Yacht Emergency Engine Repair Needed


Vintage Allison Aircraft Engine
A Herculean effort and at least $250,000 is needed before the Thunderbird yacht will cruise again. Not only has the lack of winter precipitation confined Thunderbird to her berth, but also both of her vintage World War II fighter aircraft engines are fatally impaired.

Bill Watson, Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society Chief Executive and Curator, gives an update as of August 25th. “We are nearly 75% of the way to the $250,000 needed to repair/replace Thunderbird’s Allison engines. With monies pledged through August 20th, we have nearly $187,000 and need only $63,000 more. We have collected nearly two-thirds of the pledges. The aircraft engine repair shop will let the Labor Day deadline slip a bit, but not much. We are grateful for contributions in any amount and I know that our Thunderbird family can push us to the finish line so that Thunderbird can cruise again in 2015!”

Three years ago, Dave Triano, Thunderbird Restoration Program Manager, initiated a monitoring program in which he sought to find trends in the boat’s systems. This helps him spot potential problems before they become more serious. One of his procedures is to draw engine oil for analysis twice each year. This is like a ‘window’ to see inside the engine and assess its health. By tracking the elements present in the oil such as lead, silver, cadmium, and iron, he can determine if parts inside the engine are prematurely wearing out or aging as they should. These are vintage engines and with a comprehensive maintenance program, they can last 2 years or 22 years. Many factors contribute to or take away from their longevity and all must be carefully watched.


Some people may ask “Why does the boat have antique engines?”

The original engines in Thunderbird were two 12-cylinder Kermath Sea Raiders, but Bill Harrah installed the twin Allisons when he acquired the boat from Mr. Whittell. This is due to Mr. Harrah having a large stock of Allison engines that he also used in his many Unlimited Hydroplanes. These Allison power plants have become so intimately associated with Thunderbird that historians deem replacing them with a modern engine as unthinkable. Some things in life simply demand impressive, beautiful horsepower and Thunderbird is one! The Allison engines are true works of engineering art and thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we maintain one of the largest collections of spare parts and components to keep them going.

In order to cruise again, the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society faces some daunting challenges. Two spare engines were purchased through the generosity of our donors in 2009. These engines are in “preservation storage” status and must be completely disassembled, inspected, and rebuilt to functional status. Because these engines are maintained at or near stock, F.A.A. licensed facilities will perform the work to the manufacturer’s original military specifications published in 1943.

To donate to this cause, please click here or call 775-832-8752.