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So popular is the Navion that airplane lvoers consider a complete restoration, like David Peters', the provervial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (David Peters)

Accidental Classic

From the designers who brought you the P-51 Mustang, an airplane with a complicated past…and a controversial present.

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.

“I guess it was a valuable pig,” he says. “Breeding stock maybe. But no pigs are getting in my airplane!”

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