Some things last. I can recall with great clarity the first flight I ever took. Eight is a very impressionable age and that first ride in Doc’s old 46 Taylorcraft has stood the test of time. Likewise with my second memorable flight, who wouldn’t remember a ride in the front of a Waco Taperwing?
Old airplanes of all kinds appeal to me. Something about the smell of the leather and avgas and oil and sweat that typically lingers in the cockpit I guess. The nose gear is always properly placed at the rear of the airplane and the view from the cockpit therefore requires “S” turn in order to see ahead. Taildragger pilots all seem to have longer than usual necks I have noticed; probably the result of craning to see over the combing during those “S” turns.
Round engines too make an impression. Something about the low RPM rumble, the way they lope along as they taxi. Likely the same reason that people like Harley Davidsons so much. There is just nothing like the sound of a Harley or a big, round, airplane engine.
Sometimes lucky pilots have an opportunity to relive some of their past romance. I know I am very fortunate to be driving my Mooney around the sky with speed and comfort, and I know that today’s avionics make navigation a snap (E-6B, what?), but sometimes a trip back to the root of it all is offered. And in my opinion, it is a healthy thing to take a look backward to the technology, craftsmanship and innovation that played such a big part in bringing us to where we are today.
My chance came again not so long ago when I was fortunate enough to spend some time with my old flying pal, Roger Brown. Roger is just sorta stuck in the romance phase of aviation. A perfectionist and a minimalist at the same time, he loves old airplanes and isn’t so much into technology. A great blend for anyone endeavoring to resurrect a 1943 Classic.
The Howard Airplane Company of Chicago IL build around 500-600 Howard aircraft of various models between 1939 and 1943. The culmination of their single engine effort was the Howard DGA-15p. This Howard was a high wing, double strutted aircraft that seated five in comfort, required a ladder for entry (always the sign of a great airplane!), sported electric flaps, retractable landing lights, strut cushioned landing gear, and a reliable Pratt and Whitney 985 putting out 450 HP. The airplane was a head-turner from day one; the Cadillac of the air. Much of the romance of this fine old airplane was lost however when the Howard Company began turning this model out for Military use. It became just another airplane in the government’s stable of WWII aircraft. The allure of these fine old airplanes was not lost on later aircraft romantics however, and a popular restoration is to take a military surplus Howard and restore it to a luxury loaded civilian model. By 1945, Howard stock holders had had enough and turned their attention to other endeabvors. The doors at the Howard Airplane Company were closed forever; leaving only hopeless romantics to carry on the legacy of a great airplane.
Such is the case with NC29457. Like a phoenix, this Howard rose from the ashes to become an outstanding example of what the “Golden Age of Aviation” was all about. It’s legacy continues only through the efforts of those willing to enjoy flying as the adventure it used to be. Come along and join me and my buddy Roger as we learn all about what his Howard was, and see what it has become.
C’mon along and be my copilot, you’re going to have a great time!
Author: Tom Speerstra
Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and Pappy “the dog” Boyington.