My Brush With a Staggerwing

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I originally posted the essence of this story as a comment in APBIF and after rereading it a time or two the thought occured to me that it would make a good story for the Flying Stories section of my website. Therefore, you must suffer…

I have a little Staggerwing experience. Not as a pilot, sad to say, but a good friend of mine in Illinois, Bern “Doc” Yocke, was known as a Staggerwing expert, and after he retired from dentistry, opened a shop at IS65 (formerly C48). Although we had aviation in common, our real mutual hook was ham radio, and when I met him on the air, he was restoring a Staggerwing in his garage.

In the process of finishing up the D17, and knowing I was a woodworker, he asked me to fashion a replacement knob out of some fancy wood for the fuel selector lever. Later, after he got the ’plane covered, painted, and back in the air, he asked me if I wanted to ride with him to the Chicago Bears’ training camp in PVB and then have lunch. Did I!?

It was my first ever ride in a biplane, a round engine plane, an executive plane, one that, in its day was good for 200 MPH—faster than front line Army fighters, at the time. Watching the process of starting up that R-985, feeling the shake, hearing the roar (sound-deadening was a nascent necessity in those days when helmets with earphones were the order of the day in open cockpit airplanes), and seeing the airspeed indicator wind up to numbers I’d never experienced in a prop plane, were experiences I've never forgotten and never expected to be able to share.

We had a great ride up and back, and got a chance to see some big lads slugging it out in the Summer heat. Those were the days of The Fridge, Mike “Samurai” Singletary, Sweetness, et al. I never rode in it again, and Bernie later sold it to someone in the UK and I learned that it was crashed over there at some point. I’ve since learned the accident was in 1990 and it was a gear up landing. Here’s the PDF report. It’s since been returned to flight and now carries the UK registry of “GBVRE”.

Staggerwing D-17 NC18028 Staggerwing D-17
’028 maybe ten years after our trip, just as she looked then. I’m not sure if she’s ready for a three point plant, or just airborne—no hint of right rudder suggests just about to plant. That tail number was the original issued to her in 1937. After several years in the UK, she’s finally been issued the G-BVRE registry. Interestingly, if you do a search on the internet, there are still a lot more results under the U.S. number then the UK one.

I haven’t been able to confirm the dates, but Bernie won a trophy for his restoration at the EAA’s annual AirVenture convention in OSH sometime in the ’80s.

It was photographed extensively and appeared on the cover of EAA’s magazine (with him at the controls), Sport Aviation, November, 1991. Here's a discussion from several years ago on an R/C modeling blog about Staggerwings, with several posts by Bernie providing the background on the airplane he’d restored and I rode in. Incidentally, Bernie had also ventured into the R/C modeling world at about the time of the introduction of four cycle engines, and he’d built a ¼ scale Cub (quarter scale, not quarter inch scale, therefore, it’s big), so his appearance on such a blog was not out of character.

A search on “N18028” or “NC18028” will yield several links, many to images, about the Staggerwing Bernie rebuilt and I rode in. Unfortunately, I didn’t see evidence of my knob in any of them.

Last updated: 30 January 2013

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