the best options to get the outer wings removed and ready for transport, albeit with very limited local equipment. If this had been a few years ago when the airfield was fully operational complete with RAF and German squadrons it probably would have made access to the essentials much easier.
Undeterred by the huge responsibility of the task, the team eventually got underway with the work and not long after more volunteers from the local aircraft handlers were coming to give their very welcomed support, from fork lift driving to trestle making for the outer wings. This is where anyone who witnesses the magical effect "Janet" has on people will understand, she attracts the very best in good natured people who want to help, and you always see these content people smile when they are around her.
"This affect on people alone is priceless and something money cannot buy"
After a late evening finish with both outer wings now off it was Pizzas and local Caribou burgers all round which apparently went down very well.
Everyone was happy on both sides of the pond, that despite the monumental project that had to be done in an almost unrealistic timescale, with the bare amount of equipment, they were on schedule for the arrival of the AN-124 the next day for a 15.00hr loading time.
The next morning on arrival at the airfield the team were shocked to see the AN-124 already parked up. Apparently it had arrived in the middle of the night so the crew could get a rest over. The team's adrenalin that had already been pumping hard from the day before now had the added injection of being told the Antonov has pushed forward its departure two hours and they are ready to load "Janet" immediately.
With a little shock at first, everyone again raised their game to an even higher level and performed outstandingly. Then the large crew of the Antonov showed everyone exactly why they are one of the worlds leading heavy cargo professional outfits. Within seconds their loadmaster and agent from the Design Bureau aided by their handlers all swarmed around "Janet" in the hangar planning the execution of the careful loading.
Not long after "Janet" was being towed down the taxiway to this huge aircraft almost laying on the floor and its nose open as high as block of apartment buildings with its ramp waiting.
On loading it was apparent that "Janet's" tail was coming close to the floor as she was being pulled up the ramp. Yet again the crew of the Antonov spotted this immediately and came up with a solution. Like an army they came running out from the belly of the AN-124 with wood and pallets etc and begun making a makeshift lead up to the main ramp, and with very carful guidance by their loadmaster they successfully loaded "Janet" perfectly like putting your hand in a glove and securing her without any damage or drama.
"Janet's" team and camera crew all went along with her in the Antonov to Minneapolis USA as part of the televised relocation for her refurbishments. The team had some amazing experiences of this aircraft during the time they shared in the Antonov but that would be good for another story down the line.
Four flight hours later they arrived at Minneapolis international airport. Not long after the big engines stopped, a big gathering of handlers and officials had arrived to greet them. Again the Antonov crew sprang into life, everyone knew what they were supposed to do and was ready for "Janet's" removal. After some organising with the airport handlers and Antonov crew "Janet" was gently towed out onto the taxiway safe and sound, all within the entire time scales that were laid out from the very start!
The next two days a rush was still on to get the outer wings re-attached, so the team could meet the camera crews deadline to complete this first stage of filming. All went fairly well with only a few minor delays during the day with the wings, and again the team hit the time scale.
Areoshine a very experienced corporate detailing company for aircraft immediately offered to kindly sponsor "Janet'", and their entire guy's worked hard into the night cleaning the dirt, dust and then polishing, getting her respectable for TV. They to were struck at the first sighting of "Janet" as they had never seen an aircraft so unusual.
We are so lucky to have such genuine people offering help that want to be a part of looking after "Janet's" future.
"Janet was now together and safe, surveys were done and her pneumatics and hydraulics were brought gently online. Many people flocked around her again in amazement to see her spread her wings, and meet the team.
Within just days her magic had again attracted large gatherings of well wishers and supporters from all professions and walks of life, it is truly wonderful to witness.
Now part one of her recovery back to flight is completed, the second part of her story by road is due to begin.
The Final Destination by Road
At the end of September a plan had been put together to transport XT752 from Minneapolis International Airport to her new home at New Richmond Airport, Wisconsin.
Yet again with deadlines looming, an amazing family owned trucking company "Zaczkowski Trucking Service" came forward to help XT752 reach her new home for refurbishments.
This very dedicated family put every amount of effort into making sure "Janet" was going to be safe and sound during her road move. Even though they have many years of experience moving big loads, this was the first time they had ever transported an aircraft, and what an aircraft to start with, especially under all the pressure of the media and press watching every move.
It is no easy task to organise such a move, the logistics are huge. To start with, they had to organise the departments of transport in the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin for special permits to move the aircraft. The team had been given the slot time of 3am departure at MSP and had to arrive at the Wisconsin border by 5am for a distance of approximately 35 miles. Then the team had to stay off the freeway at a weigh station until 9am when they were then allowed to travel to reach our destination of New Richmond WI by 10 am, a further ten miles away.
This sounds fairly easy, but then reality strikes you.
On the 5th of October a mighty crane appears with the specialist trailer carrying an amazing quarter inch steel box section designed for XT752's main wheels to sit in. This structure was almost fourteen feet wide and over two thousand pounds in weight. The Zaczkowski family had designed this amazing structure under short notice specifically to allow XT752's airframe to remain in a complete state during the entire move allowing her to just fit under all the obstacles along the way. At least in theory, as the overhead bridge height that "Janet" needed to clear was sixteen feet! Not much room for error, as "Janet" is nearly fourteen feet high at her minimum height before going on to a trailer.
Incredibly "Janet" was in very good company this day. The vice president of America in Airforce Two was at the airport, and then just taxied up in a private jet right behind "Janet" with a mass of security was ex President Jimmy Carter.
"Janet" seems to always have something special happen around her.
Once the structure was in place the crane positioned itself above "Janet" ready to accept a very special lifting coupling that was specially manufactured by Brian Wood an absolute artist with fabricating metal. This one lifting sling was going to lift "Janet" straight on the trailer. Even thought the manuals say that this was the way to lift her, there was total silence just as she was about to be lifted, as no one knew what to expect of a nearly sixty year old aircraft being picked up solely on one metal pin.
As she lifted it was amazing, she rose perfectly level and was gently placed on the trailer. Everyone watched in amazement.
Now everyone was really fired up for her move at 3am in the morning.
2.30am came quickly and the team, trucks and escorts were making their way towards the gate which we were told would be ideal as it was a very wide opening.
On arrival everyone was in a state of shock. At some point new gate pillars had been installed leaving an undersized gap of which "Janet" needed a further eight feet! As she was a twenty two foot wide load.
There was a mass of confusion, especially as the team were now told that the department of transports permit only covers this selected entrance to leave on. The whole mission came to a standstill and without any other options everyone had to return back to the airport terminal, to work out another plan. This then put the whole town of New Richmond on standby as they had all planned a welcoming party for "Janet" and the crew.
The next day came pretty quickly, and everyone was now very tired with no sleep, but the trucking company didn't give up at all, they went straight back on the road to inspect all the other exit options. Now 2pm in the afternoon on the 6th of October, we find out that all the other exits were impossible to get "Janet" out, and then another amazing thing happened. The airports operators had found a solution and offered to remove the high security gate posts immediately, if Doug, Jeff and Ken from the trucking operations moved "Janet" through the gate and park in a secure area on the public side of the fence. This was immediately done and the move was back on track although a day late.
Kate the daughter of the trucking company owner had again spent the whole day negotiating with officials for the new move, and her great efforts managed to overcome all obstacles to give us a clear path to New Richmond.
3am and the team were away with our police escort and camera crew in tow. Some of the bridges seemed very close but everything went perfectly, arriving at the Wisconsin weigh station ahead of time on the 7th of October.
After a well earned breakfast the team were ready for the final furlong and the most emotional part of her entire journey.
By this time there were a mass of police cars from both the state of Wisconsin and New Richmond escorting "Janet" on a cavalcade which must have been half a mile long through the narrow roads.
Adults and children were lining the streets of New Richmond waiving and clapping as the cavalcade came into town. Cars that had seen "Janet" on the freeway had turned back to follow her to the airport, as well as an overhead spotter plane taking pictures of the whole event.
On reaching her new home at the airport, she was driven round and unloaded in front of a waiting crowd at the main reception area. Everyone was excited to see her arrive lead by Frederick Horne the Mayor of New Richmond who honoured us by welcoming "Janet" to her fantastic new home and seconded by Mike Demulling airport manager who's great efforts made sure the reception at New Richmond went according to plan. The team were so happy to invite all who was there to come and look around "Janet". There were many men, women, children and babies being photographed with "Janet" and the team on a beautiful blue sky day, it was picture perfect.
After the reception "Janet" was introduced to her hangar where the next stage of her return to the sky will now take place, and a new chapter soon to begin.
We all think of her life as being similar to the children's film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" where family and friends fall in love with an old famous car and bring it back to life, and in return Chitty gives something special back and cares for them all.
We think "Janet" is a real life aviation version of this famous film as she continues to bring smiles and hope to everyone she encounters on her amazing never ending story.
We would like to thank deep from our hearts and "Janet's" mechanical one, every individual that has been involved in moving her in this unique televised recovery and in such amazingly short timescales, making this once in a lifetime rescue successful.
Our massive thanks goes to Ruslan International Ltd and the Antonov crew, of which this would never have been able to happen without their involvement. At this time we are working closely over the possibility of something very special for the near future that aviation enthusiasts in the UK and Europe will find very exciting.
Another massive thanks goes to the Zaczkowski family and "Doug" of Zaczkowski Trucking Service who pushed back every hurdle to make sure "Janet" was brought home safely. An amazing company with a total heart of gold.
It still goes to show with the good common sense of people, industries and governments all working together no matter where you are, amazing things can still happen in these current times.
Ironically these two great aircraft companies Antonov and Fairey who both operated on either side of the Iron Curtain years ago were now thankfully able to help each other for survival, alowing us to continue preserving aviation history due to such great humanity.
"So" if anyone reading this, is running or involved in a historical preservation or restoration project, no matter where it is, or what it is, never give up, don't take no for an answer, don't listen to negative feedback even when the going gets tough, and plough on to success. "Make it happen".
Soon to come "HER RETURN TO THE SKY"
To all the people who helped in the move "THANK YOU"
Ruslan International - Paul Bingley / Paul Furlonger / Andriy Blagovisiniy/ & all their great team, as well as all the amazing crew of the AN-124
Zaczkowski Trucking Service - Kate / Ken / Jim / Jeff / Doug Nesja / Corey Bond, who were all incredible.
Tek Steel Fabrication Inc - Daryl Hall who fabricated the fantastic structure to transport XT752
Armstrong Crane - John Gmach who's steady operation lifted and lowered XT752 safely
Signature - Dale Kariya for looking after XT752 at MSP
Aeroshine - Craig Armour / Dion Lorine and their hard working team for helping make XT752 presentable for the public and TV after her long storeage
Minneapolis State Patrol - Lt Bruce Brynell / Melinda Dehoop / Trooper Adrian / Trooper Hayes and their great team
Wisconsin State Patrol - Sgt Brett Heino and his great team too.
New Richmond Police - A massive thank you for keeping all the cars off of the roads and out of the way.
Minnesota Department of Transport - Ted Coulianos / Barb Capistrant / Glen Bjornberg / Gene Halvorson / Debbie Starr
Wisconsin Department of Transport - Kathleen Nichols / Cindy Sittler
Hennepin County Permit Office - Carolyn Fackler
Permit Alliance - Diane
Princess Trucking (Pilot cars) - Tyra Beckers / Paula Grandlund / Steve Notch
CO Brown Agency - Dan Hildestad
Mike Demulling - New Richmond Airport
Roger Trett - Thank you so much for helping XT752's continued UK and International logistics
Midland Air Museum - Thank you all for your very kind assistance and support
Not to mention our great team and the many more new helpers and volunteers.
We and XT752 thank you all