Popularity Contest

Which one of six past champions would have gotten your vote?

Pat McNerney flies the Kreider-Reisner as its 28th owner. (Greg Moreland)
Air & Space Magazine

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When owner Rod Lewis, president of the Lewis Energy Group in San Antonio, Texas, bought the famous fighter last year, he was committed to the costly transatlantic flight. “Mainly I’m interested in preserving the heritage and history,” he says. (Lewis owns seven other warbirds, including Rare Bear, a Grumman F8F Bearcat racer and record holder.)
And Glacier Girl’s future? “We plan on attending a few airshows a year,” says Lewis, “and people can see her in San Antonio. We’re not going to cover her up.” Good news for an airplane that spent 50 years under ice.

History - Grumman J2F-4 Duck

Every airplane competing for the National Aviation Hall of Fame People’s Choice award has a claim to history, but the only one to have had a ringside seat at an event that changed the world is Chuck Greenhill’s Duck. On December 7, 1941, the Grumman J2F-4 was serving with U.S. Navy utility squadron VJ-1, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese bombed Ford Island. Undamaged by the attack, the Duck and other squadron aircraft took off that day to search for the Japanese fleet. The morning after, the J2F-4 returned to doing what it had always done for the Navy: a little bit of everything. Ducks transported officers, searched for and rescued downed airmen, flew photo missions, even dropped bombs now and then, but they won little glory for their trouble. (When you hear “Grumman” and “World War II,” your next thought is Hellcat, Bearcat, or Wildcat — not Duck.) Greenhill, the president of Smalley Steel Ring Company in Lake Zurich, Illinois, owns three other Grummans, two Goose and an Albatross, and has owned a Widgeon. “I just love old seaplanes,” he says. “It’s the freedom of just going anywhere, of being away from the airport environment. Sometimes,” he continues, “I go down to the hangar and walk around. I just love looking at them.”

Courage - 1943 Piper L-4 Grasshopper

In 2005, the National Aviation Heritage judges gave June and Colin Powers top honors, a reward for three years of painstaking work on their little liaison craft, the military version of a Piper Cub. The restoration was accurate right down to the alpha-numeric codes that manufacturers stenciled on airplanes bound for World War II service. (The codes identified the manufacturer and other details to expedite repairs.) “My goal was to make it as best I could a museum-quality restoration,” says Colin Powers. In fact, sometime after the Oshkosh fly-in, the airplane is indeed headed for a museum: the Evergreen Air Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, where Powers is now the director of restoration.

Although Powers was gratified by the judges’ recognition, what sticks in his memory from that weekend at the Dayton airshow was another moment: meeting Carol Apacki, the daughter of an L-4 pilot, and putting her in the cockpit.

“The thing that most impressed me is the courage of the pilots who flew [liaison craft] in World War II,” says Powers. During the war, pilot-observer pairs in L-4s and Stinson L-5s would scout frontlines in order to direct Army artillery fire and report enemy movements. “No armor, no arms. I came to respect those people,” says Powers. (Spotter aircraft were frequently shot up by German fighters and ground fire, and if you’ve ever flown in the 75-mph Cub, you can imagine being out there in the breeze with a couple of Messerschmitts bearing down on you.) Powers was especially respectful of one pilot, Major Charles Carpenter, who bucked regulations to equip his L-4H with bazookas and took out half a dozen German tanks. “Bazooka Charlie” won an air medal, became famous, got promoted to lieutenant colonel, survived the war, and returned to teaching in Urbana, Illinois. He died in 1966.

His daughter, Carol Carpenter Apacki, had seen photos of the airplane her dad had loaded for bear, but had never seen the real thing — until she sat in the cockpit of June and Colin Powers’ L-4. “It just seemed like a toy. I thought, How could somebody be flying this in a war? Before I never really got what all the fuss was about, how vulnerable he was.”

Fun - 1927 Waco 10T

My favorite story about the Weaver Aircraft Company, which gave the name “Waco” to its 1920s biplanes, takes place in 1927, after the company had become the Advance Aircraft Company and moved to Troy, Ohio. The Air Commerce Department had issued the first structural standards that aircraft were required to meet in order to gain an Airplane Type Certificate. By that time, the Waco 9 had won several cross-country races, carried hundreds of passengers, and made some money for its designers, Clayton Bruckner and Elwood Junkin. But Bruckner and Junkin weren’t trained as engineers, and when the government required that an aircraft withstand stress equal to 6.5 times its own weight, they got worried. What if their airplane could not? As it turns out, the Waco 9 tested by the U.S. Army in 1927 stood up to loads 7.5 times its weight, and subsequently the good old common sense of Bruckner and Junkin brought forth such hearty designs as the Waco UPF-7, which the Army bought as a basic trainer, and the estimable Waco 10T.

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