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Restoration of an Aeronca KCA, and Bringing it to Blakesburg 2009

Robert Greenwall, September, 2009

Aeronca KCA-14 made it to Blakesburg this year, its first airshow appearance since 1965 when it was at Watsonville California! That would be forty-four years, which makes for a long story but we hope an interesting one.

A Trip to the Sandhills

An airplane listed in Trade-a-Plane appeared to be one of the more rare Aeroncas, a KCA, and right here in our home state of Nebraska! Merle Hawthorne of the Hawthorne Ranch near Almeria invited us to his pasture airstrip to see for ourselves. Metal pole buildings have long replaced barns as the preferred structure for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, but I shamelessly describe my experience of discovery in the classical way..."it was found in a barn!" The pictures do not lie. Mr. Hawthorne was cordial and the transaction was made.

"...I maybe should have given it to a museum" he observed. "And 'Buzz' Wagner called about it after I talked to you." So we can say we beat Buzz to it. We need to tell how KCA-14 came to be hanging in that Nebraska outbuilding. It had come, Merle told us, from California where he bought it. It was his working airplane on the cattle ranch and as such was vulnerable to inevitable incidents.

A flight to check on some cattle had been made by bright moonlight, but clouds rolled in before the landing. A cow-calf pair made a "runway incursion" and the airplane ended up on its back with bent gear and tail. Facing a second rebuild in its brief Nebraska life, the Aeronca was suspended and its engine pickled in farm style by being filled full of waste oil. This oil still appeared from time to time twenty-four years later!

California!

In California our Chief had a series of owners whose trail extended back to World War Two, and slightly beyond. The earliest logs fell victim to the wartime grounding of all coastal private planes...a complete rebuild followed that indignity. But other records survived to tell that Oakland Airport dealer Cory Brayton took delivery of KCA-14 early in 1938.

In a month's time he had added steering capability to the full-swivel tailwheel as indicated by a form 337. Next was an upgrade to dual magnetos, from A50-1 to A50-3 status. Continuing with the paperwork survey, a rebuild of the wings is cited, with replacement of rib gussets with one-sixteenth inch plywood. It was another characteristic of prewar models that the reinforcement of rib members at their joints was done with a fiber material commonly called "fishpaper." Examination of the wings of KCA-14 showed that indeed most of the gussets had been replaced, but at the rear member of the aileron bay ribs some were retained.

They have been preserved in case someone would like to see just what they were like. Someone went to the trouble to assess the weight savings these gussets afforded, and the result was six pounds. Like all fabric airplanes, KCA-14 had a series of partial and complete recovering jobs. The most recent was a complete synthetic fabric application using the Stits process and a Citabria paint scheme of orange and white.

Ray Anderson was one of those California owners who kept track of his several previous airplanes by searching F.A.A. records. Once we had been contacted by him we were able to learn many interesting things about it including pictures from that era. Most recently we received this remarkable email from his son:

"Hi Bob.

I'm guessing that is N21032, a '38 Aeronca K. I flew that airplane some out in S. Calif in the '60s when my dad had it at Torrance. In fact, here's a little story about it. Tony Bill, who directed Flyboys recently and who's movie industry career goes back to The Sting I believe, was young and a friend of my parents in the '60s.

My dad gave Tony a ride in that K up to the Watsonville, Ca. flyin in about '65 or so. He let Tony do most of the flying, introducing him to the fun of aviation. Tony continued from that flight to stay involved in aviation. So indirectly, I guess Flyboys is a result of your Aeronca K.

Not long before my dad died, he sent me a picture of the K that you must have sent him. Sure looks nice. Again, I'm making assumptions this is the plane.

-Roger Anderson"

Well, if your plane is from California, it should have a movie connection, right? This is the kind of delightful thing that goes along with old airplanes!

Our restoration drew out to twenty years and two states, but we were having fun, so time flew. A&PIA's Gunnar Nielsen and "Doc" Bates supervised our work. Taking the KCA to Blakesburg was the icing on the cake. The pictures show the various stages of progress and complete details can be found at our website.

The Big Day

We arrived at Blakesburg early afternoon on Friday and entered the pattern with two Rose Parrakeets just leaving and a Stearman arriving just ahead. It was unreal to be on the receiving end of the gauntlet of cameras recording arrivals for a change. Soon we were tied down over in the "low rent" section and wife Eleanor made her much appreciated appearance by car carrying the freight. Then came the stream of delightful airplane enthusiasts only found at places like Blakesburg.

It was great to spend time under the wing, and so many people stopped that we sort of rushed our inspection of the rest of the field. On our first return, a couple of gentlemen were sticking their heads inside and we heard one of them say "well, that's a mystery." We asked what the mystery was, and he was speaking of the scale of frequencies on our replica AVR-10 radio. They should have read, according to him, a different set of numbers. He was well versed in antique aircraft radios, but we like to think our replica may have fooled even him. We had to admit, we just pulled some numbers out of the hat.

Larry and Laura Bishop from Georgia stopped by for two very interesting visits. They are restoring a 1938 Aeronca 50C, which judging from its serial number is the 66th one built. Points of similarity and difference between our two planes were of interest to us both. Their research has revealed that their plane was used on antisubmarine patrols by the CAP during world war two! It then carried the CAP markings, as did its pilots, and they hope to restore it with this feature. How neat is that? They were kind enough to give us printouts of all currently registered KCA's and 50C's. This produced an astonishing fact: our KCA-14 was listed as "acrobatic" under the approved operations section! We had never noticed this before.

On the second day we had our most famous visitor, none other than Chet Peek. He has written a number of great aviation books, our favorites being the ones on Pietenpols, Taylorcrafts, and A-40 Continentals. He is currently coming out with one on the Standard J-1. Maybe best known for his monumental Jenny restoration, we knew that his first plane was an Aeronca KC. That no doubt attracted him to our KCA; the major differences were the A-40 powerplant and a narrower chord wing. We loved his story of traveling with his wife and son (standing in between them) in that plane, and how his brother who flew P-51's had to adapt to the low powered Aeronca. What an honor that was; fortunately we thought to get his picture.

Chet Peek in front of the Aeronca KCA
Chet Peek in front of the KCA

Later we entered the unforgettable shop of Barry Taylor, to which he invited us for the first time last year, and had the chance again to hear and see the Parrakeet guru in his native habitat. He was very interested in that "acrobatic" notation, and had this immediate response: "was it ever a dealer demonstrator?" That was indeed the case, it was early on the roster of Oakland, CA, Aeronca dealer Cory Brayton and could well have been used for demonstration. What a piece of information! Thanks to Larry and Barry we learned something remarkable. Barry brought us up to date on his quest for Menasco M-50 engines, the power for the KCA's sister ship, the KM. He had wanted one but at last decided to go with a Continental for his current Parrakeet project. He would like an M-50 for museum display, and we hope that will happen.

High on our list of priorities was to check in with Harmon Dickerson at his "3rd annual pre-estate sale" of all things in the old airplane category. Harmon came through with the exact connecting rod we needed for our A-50-1 and really made our day. Last year we got a brand new piston from him as well as a dry sump oil tank and some valve guides. Though from Fulton, MO, we think of Harmon as a true "southern gentleman."

Also topping the list was a visit with Ann Holtgren Pellegreno at her bookstand. There we confirmed that their Fairchild T-31 was indeed the plane we had seen on the Oshkosh webcam this year, back for another visit after a few years absence. While there, rising star aviation journalist Sparky Barnes Sargent came by as well. It bears repeating that in addition to the three volumes on Iowa Aviation, Ann's most popular book was the one on Amelia Erhart, whose round-the-world flight Ann duplicated in her own Lockheed twin some years ago. What an honor to visit with such a charming and famous lady!

A final vignette from Blakesburg: EAA founder Paul Poberezny always manages to show up on his Harley trike, all the way from Oshkosh, to see his old friend AAA founder Bob Taylor. One of them gave the other a plaque, I don't really remember which, but does it really matter? Anyway, we were just at the entry road to Blakesburg when Paul pulled out for home, and turned up his stereo system full blast...polka music! The strains trailed far behind as he disappeared around the bend. Evidently Paul doesn't like headphones. I get a little misty thinking about these octogenerians. Aviation has become unbearably complicated and expensive these days, but what these fellows gave us...as they say...it's "priceless."