Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Sport Aviation November 1981

Oldest Cessna Wins At Oshkosh '81

By Gene Chase

WHEN GAR WILLIAMS (EAA 1416, A/C 1416), 9S135 Aero Drive Naperville, IL 60540 parked his 1928 Cessna AW in the antique aircraft area at Oshkosh '81, it was difficult to believe that he hadn't completed the restoration just the day before. Actually, Gar had been flying the plane quite frequently since January 24, 1981, the day of the first flight, some six years after starting the mammoth rebuilding project.

Few people would choose to restore a plane like the Cessna AW, for reasons which will be pointed out later, but Gar is a special breed of antiquer. His interest in the plane came naturally, having restored ane of the most authentic Cessna Airmasters currently flying. The Airmaster is directly related to the Cessna Model A series, including the AA, AW, BW, etc., depending on the engine used.

The prototype AA was introduced in 1927, the first in a long series of cantilever high wing monoplanes. These evolved into the Airmasters from 1934 to 1942, marking the end of the tube and fabric single engine Cessnas. Gar has many hours flying his 1940 C-165 Airmaster all over the U.S. and is obviously "sold" on Cessnas. In collecting "165" Warner engines and parts to support the continued operation of his C-165, he also accumulated some 110 Warner engines and parts. These would later be used to build up one airworthy engine for the AW.

When Gar began searching for an AW project, he located one in Tulsa Oklahoma but could not reach an agreement price-wise with the owner. He also learned of one in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area but the airline captain who owned it was not interested in selling. The Cessna in Texas was actually a BW model, powered with a Wright J-5. It was registered as N6442, serial number 138, and a previous owner who lived in Midland had it stored there since about 1932.

In the meantime the airline captain started restoring the BW by cleaning up the fuselage. Gar's interest in that particular plane continued to increase and after a year of correspondence he was finally able to make the purchase.

After trailering the BW home he immediately inventoried his new acquisition. Gar was more than pleased with the condition of the fuselage, but the wood wing was something else! Not only is the wing big (40'6") and heavy (nearly 500 lbs.), but it is incredibly complex. The wing structure consists of two double tapered box spars, built up ribs and compression members, and double sets of drag and anti-drag wires at the top and bottom of each bay.

Fortunately, the front spar and the hardware fittings were in good shape but over the years, hangar rash had seriously damaged the rear spar, every single rib, and both laminated tips.

Gar spent the next four years rebuilding the wing. First he had to devise a jig so the wing would assemble accurately and so the structure could be turned over during construction by one person. This operation was housed in his ample-sized hangar conveniently located next to his house at Naper Aero Estates. As the name implies this is one of those fabulous pilot-oriented communities on a private airport where Gar lives with his wife, Mary Alice and children, Gail and David.

Words cannot adequately describe the agony experienced by one Gar Williams during the four years it took to rebuild the complicated wing. In fact he was so completely drained of enthusiasm for working on the Cessna that he turned his back on the project for one full year and proceeded to restore a Luscombe 8A which had been sitting in a neighbor's barn, quietly and patiently awaiting attention.

Early in 1980 Gar returned to the Cessna project with renewed vigor. Thank God the wing was finished so he turned his attention to the fuselage. He had already removed the extra tubing someone had installed in the aft end per early factory supplemental drawings for the installation of a tailwheel. Gar insisted the plane be as authentic as when it first left the factory, which meant the original type tailskid would be used.

Through some ingenious detective work in 1977 Gar was able to track down a rumor of a Cessna AW in Connecticut. He located the plane and owner, made the purchase, and soon was heading back home with AW serial number 196. Most of the wood formers, stringers, door and window frames were still intact on this fuselage. These were invaluable for use as patterns. The complete landing gear assembly and the ground adjustable Hamilton Standard propeller were also to be used on the Cessna from Texas.

A word of explanation is due here in that references have been made to Gar's restoration of an AW when it was a BW he purchased originally from the airline captain. Actually the airframes are the same, but with a 110 Warner in the AW and the Wright J-5 in the BW. It had been Gar's good fortune to meet Mr. Eldon Cessna whose expertise was instrumental in this restoration project. Eldon emphatically insisted the J-5 should not be used because it made the plane nose heavy and its greater size was a noticeable hinderance to forward visibility. Based on that recommendation, Gar decided the plane had to be an AW.

Eldon Cessna, son of Clyde Cessna, founder of the Cessna Aircraft Company, was actually involved with the early Cessna aircraft and his recall of details is phenomenal. Eldon and his wife live in El Segundo, California and he made himself available via mail or phone to Gar to assist in any way he could during the restoration.

This fine offer proved invaluable to Gar on several occasions, for example in determining which specific airplane Gar was restoring. There was no data plate on the fuselage, but when he removed varnish from the rear face of the main spar, he noted a factory stencil which read "20-3-8". Eldon interpreted this to mean serial number 20, manufactured in March, 1928.

He further explained that the first cantilever monoplane was assigned number 112, and that the "20" was actually 120, making this the ninth production aircraft. This means that Gar owns the oldest production Cessna known to be flying in the world!

This knowledge sparked Gar's interest in the current registration number of his plane . . . N6442, serial number 138. In contacting the previous owner, Gar discovered that the airline captain had received no records (hence numbers) when he purchased the plane in Midland, Texas. He did, however, have a photo of a BW - N6442, serial number 138. He checked with FAA Aircraft Registry in Oklahoma City and learned that number was not currently assigned, so he applied for it.

Gar was convinced that his airframe was actually serial number 120 rather than 138 so he cancelled the old number and applied for the correct one.

In time the restoration of the AW was progressing at a normal rate and it was time to start covering the bird. Grade A fabric was used with clear nitrate and color butyrate dope. All the early Cessnas were red so there was no decision to be made with regard to colors. Gar learned that Randolph Products stocks a "Pontiac Red" which is the same color used by Cessna, so that solved one problem.

Another problem was that Cessna used only two coats of clear and two of color, and that would not make an elegant finish. In discussing this with Eldon, Gar was advised that Cessna would use extra materials and labor to dress up their "show planes". So the Cessna is a "show plane" and completely authentic in that respect. Although Cessna painted the complete aircraft with dope, Gar used Randolph acrylic lacquer on the sheet metal pieces which matches perfectly with the other surfaces.

The materials for the interior cabin upholstery were purchased from an antique auto parts supply house and are nearly identical with those used by Cessna in 1928. The 26 x 4 clincher-type spoked wheels have modified Ford Model T brakes exactly per the original. The new smooth tires were made by a company specializing in antique auto tires.

Other efforts at authenticity found Gar shopping for such items as brass hose clamps, and brass and blued screws at local hardware stores . . . exactly as Cessna had done in those early years.

Gar is pleased with his "Oldest Cessna" and rightfully he should be. All of his efforts and the patience of his family have really paid off. Two weeks after it captured the Oshkosh '81 Grand Champion Award, it received the same honor at the AAA 1981 National Fly-In at Blakesburg, Iowa.


(Cover Photo) AW in flight.

(Photo by Ted Koston) Panel of the AW. The lever above the altimeter is the throttle. Lots of room here for an inertial guidance system and weather radar.

(Photo by Ted Koston) Gar Williams and the 110 Warner engine that powers his Cessna AW.

(Photo by Jack Cox) Gar Williams, left, and Eldon Cessna at Oshkosh '81. Eldon rode with Gar in the Parade of Flight, his first ride in a Cessna AW since the early 1930s. Eldon is the son of Cessna Aircraft founder, Clyde Cessna, and was an advisor and source of much inspiration during the long restoration.

(Photo by Ted Koston) Any doubts concerning the monumentality of the AW restoration are instantly dispelled by this photograph. It took four years to rebuild this full cantilever 40 foot 6 inch 500 pound monster!

(Photo by Ted Koston) Gar has a big hangar behind his house, but getting the AW in is an engineering feat!

(Photo by Ted Koston) Gar's AW and his Cessna Airmaster.