Air Zoo’s PT-23 – The Story of a Restoration

Fairchild PT-23HO_N52020 (5)_Electrical Panel_Front Cockpit

Volunteer A&P Martha Salisbury removed, and partially disassembled the Muskegon-built engine, but Aero Engines of Los Angeles completed the rebuild. It took so many years to complete the aircraft however, that a little rust formed on the valve guides, and this created an additional headache. Also, reassembling an airplane after seven years in pieces can lead to a few things being put together incorrectly. For instance, the fuel pump was sucking fuel out of the engine rather than pumping it in! So there were some problems, but the team resolved them quickly once they’d built up their experience levels with that part of the aircraft again. The engine has run without a hitch ever since.

Following nearly eight years of hard work, the PT-23 is now airworthy after what can only be described as a labor of love. As with any relationship, it can be as perplexing as rewarding. One can understand that emotions ebbed high and low many times throughout the whole process. When Greg was asked why the floor boards and inner luggage compartment looked as though they could be coffee table tops, he responded…”the reason that was done was more as a morale booster for the volunteers that built the airplane. It was a 90% volunteer-built airplane, seven years worth of beautiful woodworking. All of the wood looks the same under the paint…we wanted to show off a little bit of the craftsmanship and spruce up the aircraft a little.”

This sprucing up extends to the paint job too, but for a functional reason. Greg said the paint is metallic silver Imron polyurethane. “The reason we used the polyurethane paint [on the aircraft] is that we do fly them. They get oily, they get dirty, and the museum has to clean them in a reasonable amount of time, and get ’em looking good. If that were silver dope [as on the original aircraft] the oil, the grass stains, the gasoline would stain the finish. Over a short period of time it would look horrible.” Other volunteers who were involved in the Cornell’s restoration were: Bud Baden, Bud Chop, Carl Cummings, Bud Denning, Joe Green, Liz Grossman, Bill Hopkins, Richard Jackson, Tom McNamara, Bob Niewoonder, Gene Phipps, Chester Stawikszynski, Al VanderVeen, and Harold Vogt. These men and women, and the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum are committed to preserving the past for the future; a future where the men, women and children of the United States can learn more about, and appreciate the dedication and sacrifice of the men and women who originally built this aircraft, and the men who trained in it preparing for combat. One of these men is Chester Douglass. Chester about dropped in his tracks when he first saw the Air Zoo’s -23. “That’s the airplane I soloed in!”, he said. You could see a flood of memories rushing back across his face. “I had had a $1 ride with ‘Bun’ Perry as a kid,” and that, like with so many youngsters then, was enough to get him hooked on flying. But the PT-23 was the first plane in which he was really introduced to flying as a prospective pilot. Douglass did not have much with which to compare that first flight in the Cornell. “Looking back though, after the experience of flying other aircraft, looking back it was a very reliable, very dependable, and a relatively easy airplane to fly.” Douglass should know though, as he progressed through several levels of training, and flew 63 WWII combat missions in B-26s and A-26s, piloted P-51s in the Air Defense Command during the Korean War, and ended up flying the RB-57 in the Air National Guard.

Although the PT-23 is a bit more complicated than other primary trainers of the day, all of the systems worked together beautifully. Though Douglass had not flown a Stearman, he had spoken with plenty of pilots who had, and is thankful that the -23 had very wide landing gear, unlike the Kaydet. “It wasn’t impossible [to do a ground loop in the -23], but I never did.” There really were no bad habits with the aircraft that Douglass could remember, however his instructor never would teach them short-field landings. “It was a rather touchy maneuver” and, though there was no official bulletin he can remember, there “was some concern about the number of main spars that broke.” The instructor did show the cadets how to drop the plane just in over the fence, but he never allowed them to do it themselves. Perhaps he questioned the ability of the wooden wings to absorb the 20 ft. drop, if not done properly. The instructor did sign-off on the cadets as having performed the maneuver, however. Douglass never got over the wonder of flying, and still enjoys it. (CLICK BELOW FOR THE NEXT PAGE).

LIFT FEB 2020

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