Jack Kosko’s UC-78 Bobcat Restoration – July, 2016 Status Update
by David Cohen
When Jack Kosko purchased his Bobcat project in November 2004, he always intended that he and his intrepid crew of volunteers would restore the plane at his farm in Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania and then donate the aircraft to a museum – but with one caveat: The plane had to fly!
The US Army Air Force took delivery of Cessna UC-78 Serial #43-4523, c/n 5043 on August 5th, 1943. The Bobcat spent its military life as a stateside trainer and airfield hack. After the war, the plane returned to Cessna for transformation into a civilian model. It passed through several hands before finally ending up as a training aid at the Chicago Vocational School in the late 1950s, where it spent the next 30 years being taken apart and reassembled by many A&P students. By the 1980s, the school no longer considered the Bobcat a relevant training aid, so they sold her off as a project. She would change hands one more time before Jack acquired her. The Bobcat remained a “back burner” project until the end of 2012, when Kook’s team completed the restoration of the CAF National Capitol Wing’s TBM-3E Avenger Doris Mae and moved the torpedo bomber to Hagerstown, Maryland for final assembly and flight testing.
During World War II, Jack was a radio operator in VT-23, flying off the USS Langley in 1945. After the war, Jack married his wife Ruby, had a family, and had a career as a successful contractor. During that time, he had also become an outstanding restorer of automobiles. In the mid-1990s, Kosko made the jump from restoring cars to vintage airplanes when he acquired his first TBM project. Just like in the movie Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come” – and so it was when Jack built the hangar on his farm at Fawn Grove. Volunteers wanting to work on the project materialized from all over the surrounding Maryland and Pennsylvania areas. They became his trusted team of restorers…. Nearly two successful decades later, the team has a current average age of 86!
Due in part to the advanced age of his team, and several medical issues that he had to endure during 2015, Jack Kosko reluctantly chose to transfer the Bobcat to someone else before its completion. He needed to find someone truly worthy of the project, and selected the lucky recipient for the Bobcat earlier this year. He chose Harland Avezzie, proprietor of North American Restorations in Westfield, Massachusetts. There was a slight wrinkle to the donation of course: Harland has to finish the restoration, assembly and flight testing. Based upon the superb skill that Mr. Avezzie has demonstrated restoring gun turrets for several warbirds on the show circuit, as well as work he has done rebuilding his own aircraft, it is safe to say that the Bobcat will be in excellent hands.
Parting with the Bobcat project also prompted Kosko to make the heart wrenching decision to sell his beloved farm in Fawn Grove and to cease operations at the hangar. Earlier this year, an Amish family the farm. The new owners gave Kosko an easement to remain in the hangar for up to 12 months. However, Jack decided that he does not want to endure the winter months and wants to send the Bobcat on its way and shut the hangar down before the end of fall. With the closing of the Fawn Grove hangar, a most remarkable 18 year era will be coming to an end. The torch, however, will pass to Cliff Ellis, who will be setting up his restoration shop in Taneytown, MD. The mission will continue from that location.
A final personal note from the author: I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to Jack Kosko. I first came to the hangar over four years ago. Jack literally took a complete stranger off the street and decided that if I loved airplanes as much as he did, and was willing to cast my lot with him and his crew, then that’s all he needed to put me to work on his projects. I got an opportunity to live out my lifelong dream to work on warbirds and in the process, ended up picking up a whole new family. While the doors to the Fawn Grove hangar may be closing, the spirit and passion that Jack and his crew of volunteers exuded will continue to live on.
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