By Elena DePree
The aviation community lost a great friend, mentor, and pilot last Tuesday. It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of Frank Raymond Arrufat of El Paso, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Now the name might not ring a bell right off, but the story I am about to tell will bring out the memories. Frank grew up with a fascination with airplanes so it was no surprise to anyone when he became a Navy pilot and flew during the Korean War and followed that with a career as a commercial pilot for 34 years with TWA. When Frank was 33 and living in California he saw an advertisement for nonfunctioning WWII planes available in El Salvador.
“I was looking for a warbird,” he said. “I was partial to the Corsair, but they were hard to find.” He said that buying the airplane and negotiating the shipment to the United States took about a year and $10,000. The Corsair that Frank bought was an FG-1D. He also knew that the plane was worth something and wanted to do whatever it took to restore it. Little did he know the journey he was about to begin. A few years later, he married fellow El Pasoan Kathleen Arrufat and they had sons Matt and Paul. He moved the family and the plane to West Texas and got a hangar in Fabens where he kept the plane for years and worked on it when he had time.
It was a slow project, but one he remained dedicated to. Frank said that several people thought he would never finish the project and wanted to buy the plane and complete it themselves. Frank told me that he never lost site of the vision of what the plane would be. He worked on the Corsair for 36 years until, in 2009, an offer lined up just right and he agreed to sell his airplane, which was about 95% restored. “I just couldn’t justify spending any more money on it and I found a buyer who specified that he wanted to finish the plane the same way we were going.” He said that it was difficult to sell.
In 2010, after years of sacrifice and effort, Frank Arrufat finally saw his life’s work fly into an airshow and take top prize. For you see, the FG-1D Corsair that Frank built and dedicated most of his life to restoring, was “Kathleen.” Named after his wife, Kathleen took Grand Champion Warbird at the 57th annual Experimental Aircraft Association Airventure in Oshkosh, WI. The show lasted from July 26th to August 1st. Even though he had just recently sold the airplane, the joy remained
“When a significant thing happens, your brain takes a snapshot and you can recall it with perfect clarity the rest of your life.” “That’s what happened to me.”
Kathy said that the passion he had about the historic airplane and wanting to see it restored to its glory days made her fall in love with Frank even more. And that after years of going to watch the plane progress, she was happy the new owner was not going to change the name her husband gave the plane “Kathleen.””This whole experience was a great process for us.” “Some of the boys greatest memories are of going out to work on the plane with their Dad. She said that seeing it fly at the airshow displayed the years of work and sacrifice that her husband put into it. “When it flew over us you kind of had the feeling that dreams can come true.”
Frank is survived by his wife Kathy and his sons Matt and Paul. Kathleen also is still flying today with the Texas Flying Legends Museum out of Texas. It is now known as Corsair 489 and still flies in airshows and was in Oshkosh this year.
His son, Matt, put it into great perspective. He said that in his mind, Frank is young again, he is healthy again. He and all of his Navy buddies are crowded in and having a great time. Winston Churchill is there, Abraham Lincoln is there, Margaret Thatcher is there, FDR is there. Later on, he will be flying his Corsair, “Kathleen” over the sunset beaches of San Diego and Chuck Berry will be playing in the background.
I know each of you has specific vision of Frank and I know that he touched many of you, like he did me.
I will do my best to carry on his legacy. May you have blue skies and fair tailwinds forever, flying Kathleen.