Restoration: Beech Staggerwing
A true story with an O.Henry ending.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
NASM (SI 75-5010)
(Page 2 of 2)
Cizek spent the next 18 years learning woodworking, metal forming, and wiring and obtaining an airframe-and-powerplant mechanic's license and an aircraft inspector's license. He stripped the airplane to the frame, replaced the engine with a rebuilt one, and upgraded the electrical system from the original 12-volt to a modern 28-volt so the airplane could carry modern radios, GPS technology, and autopilot. However, the replacement avionics and radios were narrow and long, while the originals were wide and short. Cizek made 10 instrument panels until he got it right.
Employing a borrowed English Wheel, a device for forming flat sheets of metal into compound curves, Cizek fashioned a more aerodynamic cowling. He modified the retractable landing gear to make it more reliable, upgraded the brakes, and changed the tail-wheel setup to make the airplane easier to tow. He installed modern fuel valves and fuel monitoring systems, gutted and re-covered the interior, and designed and installed an all-metal firewall—"The old one was fabric," he says incredulously.
Finally, in 1997, Cizek ran out of things to change or fix and the FAA signed off on his work. "They gave me an 'A' for airplane and an 'F' for paperwork," Cizek jokes. However, by then Cizek's medical issues had squelched his opportunity to fly. "When I could fly, the airplane couldn't, and vice versa," he says. Over the last decade, Cizek has flown the Staggerwing only 12 hours. But he's not bitter. "It was a lot of fun. I got more joy out of solving the problems and making things," he says. "Everyone has to stop flying sometime."
He pulls on the cowling and notices water leaking out, leftover rain the Staggerwing encountered on the way home from the Experimental Aircraft Association annual fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, just a few days earlier. Cizek's friends flew the airplane there, parked it in the vintage aircraft section, and threw a "for sale" sign on the propeller. Asking price: $375,000. There were no takers. As Cizek tells me this, I get the feeling that he is not entirely disappointed.
Mark Huber has written about the old, the odd, and the obtuse for Air & Space since 2000.