Sunday, September 12, 2010
When Presley Melton of North Little Rock, Arkansas, landed his restored 1943 Howard DGA 15-P airplane at the recent Razorback Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in at Grider Field in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, aircraft aficionados' aggregate pulses quickened. The restoration is flawless down to the last detail. A crowd quickly gathered to peruse the pristine plane.
Five years ago, when Melton bought the plane, just the opposite was true. He found the aircraft in far-off Anacortes, Washington. The plane was completely disassembled — down to the minutest parts. By luck, a friend and business acquaintance of Melton had an empty truck and trailer in the area, so the two made arrangements to bring the aircraft, in pieces but complete, to Arkansas. There was work to be done.
Initially, scraping and cleaning was the order of the day. As these duties were satisfied and assembly got underway, Melton and his crew undertook the process of figuring out what went where, no small task. Literally, the aircraft consisted of easily identified major components and boxes of smaller parts.
After a period of working aircraft parts like a crossword puzzle, Melton made friends with a member of the "Howard Club," an organization of Howard Aircraft owners and enthusiasts. This newfound friend was knowledgeable of Howard innards, but more importantly, was willing to impart this knowledge. He steered the intrepid restorers in the right direction.
The Howard DGA 15 P cockpit is all business and finished like fine furniture. The leather seating and plush carpeting permeate the passenger apartment with a "new-car" smell on steroids. In its day, the Howard was at the top of the pecking order for business aircraft.
Melton's decision to restore a Howard airplane came from his desire to possess a "big-cabin" aircraft, popular in the late thirties and early forties. By reputation, the Howard filled the bill.
The Howard Aircraft Company was small, but its design and reliability were fast becoming legendary — plus, the DG 15 was powered by the Pratt and Whitney 995, a nine-cylinder radial engine, one of the most reliable and admired power plants available at the time. In its heyday the DG 15 was one of the most popular corporate aircraft in the air.
Like most manufacturers, Howard Aircraft Company dedicated its production in the forties to the war effort, and thus Melton's plane first served as trainer for the United States Navy. In 1946, it and others were sold as surplus. Until recently, its last flight was in Alaska, with a brief stop in Virginia before heading north. From Alaska it went to North Dakota in pieces and then to Anacortes where Melton found it after following an advertisement.
The restoration took about 8,400 hours. As you can imagine, it was not cheap. But a piece of American history is preserved by a nice guy who likes to let people look at his prize. Admirers of the airplane include the officials of the Sun and Fun Annual Fly-in and Expos, where it won the 2010 Champion Custom Antique prize, and at Oskosh 2010, where it garnered the Reserve Grand Champion Antique prize. Somebody did something right.
The Howard DGA 15P wings are all wood except for fittings and connectors. Wing ribs are covered with plywood which is in turn covered with fabric and subsequently lacquered. The metal fuselage is covered with aluminum to the back of the passenger/baggage compartment after which it is fabric covered.
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Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.