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Friday, May 24, 2024

EAA Chapter 534 experiences the rebirth of a 1929 Lockheed Vega

Members of the Mid Florida EAA Chapter 534 made an annual pilgrimage to JKE Works in Mount Dora to see how the rebuild of a 1929 Lockheed Vega 5C was coming along. 

JKE Works specializes in aircraft restorations and is a family operation. They have been in this business since the 1960s and have restored other aircraft over the years like a Staggerwing Beech, Stearman, Gee Bee Z and Travelair, just to name a few. This company started with Jim Kimball, was taken over by his son Kevin and was recently joined by Kevin’s son Kalin. 

JKE Works has a long history of restoring vintage aircraft to factory new, airworthy, museum quality. This is why Kermit Weeks knew he could trust them to restore his Lockheed Vega, still a certified aircraft, back to the original plans and get it back to flying status. Up to this point, it had been on static display at his Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City. 

Because this is a certified aircraft, reconstruction must be to the original Lockheed 1929 plans. Any deviation from what the plans would require Federal Aviation Administration approval, and this would mean excessive time delays. 

JKE Works follows the original Vega plans closely. Sometimes this requires tooling that is no longer available or parts that are long out of production. That means they will have to construct the tooling or out-of-production parts on their own. For example, the plywood skins for the wing required Sitka Spruce, and when Kevin Kimball tried to find Sitka Spruce plywood, there was none to be found.

Chapter 534 Kimball Vega
DSCN 7047 Kevin Kimball, of JKE Works, explains how the thin plywood skins for the Lockheed Vega were made.

 He had to go to Alaska to find suitable Sitka Spruce trees still growing in the forest. He had them cut down, cut into logs the size he needed then shipped to the lower 48 states. Then he had to find a plywood cutter who could cut them into the unique grain specifications required by the plans. This part of the project alone cost much time and money. 

Some of the metal parts could be salvaged from the original plane. The spars, ribs of the wing and the tail feathers were still in good condition. The older Casein type glues used in 1929 had failed, and more modern adhesives had to be used. Careful attention to wood grains and finishes were exquisite throughout the reconstruction. 

Chapter 534 Vega Original
The original Lockheed Vega, circa 1930’s. This type of plane was made famous by aviators such as Wile Post and Amelia Earhart in the 1930s.

Lockheed had made the Vega in several different models. This plane began as a model 5C but will be rebuilt as an Executive Model 5A. This is what a gentleman businessman of 1929 might have ordered. It would provide for a desk and a very specific Smith-Corona typewriter noted in the original parts list. Very thin plywood skins for the fuselage would be formed over a mold that Kevin and his son Kalin would construct according to plans. 

Currently, the wings and tail feathers have been reconstructed according to the original plans. The fuselage is nearing completion, and the right-hand skin has been put in place. The left fuselage skin is still on the mold awaiting placement after all the controls are in place. 

A visit to JKE Works is always a master class for EAA Chapter 534 members on how to refurbish and build airplanes. There is always much more to learn, and we are fortunate to be able to visit JKE Works periodically to see how we can improve our own building skills. 

To find out more about JKE Works, go to www.jkeworks.com. They are at 5354 Cemetery Road in Mount Dora. For more information about EAA Chapter 534, go to www.chapter534.org. 

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