Association gets to work restoring 1940s airplane

From OC Today | By Greg Ellison | Jul 21, 2016

aircraft frame for 1940s-era Aeronca ChiefA piece of aviation history, a 1940s-era Aeronca Chief, was delivered on Saturday, July 9, to a hangar at the Ocean City Airport, where the Ocean City Aviation Association will begin a lengthy restoration project.

Coleman Bunting, OCAA treasurer, said the recent purchase came about from an attempt to bridge the generation gap with area youngsters.

“We wanted to try to reach some of the kids in the schools,” he said. “I checked with Stephen Decatur (High School) and Wor-Wic (Community College) and told them we were interested in doing this project and we never got any response.”

The OCAA has been in existence for half a century, Bunting said, and its primary mission is to promote safety and education at the airport.

“It used to be we made model airplanes and now everybody is on their computer,” he said. “Not too many of them are interested in mechanical skills. It’s going to be a lost art doing some of this stuff.”

Despite the apparent lack of buy-in, Bunting said the OCAA decided to forge ahead after locating a disassembled, but well preserved, Aeronca Chief in storage at the Essex Skypark Airport in Baltimore.

“We found this antique and decided to get her,” he said. “Right now, she’s basically frame work, parts and pieces.”

Ocean City Airport Manager Jamie Giandomenico, who helped transport the relic, said the plane has less than 1,000 hours of airtime and is a discovery to be treasured.

The plane made its last landing and went into storage about five years ago after losing its sea legs, Bunting said.

“It was last a float plane and then they sold the floats off of it,” he said.

The restoration process will take at least a year, Bunting said, and most work will be completed at the airport.

“One of the guys that’s interested in heading it up already has a hangar here,” he said. “The guy that’s going to be heading it up is James Wolfe.”

Wolfe, who drove the moving truck packed with the airplane fuselage, gas tank, wooden wings and engine parts, is taking on the role of chief mechanic.

“The club’s involved in the financing end of it and he’s responsible for the mechanical end of it,” Bunting said. “We’re doing what work we can here (at the airport), but there are things we can’t do here like painting and stuff.”

After taking stock of the assorted airplane parts and boxes of engine materials, Bunting felt positive about the project’s outlook.

“Basically, we have it all, but there’s a couple of critical parts that we’re going to buy new,” he said. “Stuff you can’t inspect, you just replace.”

He explained that high-winged touring aircraft from that era were designed with wing braces, which are highly prone to rust, and are generally replaced during restoration.

“Those struts are critical,” he said. “You lose one and you’ve lost it.”

While OCAA members are excited about putting put the plane back in the air, Bunting said the group hopes to find a few helping hands and perhaps impart knowledge along the way.

“It’s basically an education project for anyone that’s interested in this type of deal,” he said. “We’ve got 11(000) or 12,000 people in Ocean Pines, some of them have got to be retired mechanics, or somebody that’s got too much time on their hands and can do something.”

Bunting said anyone who would like to learn more should email Jack Wolfe jhw@wolfepound.com.

“We’re happy to show it to anybody,” he said. “It’s going to be a work in progress and hopefully we’ll have somebody learn something.”