Restoration: Arrow Sport
Swen Swanson's Sportster
- By Ken Scott
- Air & Space magazine, July 2008
As far back as Todd Rhode can remember, there was an airplane in the garage. His parents, Herbert “Dusty” and Nelda Rhode, had trailered the fixer-upper Arrow Sport biplane home to Florida two years before Todd was born.
In 1926, designer Swen Swanson produced a small biplane for the Arrow Aircraft and Motor Corporation of Havelock, Nebraska. It featured side-by-side seating, a wide single-strut landing gear that made landing and taxiing in a crosswind more stable, differential ailerons that reduced yawing in turns, and a horizontal stabilizer that the pilot could adjust from the cockpit to trim the tail to the desired control pressure. Most daring was a pair of fully cantilevered wings that were supported by internal spars.
Seeing a market for side-by-side seating in flight instruction, Arrow began production of the Sport. The company retained the wide landing gear and added bungee shock absorbers at a time when many airplanes had rigid gear that relied only on the tires to absorb shocks. Arrow settled on a 60-horsepower Le Blond five-cylinder radial engine and, because buyers were used to wings braced by wires and struts, offered a set of reassuring but unnecessary N-struts between the wings.
Arrow Sport serial number 343, registered as NC9327, rolled off the Havelock assembly line on April 19, 1929, one of about a hundred Arrow Sport A2-60s built over a five-year span. (NC9325, which hangs in the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, had come off the line just days earlier.) Eight years later, it suffered a mishap while landing in Cumberland, Rhode Island. The wreck passed through several hands until Dusty Rhode bought it in 1960. “I may have been pre-destined for a life in aviation,” Rhode says, “and maybe the Arrow Sport too. I was born the day Lindbergh took off for Paris, and the Arrow’s first home was Roosevelt Field—Lindbergh’s departure point.” But his three children and his job as a flight engineer—which would eventually result in logging 35,000 flight hours with National and Pan American airlines—kept him too busy to restore the Arrow. It remained stored until 2003. At that point, Todd was startled to learn that his father had traded it—for another Arrow Sport, NC804M—which had been put back together by restorer Dean Tilton.
This would never do. “When I was small, my friends and I spent hours in the cockpit, ‘flying’ our Arrow,” Todd says. “I’m not a pilot, but that airplane has carried me all over the world in my imagination. I was deeply troubled by the idea of letting it go.”
He persuaded his father and Tilton to strike a new deal. NC9327 would remain in the Rhode family, and they would pay Tilton to restore it. The airplane was delivered to Tilton’s hangar in Lakeland, Florida, where he began work on the wings.
“Arrow used two spars in each wing,” Tilton says. “They run from tip to tip—25 feet. The spars on this airplane were damaged in the 1937 accident, but I had parts from the earlier project and I was able to build up a good set for each wing.”
The spars are joined by gothically curved wood ribs that define the Eiffel 385 airfoil (designed by Alexandre-