It’s not every day you find a diamond in the rough. For Jack Fedor, that gem was embodied as the remnants of a 450 Stearman rich in history. Here he shares the story of his 4 year quest to restore this once forgotten aircraft.
Beginning in December of 2005, I was fortunate to be flying an H model B-25 for an Educational Foundation that, at the time, was based out of Falcon Field (FFZ) in Mesa, Arizona. Our B-25 maintenance was done by Air Response, also based at Falcon Field. Air Response was owned and operated by Gene Packard and his family. The Air Response hanger, to say the least, was a throw back to an earlier time, since it was a domicile for vintage aircraft maintenance, radial engine repair / overhaul, along with being an overhaul facility for Hamilton Standard propellers. In addition, parts left over from B-17’s, B-25’s, PV-2’s, TBM’s, C-54’s, and Lockheed Constellations, previously utilized for fire fighting and spraying operations, occupied most of the available space inside and outside the hanger.
So, this is where my story really begins. Buried, and I do mean buried, in the middle of the Packard hanger was the remnants of a 450 Stearman that had not seen the light of day since 1987. This Stearman just happened to be owned by Gene Packard and his son, Eddie. To say it was a derelict basket case would have been an understatement. The wings were off, the center section was still in place – but rotted, the fuselage had a fiberglass tube, the fabric was deteriorated with peeling paint, the fuselage and control surfaces exhibited a fair amount of corrosion. From what I understand Gene, at one time, had intended to get it back into flying condition, but never found the time to do so. The more I looked at it, the more I heard about it, the more time I spent around this Stearman, the more I realized it would make for a great restoration project. I approached Gene and Eddie a number of times to give me a price if they ever wanted to sell the “project”. Gene kept telling me he would think about it. Eddie kept saying whatever his Dad decided to do was fine with him. This back and forth went on for over two years when, out of the blue in early 2008, Gene said he was ready to sell. We inked a deal the following day. So, the following question, I’m sure, comes to mind. Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to do a restoration project on this Stearman when viewed from the logical standpoint of time (years), labor hours, and of course, cost? Let me try to answer this by giving you, would I believe to be, the answer by describing the history of N67957, Serial number #75-3717.
This AN75-N1 was manufactured in January of 1942 and delivered to the Army Air Force. Although we have done numerous searches, we have not been able to find any record as to where it was based during the war years. In 1946 it was sold surplus to Murray Air in California. From what we can determine, Murray Air inventoried this aircraft with a number of other PT-17’s purchased from the Surplus Administration. In 1950, serial #75-3717 was registered in Restricted and assigned N67957. At the same time, the R685 was removed and replaced by a P&W R985. A tail hook for banner towing was added at the time of the engine change.
In 1952 the front cockpit was closed off and a hopper tank installed. N67957 was then shipped to the island of Oahu where it dusted for Murray Air from 1952 to mid 1975. Some time between 1975 and 1977, it was shipped back to the mainland and spent time in California. Either in Hawaii or California, the hopper was removed and the front cockpit “restored”. It was then purchased by the owner of an FBO and flown to its new home at Falcon Field in Mesa.
After passing through a number of “short term” owners from 1977 to 1979, N67957 was purchased by Gene and Eddie Packard. I was never able to get a reasonable explanation as to why they wanted the Stearman since, going back to that period of time, Eddie seemed to be more interested in restoring his 1937 J-3 Cub. Unfortunately, that restoration never took place. Due to the number of aircraft being maintained by the Packard organization for fire fighting and spraying, it probably just became part of the fleet. Based on the lack of log book entries, N67957 seemed to have done a fair amount of sitting until 1981. In March of 1981, Gene Packard received a letter from the Director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. explaining that McGillivray-Freeman Films was producing a 26 – 30 minute film in 70MM IMAX to be titled “Flyer” for the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The letter goes on to explain that “Flyer” would be the third IMAX film to be shown in the National Air and Space Theatre and was due to open on July 1, 1982. This being the sixth anniversary of the museum’s opening. The Director anticipated in excess of a million visitors would see the film in its first year of showing.
In October of 1981, McGillivray-Freeman films in Laguna, California sent Gene a letter thanking him for his cooperation in helping with their project for the Museum. This entailed the leasing of N67957 for an initial three week period for a flying sequence in the movie now titled “Flyers” (note the subtle name change). Once the contract was signed, Art Scholl Aviation in Rialto, California sent a crew of mechanics to Falcon Field to prepare N67957 for the movie along with performing required inspections. Art Scholl’s signature is on the airworthiness certificate that places N67957 into Experimental / Exhibition for its use in the movie. The movie “Flyers” is a fascinating film about a company that restores vintage aircraft and contracts its services to fly for movies worldwide. In “Flyers” N67957 is flown by Art Scholl who, among other things, picks up a stunt man in free fall on the right outboard struts over the Grand Canyon. Flown by Chuck Wentworth, Art Scholl’s 450 Stearman is featured in this flying sequence. In 1982, N67957 was also placed under contract to fly in a Larry Hagman film titled “Deadly encounter”. This drug running shoot-em up type film featured three 450 Stearman (one being Art Scholl’s) along with two helicopters.
After its brief encounter with stardom, N67957 came back to Falcon Field and reportedly sat outside in weather for two years. In 1984, it was flown in an air show at Falcon by Art Scholl. Other performers and featured attendees included Leo Loudenslager, Bob Herendeen, Jimmy Franklin, Dick Rutan, Pappy Boyington, along with Woody and Chris Harris. After the air show, N67957 basically spent the next three years tied down outside the Packard hanger and as an attraction on a ramp next to the Anzio Landing Italian Restaurant at Falcon. In 1987, with wings off and showing the effects of being out in weather for over five years, it was rolled into the Packard hanger to an uncertain future. So, now you may have a picture as to why I made the purchase and decided to do the restoration. I have always had a problem seeing aircraft left to deteriorate, especially one with history. We started the restoration full time in February of 2008. Lynn Davis, who started employment with Air Response in January of 2008 was assigned to work on the project. Lynn, who previously worked for Goss Hawk Aviation, had been involved with FW-190, P-51, and T-28 restorations. This would be his first Stearman. He spent the first few months taking the fuselage down to the frame and data plate, cataloging everything we could use, along with documenting what needed to be reworked or replaced. Bearing in mind that my goal was to have N67957 certified, once completed, in Standard / Acrobatic. Also, with full knowledge of the fact that N67957 had never been licensed in Standard, just Restricted and Experimental.
About the time Lynn started on the fuselage, I was introduced to Harald Govers an IA who was working for Air West at Falcon. Through Air West, I hired Harald to build the wings from the Big Sky kit I purchased from Gene Packard. Up to the point of covering, the wings and center section took about eighteen months to complete. As it turned out, once Lynn had the fuselage and the wings covered using the Poly Fiber system, Harald became the principal mechanic on the project. He supervised all of the painting and detailing, completion of firewall forward, and final assembly. He worked extensively with two of the three DARS we had on the project for over a four year period, and coordinated with the DER who test flew the aircraft once it was licensed in Experimental / Show Compliance. We were awarded our new Airworthiness Cerificate (Standard / Acrobatic) on November 16, 2012 by Ted Desantis (DAR). As of this date, we have approximately 135 hours on N67957 since the completion of the restoration. We are proud to say it won the People’s Choice Award at the EAA’s Cactus Fly-in at Casa Grande, Arizona in March of 2013.
A few items / features of note regarding the restoration:
- Serv Aero’s STC utilized for the R985 installation – required for Standard certification
Poly Fiber covering system using Aerothane
- The color scheme was changed much to the chagrin of more than a few people. I decided to replicate a civilian color scheme applicable to the 1930’s and 1940’s
- 28 Volt electrical system • Jasco 50 Amp alternator
- Red Line brakes
- Airwolf oil filter
- Engine and propeller work done by Air Response
- All new flying and landing wires
- Over 2,200 hours of hand sanding the required layers of silver and final colors through 5,000 Grit (Yes, 5,000 Grit)
- Becker Transponder and Com units / Garmin 296 / 406 ELT
In addition to Lynn and Harald, I would like to acknowledge the following people who made this project possible. First, my wife Alice who was extremely patient during the restoration process. She put up with all of my time at the airport along with my continual response of “next year” when I was asked when the Stearman would be finished. Dick Jones, who volunteered his time just about every day working on the project. Dick, a high time and very patient CFI, checked me out in the Stearman and continues to keep me current. Tim Armstead, a professional painter and detailer, who painted the final colors. Julie Wilkison for her expert leather work. Mark Wilkison at Air West (FFZ) for the use of his hanger and facilities. Pat Dijor, our second DAR who was on the project for close to three years. Pat, unfortunately, passed away prior to final certification. And, of course, all the folks at Falcon who would stop by on a regular basis to lend moral support, offer a helping hand, and provide humor when it was needed the most.
In conclusion, would I have done a few things differently now that the restoration is completed? Sure. Would I do it again knowing the years, the thousands of hours, and the cost to accomplish this frame up restoration? In a heartbeat!
N67957 is hangered at Falcon Field in Mesa along with my 1944 North American T-6, N4968S, that served with the South African Air Force until 1995.