How To Resurrect An Airplane In Style

“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, 

Life is a broken-winged bird, 

That cannot fly.”  – Langston Hughes

My roots in aviation came from my father.  His sprouted in the 1960s.  I do not know what or who influenced him.  He had not flown in the military nor been involved in aviation prior to his decision to build an EAA Biplane.  He was involved in the local Civil Air Patrol, but where in the timeline that fell, I am unsure.

Along the way, a pretty red 1961 Forney Aircoupe showed up at the local airpark.  It was owned by a couple of Daddy’s friends.  Although he took his lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub, it was in this plane he built hours toward his private pilot’s licence.

Once licensed to fly, the coupe became Daddy’s transport, companion and therapy: his place to dream and escape. It would be years before I understood the relationship he had with that little plane. The coupe remained at the Plainville Airpark until 1991

Flying with Dad was both a treat and an adventure.  He tended to surprise you by doing “fun” things, like stalls and steep turns without warning.  I was all smiles – once back on the ground!  In the summer of 1970 I served as a camp counselor at several locations around the state.  Daddy flew me to a number of them.  It was pretty special to arrive via air transport.

Life Happens

In the early 1970s, Dad’s business began to struggle due to a downturn in regional oil production and several bad years for the local farming community.  He had some health issues, got involved with local politics and flying time diminished.  The little Aircoupe sat in its hangar looking south.

About the same time, I left home to attend college, married and began a career with the FAA as an air traffic controller. When that career brought me to Wichita, KS in 1988, I decided to get my private pilot’s license.  I had wanted to do this since I first flew with Daddy, and began training at one point, but the right time had finally arrived.

Second Generation Training

Thinking I might use Dad’s plane to build hours for my pilot training, I asked if the Coupe was flyable. His answer was evasive:  “it was flying when I last parked her in the hangar”.  I asked how long it had been.  “A couple of years”.

I asked if I could use it to build the hours I needed to get my license, his response after thinking it over, was “if you can fix it, you can fly it”.  With no clue as to what would be involved, I later discovered it had been 11 years since her last air worthiness check.  It was going to be work to resurrect an airplane.

Restoration Or Resurrection?

In the fall of 1991, my flight instructor and I flew his plane to the Aircoupe to assess the situation.  She was in sad shape. It took two more trips with different assortments of mechanics before,  on a cold March day in 1992 she departed Plainville Airpark on a ferry permit for her new home in Wichita. Project:  resurrect an airplane was airborne.

In the meantime, I continued my flight training and realized the Coupe would not be the plane I would build flight hours in. The plan had shifted.  Daddy was ready to share her with me, and so we took joint ownership.

Resurrect An Airplane Reality Check

The Continental 90 HP engine was in good shape, so no rebuild needed.  However, the rest was another story:

  • Rodents had moved into the fuselage, nested and not only made a mess, but created a fair amount of surface corrosion
  • Pigeons had roosted above her in the hangar and, well, several inches of poo had to be removed, before the ferry flight.  Once home, a more detailed cleaning was done.
  • The directional gyro, ball and needle, magnetic wet compass and artificial horizon were dead.
  • Landing gear, brakes and other basic items needed serious attention.
  • All control wires were changed out and control rods reworked.

It was the corrosion issue in several places that I got involved in.  In between flight lessons and supervising at Wichita ATCT, you could find me headfirst laying in the back-end of the coupe:

  • carefully removing insulation used as nesting material (ick) and the tar that held the insulation in place.
  • Large areas had to be carefully sanded by hand, including a LOT of rivets.
  • Then there was the etch and anodyne followed by a new primer coat
  • finally new, updated insulation was installed.

The Aircoupe made her resurrected flight debut in June 1992.   Squawks were worked out and the IA inspection complete.  She was ready to fly.

I soloed January 10, 1992 and received my single engine land private pilot  license in June.

On July 4, 1992, I flew my first flight of the restored Aircoupe to the national Ercoupe convention being held in Newton, KS, just north of Wichita.  My family was also there, and I flew Daddy as my first passenger, in the Aircoupe, and as a licensed pilot that day.

Project:  Resurrect An Airplane complete.

Second Generation Flying

I am still flying the resurrected Aircoupe.   Time amounts have varied.  During the years I worked in Europe, flying was pretty thin, but a great Uncle took care of her, starting her each month and taxiing her around to keep the juices moving.

After my time in Europe, I moved the Coupe to Texas where I was posted, flying her back and forth to Kansas, my home base,  from time to time.

One of those occasions was for the Rooks County Airport Dedication in September 2012.  That one took some planning.  To get there included:

resurrect an airplane
Rooks County Airport Dedication
  • Three days
  • a new battery
  • four take-offs and landings
  • 750 NM

She is now back in the Wichita area. This summer we moved her from Texas where she is still flying in style!


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