Tucson, Saturday, September 12, 1992

The Champ
lifts father,
son to the sky

Restoration of wrecked plane becomes a family matter

By Bonnie Henry
The Arizona Daily Star
By all rights, it should have wound up as the hood of a '59 Buick– or maybe a Ford.  Instead, this chunk of former scrap metal is now flying the skies – something it last did back when Ike was the prez.
   All red, white and snazzy, it's an Aeronca Champ, year '46. They don't make 'em like that anymore.  Actually, some do.   "All my friends were building airplanes, and I wanted one to fool around with," says Sam

"When I first rolled in here with the plane, everybody at the airport laughed.  They all asked me how much the other guy paid me to haul it off." 

    Sam McClintock
The Aeronca's restorer

McClintock, 40, who's just finished restoring the Aeronca from the tires on up.  What he wanted was a challenge.  He got that all right, plus a tale of coincidence.  For the wrecked Aeronca Sam stumbled upon in a Brawley, Calif., hangar last December was the same one his dad flew, some 40 years back.
   "I would have known it anywhere," says Sam, who was 4 the last time he rode in the plane.  "I remember the cushions, the white and the blue.  I had to practically get down on my hands and knees to get the guy to sell it to me."  Sold for $3000, said the man.  What Sam got was a smashed-up fuselage, one wing, no engine.
    But the rear end of the plane was intact, and on it the numbers: N84168.  Before the dickering began, Sam made one phone call.   " He called and asked me what my old numbers where." says Harold.
McClintock, 66, Sam's dad.  "I got out my old log book and there it was – the same numbers."
   The last time Harold McClintock flew the plane, he was keeping bees in Brawley.  "We used the plane for pleasure and for checking bee locations," says Harold, who had 2500 colonies to oversee.    Actually, Harold only owned half the plane.  Fellow named Delvin Ashburst owned the other half.   At what cost?  "What's half of $750?" asks Harold, whose answers are about as dry as a Brawley riverbed.   
   After four years of flying, the partners sold the plane in '56 to a man form a neighboring town.  Did the partners make a profit?  "I don't think so," says Harold still stingy with his words.  Here is where the fortunes of this particular Aeronca begin to nose-dive. 
   As Harold tells it:  "The fellow we sold it to was coming back from Mexico.  He was around this little town outside Yuma.  The sheriff's son was fooling around with his dad's car.  He had the blue lights on.  The pilot thought it was immigration, wanting him to land.  He hit a telephone pole.  He survived, but the planed never flew again."
   Ken Bemis, a friend of Harold's, scooped up the Aeronca and hauled it back to Brawley.  And there it sat, in a hangar for the next 35 years.
   Meanwhile,  Harold moved to Tucson in 1966, where he and his wife, Lola, raised six kids, now grown.  He never owned another plane, though he's flown some since then.   He also kept in touch with his old friend, Ken Bemis, over the years.  But somehow, he says, "the subject of the Aeronca never came up".
   Last December, Sam was in Brawley, looking for airplane parts. He wound up at the Bemis Hangar. And there was the Aeronca.  A deal was struck – soon as Sam could come up with the scratch, that is.  Some came from him, some from his father.  On the sixth of January, father and son headed for Brawley.  "When I first looked at it, my heart took a flip," says Harold, "But I have a lot of faith in my son."
   Not everyone did.  "When I first rolled in here with the plane, everybody at the airport laughed," says Sam.  (The plane is hangared at Cholla Air Park).  "They all asked me how much the other guy paid me to haul it off."  No. 1 scoffer, says Sam, was his friend Pete Shepley.  "He told me, 'you won't get it done in two years."  I said I'd get it done in eight months."  He could have given himself a little more cushion," says Harold. 
   Too late.  The bet was on.  Dinner anywhere in the world.  Loser pays.  Sam went to work – nights, weekends, late into the night. "I've got at least a 1000 hours into it, " he says.

 The plane was stripped, the bent fuselage sliced apart, then welded back together.  On went the new tires, new instrumentation, new propeller.  In went a plushy new interior – burgundy and cream.  On went a new paint job, red and white.  The engine is a rebuilt from Eloy; the propeller is from Indiana. "They quit making these planes in the 50's says Sam, who had to salvage for parts from around the country.  Says Harold; "There's very little of this airplane I flew."  After about three months of work, the scoffers started changing their tunes, says Sam. Also helping him turn his dream into reality were a few true believers' among them:  Son, Brian; brother Tim; and friends Dennis Jones and Larry Holston.   But "the biggest help" adds Sam, "was Pete Shepley."  The bet was still on.
   On Aug 15th, the wings went on.  "Now I only have 1000 little things to do," Sam said at the time.  Aug. 30 dawned clear and calm.  Pilot's skies all around. Today is the day Sam will solo in the Aeronca for the first time.   

 Already, the plane has passed inspection.  Now, Sam and friend Mike Collier are finishing up the last of those "1,000 things."  Family and friends gather around.  Only Pete Shepley is missing.  Hunting in New Mexico, someone says.   Someone else asks Sam if he ever though this day would come.  "You bet I did,"  he says, climbing into the cockpit.  A friend, who prefers to remain anonymous climbs into the back seat.
   Harold has the honor of starting up the engine.  He turns the propeller.  Nothing.  He turns it again. And again.  "It's just cold," says Sam.  Finally, the thing kicks over.  They taxi for takeoff.  The video camera is rolling.  And suddenly, the plane is grabbing sky.  It makes a wide pass around the airfield, swoops low past the runway, then climbs back up into the sweet morning calm.  "The engine sounds good," says Harold.
   The Aeronca lands and Sam's friend clambers out.  Now it is Sam's turn to solo, in a plane that was junk just eight months ago.  He takes off, does one long loop, then touches down on the runway.  Hoots and hand claps greet him as he taxis by the well-wishers.  "It was great, just great," he says.
   The clock ticks to 8:47 a.m. Harold climbs into the plane.  It's been a long time between flights.  Up, up and away the Aeronca goes, carrying Harold and Sam's anonymous friend, who's serving as pilot.  The plane flies till it is a little more than a white speck against the southern skies.  "Boy, he's in hog heaven now," says Lola, squinting into the sunlight.
   So is her son, back on the ground.  "I don't know why I wanted to do this," says Sam.  It's just for me and my dad to have fun together.  I just love it."