The hobby of collecting aircraft cockpits first really took off, so to speak, in the UK, where hundreds of people are involved in their collection, restoration and display. These range from just the actual cockpit section, all the way up to entire forward fuselages of aircraft types as large as an Avro Vulcan bomber. Typically, the aircraft types involved are ex-military aircraft, although some general aviation types are represented, and even airliners in a few cases. A big reason behind the hobby is that it allows the average person with a relatively small budget and limited storage space to own a significant piece of aviation history which they can then display alongside more affluent individuals with the income to support actual flying examples. It isn’t unusual to find a cockpit section displayed at an air show in the UK, and they even hold mass gatherings, such as the much heralded Cockpit Fest at the Newark Air Museum near Newark, England. More recently, the enthusiasm for collecting cockpit sections has begun to take hold in the USA, with the Kansas Aviation Museum holding their second cockpit festival event in March, 2013. Cockpit sections are beginning to show up regularly at US air shows as well.
David Garbe is one such individual with a passion for vintage military aviation. He acquired his first military jet cockpit back in 2006, a McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II. The aircraft flew with the US Air Force as 65-0720 starting in 1966. In 1972, she saw service during the war over Viet Nam flying with the “Triple Nickel”, the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing out of Udorn AFB in Thailand.
When the military was done with the aircraft in 1988, she went into storage, where she sat for some time before eventually succumbing to the scrap man. Fortunately her cockpit section, though severely battered, lived on long enough for Garbe to acquire it. He spent the next eight years pouring love and money into the crunched-up fuselage until finally she emerged in pristine condition. What was a hobby, has now turned into a small business touring the cockpit section around various air shows, selling self-portraits to the many willing visitors who pay to sit in the cockpit. This isn’t an inexpensive venture to start of course, as it requires a significant outlay of cash, even after the expenses involved in acquiring and restoring the cockpit. For instance, Garbe had to build himself a custom 30′ long trailer to haul the several ton fuselage section. He had to buy and install custom-made safety railings and stairs to allow people to climb into the cockpit with a minimum of difficulty. He also had to purchase liability insurance to the tune of US$1Million before any air show would allow him to appear. And then there’s the Ford F-350 pick up truck he needed to buy to tow the cockpit on its trailer.
Initial expenses aside, the Phantom cockpit has been a big hit on the air show circuit with people lining up to have their photograph taken sitting in the cockpit wearing a pilot’s helmet. All types of people from young children to little old ladies seem to enjoy the experience. His first show was in Geneseo, New York this year, and he plans on a small run of nine other shows over the season. He is also campaigning the cockpit for private events as well. To find out more about David and his Phantom II, please visit his website HERE. He also has a Facebook page HERE.
Garbe also has a spare F-4C Phantom II which is available for sale. It was an old battle damage repair airframe he acquired in 2007 to help with the rebuild of his F-4D. The aircraft needs a full restoration, but comes with most of the necessary parts to make it externally whole, as well as many of the hard to find cockpit components. It comes with the tail section, wing center section, radome, forward canopy, complete forward instrument panel, forward and aft sticks/grips plus about 80% of the internal boxes and panels. Contact David Garbe through his website for more details (see earlier).
More photos of the F-4C project can be seen in the slide show below.
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