Auburn pilot prepares to say 'so long" to 'sexy"

Dwelle nearly done with restoration of post-WWII aircraft after six years
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal correspondent
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When Ken Dwelle decided to tear down his racing air plane, ?Critical Mass,? in 2006 and return it to the two-seat, post-World War II training aircraft the British destined it to be, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Actually, Dwelle wrote on his restoration website,, that the news ?was met with a resounding thud.? ?It frankly wasn?t a whole lot of fun,? said Dwelle, a former Stealth Fighter pilot in the Air Force, who now resides in Auburn. ?I mean, it looked sexy and it was red and it was fast but everything about the airplane was drama, everything about it.? Six years later and what he calls many early mornings and lunch hours, the red paint is gone along with the lone racing cockpit. Instead, shiny silver gleams around the two-seater that sits in a hangar at the Auburn Municipal Airport where Dwelle is about a year?s worth of lunch hours away from completing the long-awaited project. Air plane enthusiasts will get a glimpse of what is to come July 7 at the Auburn Air Fair where Dwelle will roll the plane out for the first public viewing. The Sea Fury has gone through a long and tumultuous history. It was built toward the end of World War II, but didn?t make it into war. The plane was the last British-built propeller plane and was just one of 60 two-seated trainers. Germany used the planes from 1958-75 before a number of them found their way to Australia and Iraq. Critical Mass has been in the Dwelle family since 1990 after they traded for it following its crash in the 1989 Reno Air Races. The plane was heavily modified to compete in air racing. The wings were cut down, the cockpit was reconfigured with just one seat and the complete hydraulic system was pulled out and replaced with an inferior one that sometimes failed during flight. In 1995 a high-pressure bottle exploded while Dwelle?s dad, Tom Dwelle, worked on it. The older Dwelle lost four fingers off his right hand in the explosion and the fuselage ripped open. The plane was put back together but not as well as it should have been, the younger Dwelle said. ?What makes me happy is righting a wrong, if you will,? said Dwelle, a third-generation pilot. ?And this airplane had been wronged for a lot of years and it?s healing in some way to put it back right, the way it?s supposed to be.? Sanders Aeronautics in Ione did much of the sheet metal work. The Sanders family owns two fully-operational Sea Furies, one racer and the sister plane of Critical Mass. The shop?s owner, Dennis Sanders, said Dwelle?s plane presented a number of challenges. ?His by far is the most farthest we?ve had apart and the most challenging just because we had everything all apart and built it back up,? Sanders said. The plane now almost looks like it did when it rolled off the Hawker production line. The original hydraulic system is nearly complete after Dwelle received pumps he had tried to acquire for six years. He found a new tail in Australia that had never been used and should receive the original canopy within a few weeks. The biggest differences between Dwelle?s plane and the original are the faux guns that he crafted out of aluminum and the engine. England consolidated its military aircraft manufacturers long ago and the original Bristol Centaraus motor is almost unserviceable because of a lack of parts. Instead, Dwelle, like many Sea Fury owners, opted to install a Curtis Wright Skyraider engine out of the same Douglas Skyraiders his dad flew in Vietnam. Instead of the bold red, the Sea Fury will receive the original British Royal Navy paint scheme it had more than 50 years ago. It will likely be another year before the plane is complete but the plane will live a vastly different life compared to its days as Critical Mass. It will likely be seen on display on runways and far away from racing pylons. ?People do things for different reasons and there?s a lot of satisfaction when you finish projects to be able to open up a garage door to look at a car that you finished or your hangar door and go, ?That?s pretty dog gone cool,?? Dwelle said.