August 2, 2013 - It was apparent to the vintage aircraft community that Roger Brown was not an experienced aircraft restorer.
"I have a ratty old Stearman," Brown said. "I go to [the National Stearman Fly-In at] Galesburg with it every year. Four of the five last years it was voted the airplane most in need of restoration."
But the apparently well-earned reputation did not stop him from taking on what, for even an experienced restorer, would be considered a very significant project.
Over the course of the past three and a half years Brown brought back to pristine condition the remains of a 1943 Howard DGA-15. The big plane is painted black with cream trim and has attracted a great deal of attention in the Vintage area here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013.
"I just can't get over the reception it has received," he said.
At a fly-in some years ago a Howard owner invited Brown's wife Terese inside the plane and she immediately became enamored with the type.
"Price-wise, there was no way we thought we could afford one," Roger said.
"I was snooping around on the Internet for a bushplane of some kind. And here was this Howard project on eBay.
Jokingly I told my wife, 'Hey Terese, here's your Howard.' She came in and looked at the pictures and said, 'Let's bid on it.'"
A couple weeks later Roger was on the road and brought the project back to their St. Lucie, Florida, hangar.
Although some restoration was already underway, several large pieces of the puzzle remained.
The Howard has an all-wood wing that is skinned with mahogany plywood. New wings had to be constructed and the sheer size of the materials required special orders and a substantial wait for their delivery.
Ground loop accidents, one in the '80s and another in the '90s, left much of the sheet metal parts in very poor condition. In spite of having no more training than a high school shop class, Roger took on replacing the flat metal parts himself.
The airplane left the factory as a Navy-designated NH-1 instrument trainer. In that configuration the normal back seat was removed and replaced by an entire set of flight controls and instruments. A curtain could be drawn around the seat so budding Navy instrument pilots could pilot the plane with absolutely no outside references.
After being declared surplus the plane was acquired by Gen. Curtis LeMay, who used it for personal transportation while commanding the Strategic Air Command from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
Roger never intended to return the plane to a military configuration. It is restored to be a pre-war civilian version with the plush interior and ornate instrument panel Howard used to attract buyers.
Roger credits the Howard Aircraft Foundation and the very active association of owners with the help he needed to complete the project. The group has actively collected a tremendous amount of information and documentation about the type. Rarely did he get "stuck" on any particular restoration detail.
Roger and Terese flew the plane here from the Howard DGA owners get-together near Duluth, Minnesota. Plans are to spend the balance of this summer visiting virtually every fly-in and gathering they can find.
To Roger the plane is just too special not to travel the country with it. "I don't care about the price of avgas," he said with a smile.