Bits and Pieces
Stanley N. Johnston as a young man.
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The Johnston Special – Part 1
By J. Davis, EAA 588164, for Bits and Pieces
The following account isn’t only a story of an ongoing aircraft restoration. It’s an account of a true Canadian pioneer of grassroots homebuilt aviation. Stanley N. Johnston (1898-1998) died shortly after his 100th birthday. During his lifetime, he built six airplanes, one each decade from the ’20s to the ’50s and two in the ’60s. The Johnston Special that I’m currently restoring is the second of two Johnston Specials, and it flew in the late ’60s. It was also his last. But let’s start at the beginning.
Stanley Johnston was raised on the family farm near Rodney, Ontario, west of London. He built his first plane there, a “Missing Link”1, at the age of 21. It was powered by a two-cylinder Lawrence engine and first flew in 1928. Next came a Model A powered Bipe biplane, flown in 1936 and later totaled by another pilot.
Stan’s Bipe bi-plane in Rodney, Ontario, 1933
Stan spent the war years in the aviation industry, working in Fort Erie, Ontario, as plant manager for Fleet and later for Piper in Hamilton, Ontario. Realizing he didn’t care much for a desk job, Stan bought some land near Rodney, and started his own farm. He put in a grass strip and began working on another homebuilt airplane, this time a Les Long design2: the Longster Wimpy. This low-wing, single-seat, sliding canopy plane seems to have had a strong influence in Stan’s next two designs: the Johnston Specials, serial numbers 1 and 2.
The JS #1 was a widened and stretched Wimpy, powered by a 108-hp Lycoming O-235C. First flown in May of 1962 after a 14-year build. Constructed of steel tube and fabric, it featured two-place side-by-side seating, sliding canopy, modified Taylorcraft spars and ribs, modified TaylorCraft tail, and “cushion”-type landing gear similar to a Ryan PT-23. Flying loads were taken up by bracing wires, and at 1,070 pounds empty, 1,500 pounds gross, it cruised at 95 mph, landed at 40 mph, with a 115-mph top speed.
The steel tube airframe of JS #1. The fabric covering was all hand-sewn by his wife.
Evidently, Stan thought that the first Johnston Special needed improvement, and in March of 1964, he started construction on Johnston Special No. 2. It was basically the same design; I’m not really sure of everything Stan did differently the second time around. I do know that he chose to use a Clark Y airfoil, as opposed to the NACA 23012 of JS #1.
The JS #2 also made use of a mechanical jackscrew trim, with a rubber coupled shaft running the length of the fuselage. The pod-style wingtips of the first version were also dropped in favour of a more conventional Hoerner-style tip. One of the biggest challenges in restoring this airplane is that there are no—and by all accounts, never were— any plans. All of Stan’s living contemporaries, to the man, swear that he designed the entire plane in his head!
Stan in the cabin of No. 2. Note the air-filled shock absorbers in this picture.
In the next installment, I’ll describe finding the abandoned aircraft—in pieces—and what happened to it during the years from the day it stopped flying (roughly 2001) until the day I hauled it home to begin what will clearly be a lengthy restoration process. It is my hope that through these articles Stanley Johnston finally might be recognized as the quintessential Canadian homebuilder that he truly was.
1 Although this aircraft is identified as a “Missing Link” in the March 1964 issue of Air Progress, I have my doubts. With its strutless kingpin design, I believe it’s a Henderson Longster.
2 Oregon native Leslie Long was a pioneer in aviation, designing airplanes in the ’20s and ’30s. He often made plans available via magazines such as Mechanix Illustrated, and the low-wing Wimpy was one such design.