From the designers who brought you the P-51 Mustang, an airplane with a complicated past…and a controversial present.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, November 2008
(Page 3 of 5)
But the orphan airplane that no manufacturer could keep in production remains popular with its owners. “You can find a Navion for $40,000,” says Peters. “You can’t even find a worn-out Cessna for that.” Today, a non-flying project airplane can be had for under $10,000, a flyable one with a tired engine or beat-up paint for $35,000, and a Navion that has been restored to near-mint condition for $100,000 to $170,000, depending on engine size and other modifications. In an age of $400,000 Cirruses, $600,000 Cessna 400s (formerly Columbia), and $700,000 Beechcraft Bonanzas, the Navion looks like a bargain.
In addition to the price, enthusiasts point to the Navion’s military lines, sliding canopies, high stance, beefy landing gear, good load capacity, and overall solid construction as reasons for the aircraft’s enduring appeal.
“It’s one of the best airplanes ever built, one of the most stable, and we think that it would do very well in an international environment,” says Gardner. “Third World-country operators would find this airplane very, very useful because of its payload, its short landing capability, and its stableness.”
“It’s very easy to see out of,” says American Navion Society president Gary Rankin, who has owned four since 1986. “The handling is very docile, and it lands slow. It has big tires and high gear, and can land on rough runways.”
In May 1960, Bob Swanzy, a retired road construction engineer from Greenwood, Mississippi, was driving through Memphis when he saw a 1947 Navion for sale. He bought it for $4,500, and some 5,000 hours and four engines later, he is still flying it. “It just suits me,” Swanzy says. “You can load it down with baggage. You just crank [the engine] up. If the tail comes off the ground, you go.”
Dick McSpadden, who flies out of Canon, Georgia, and is the former president of the 156-member Southern Navion Air Group, agrees. “Whatever you can put into it, it’s going to fly. At 75 miles per hour, it is going to come off the ground.”
Ron Judy, who is the American Navion Society’s chief technical advisor, says that in cross-country trips, the Navion really shines in “dirty,” or turbulent, air: “When I’m flying through moderate turbulence, I barely feel it. Meanwhile, a guy in a Cessna 150 in the same air is getting beat to death.” Judy, a Gate, Oklahoma rancher who spent six years restoring his Navion, says the structure and area of the airfoil contribute to the stability. “It’s a monocoque wing with no spars, just ribs, stringers, and subspars to hold the [retractable] landing gear. The wing skins and stringers provide the structural strength. The wing is evenly loaded across a large area. The wing design delivers a smooth ride and high lift and makes the airplane very controllable at low speeds.”
The Navion’s wing consists of two different airfoils that join approximately 50 inches from the wing root. With landing gear and flaps extended, a Navion stalls at just 48 mph, about the same stall speed as the much smaller—and much lighter—Cessna 152.