I spent 5 years at United Airlines Maintenance Shop at San Francisco Airport as an apprentice mechanic, graduated after 4 years and lived 8 miles from the airport. It took 45 minutes on day shift to get to work in 1969 !
I quit United and moved up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s and have been here ever since! After several different jobs, decided to put my A&P license to work, mortgaged the house, built a shop in the backyard and have been busy restoring airplanes of all makes, models and sizes.
One of my first was a J-3 Cub that got “Best Piper” in Watsonville. A couple of months later I got a call from a fellow that asked me if I still did restorations. I said yes and he asked if I could do another Cub like the one at Watsonville. Yes, was the answer and I ended up doing this one for Peter Egan, Senior Editor at the Road & Track Magazine! One of my best customers!
A few more restorations and then I get a call from Eddie Andreini! He asks me if I could cover his Stearman with cotton? I said I’ve never done cotton, but if he’d let me do, say the rudder, He could look at it and decide if he wanted me to do the entire airplane. Yes, and I did. Anyone out there knows that cotton is not the easiest method of cover! Plus, the airplane had to have slotted screws, like the original. Well, after it was done he came up to my airport where I have a hanger for the assembly of projects and he asked if I wanted to go on the test flight after the recover. It was quite a ride to say the least! He did a couple of Cuban 8’s and when the fuel leaks out of the gas cap in negative g’s and get’s the person in the front seat, it get’s your attention! Also, the engine coughs to let you know it’s time to roll upright so it’ll contiue to run.
After this one, I did recover for the wings on his 450 Stearman. Eddie became a friend and would see him doing an occasional airshow at the Reno Air Races over the years. Eddie went west this last May and he will be missed by many !!
My next Stearman restoration came when I got a call from a fellow who had lost his Stearman in Melones Reservoir 9 years previously. He was going to fly under a bridge and didn’t see power lines that went across the lake. The prop managed to cut two of the three wires, but the third wrapped around the prop, killed the engine and pulled the airplane down into the lake. Many years later, the lake was way down due to a drought and a fisherman saw these wheels sticking up out of the water. He called the Sheriff, they called the airport, the airport called him and he called me and asked if I wanted to go get his airplane out of the lake? The first day we lifted the engine out with a helicopter. The second day the wings came out and on the third day, brought the fuselage out behind my boat with a 55 gal drum strapped into the baggage compartment for flotation. I restored the entire airplane and converted the Lycoming engine to a P&W 450.
After this one, this “fellow” by the name of Bud Field asks me if I want to go look at another Stearman project? Sure, so we go on down the coast and walk into this hanger that has 4 wing panels all nice, new wood and almost ready for cover. The rest of the project is nothing but a fuselage frame and the tail feathers, set of rough gear legs, and that’s it.This project is a 1931 Stearman Speedmail. We’re driving back and he asks me if I can do it? I say sure, a few miles up the road he asks if I’d like to go on payroll as a journeyman Millwright? Since I hadn’t had any health insurance up ‘til now, the answer is YES!
So, up the road a few more miles and I ask him if he ever heard of the story where this guy is broke down in the desert and this car drives up and the man fixes his car and drives off. Everyone knows this story as the man who fixed his car was an Angel unaware. Bud said, yea, everybody’s heard that story. I told him well, you know I believe that you, my friend are an Angel, but you’re unaware that you’re an Angel! He thought about it for a minute or so and says, nah!
The next Stearman comes from Bud as he found it down in Arizona, covered in cotton and the covering shrank so severely, it buckled the tip bows, destroyed the trailing edges and after sitting in a hanger for several years in desert heat, it was due for restoration. Well, as it turns out this Model 75 happens to be Serial Number One. Only one Boeing Model 75 came before this and that was X75, the experimental version. So when I finished this one, I called him and said your airplane is done, come and get it. He says I’ve got to go to a meeting in Chicago, do you want to fly it down her for me? Of course the answer was “DUH !!”
I did a total of 12 airplanes for him over 13 years I still call him my Angel unaware!! He went west a few years ago and the two pictures of the Speedmail and S/N 1 were taken at his service. A few of the interesting other projects I did for Bud were a Piper HE-1, a converted hospital airplane with a litter that was in the back and the turtle deck was hinged so the litter could be put in and taken out with ease.
Another interesting project was a De Havilland Rapide. The only time I’ve been to the EAA Headquarters at Oshkosh was when I went back to disassemble this De Havilland Rapide and put it in a 40’ container for shipping to my hanger. Now, Stearman stuff! I now have available cockpit enclosures, including the winter front to make the engine run in 20 below weather. I have offered for sale adapter rings for the 10SC tail wheel for many years now and for you serious Stearman re-builders I offer the complete set of over 12,000 drawings of the Model 73, 75 AND 76.
If you want to put a bomb rack and machine gun on your Stearman, here’s the drawings for it. Plus, these drawings are duplicated first generation from the Boeing archives! They don’t get any better. For all this stuff have a look at my website http://www.russaircraft.com/. I am now also building a full size Spitfire Replica and have 18 builders world-wide. If you want to join the fun, you can take a look at my other website at http://www.spitfireaircraftco.com/ see the progress on the prototype and comments of some of my builders.