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 4 of 5)
Ruggedness and stability aside, most owners were initially attracted by the aircraft’s distinctive good looks. “It’s coming from an era where design for aesthetic purposes was as important as anything else,” says David Peters (who provided artwork for this article).
In issuing the Airworthiness Directive, the FAA cited nine Navion accidents generally associated with the fuel system, three of which were directly linked to the fuel selector valve. The agency also speculated that many of the existing valves might be reaching the end of their serviceable lives.
Gardner claims that since his company bought the Navion type certificate, 18 fuel-system-related accidents have occurred, and that he issued a service bulletin recommending action to Navion owners as early as 2004. Most of the accidents occurred on takeoff at high engine power settings, when defective or improperly repaired valves allowed the vacuum fuel system to ingest air, causing the engines to stop.
Navion owners who objected to the AD succeeded in getting the FAA to slightly modify it. “The proposed AD, with the references it used for doing the inspection, left much to be desired, safety-wise,” said Judy. “The American Navion Society wrote a Service Bulletin and submitted it to the FAA, and the FAA included portions of it in the final version as a means of conducting the inspection.” Judy, who had a valve fail 17 years ago, now believes the AD is acceptable, but prefers the Alternate Means of Compliance (AMOC).
According to Gardner, he and the Navion Society are competing parts suppliers. He says that the paperwork-intensive and time-consuming AMOC—a detailed inspection that does not preclude the need for valve replacement and is available only to society members—is actually more expensive than simply replacing the valve in the first place. Judy points out that the stringent inspection of the fuel valve required under the AD virtually guarantees that the valve will not pass.
Even with the AD and accompanying controversy, McSpadden maintains that Navions are relatively inexpensive to maintain: “Our parts are less expensive than for almost any other airplane.” And whether following the AD or pursuing the AMOC, Navion owners are doing whatever it takes so that they can continue to fly their favorite aircraft.
Navion owners are increasingly a graying crowd, and the future support of the airplane will rest with younger enthusiasts, who, like Chris Gardner, were introduced to the craft by their parents. McSpadden notes with pride that his son, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Richard McSpadden, learned to fly in his L-17 military Navion and in 2002 and 2003 served as team leader for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Flight Demonstration Team. “He still flies the Navion,” McSpadden says. Rankin acknowledges, “About half of our younger members are second-generation Navion owners.”
When the American Navion Society gathered for its annual convention in Dayton, Ohio, this past summer, there were the usual speed events, and the presentation of the Flagship Award for best restoration. Members showed off items from their personal collections of Navion memorabilia. Ron Judy has a copy of a Ryan brochure from the early 1950s that shows a crated pig being loaded into the back of a Navion at Hyland Farms in Peoria, Illinois. As he tells the story, Judy glances over at his meticulous Navion, with its shiny red and white paint, polished aluminum spinner, and dove-gray leather interior. This is the airplane he took six years to rebuild, completely disassembling it, stripping out all the wiring, replacing the fuel and hydraulics systems, rebuilding the landing gear, and installing all new instruments and avionics.