December 19, 2013 - January 1, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, which claims to be the world's first airline, and to honor the occasion the Duluth Aviation Institute's replica Lark of Duluth Benoist Type XIV flying boat will be on display at the Duluth International Airport (DLH).
The replica will be on exhibit indoors through February 9, said Mark Marino, EAA 268003/Vintage 720929. "It's a great place to show the airplane," he said.
Readers will recall this is the same aircraft that was slated to appear at EAA AirVenture 2013, but it was damaged in a non-fatal accident during its first flight test two weeks prior to the convention. The plane has been repaired to airworthy status, Marino said, adding that the damage caused by the July crash was not as bad as first thought.
"Only two of the 76 ribs needed replacement," he said. "The front end was the most damaged but it wasn't that bad."
The restoration team decided to make some alterations to the airplane that, although affect its authenticity, will make it easier to operate later in 2014. Especially the flight controls, which had the throttle on the floor and the rudder operated by a left-hand lever. "The controls are more like a J-3 Cub now," Marino stated.
A system to disengage the engine shaft before shutting down was also installed to eliminate what Marino called a significant "backlash" on shutdown.
Plans are to fly the airplane again at some point, but not until it appears at Oshkosh next summer. Until then plans are to make some taxi runs on the water, Marino said.
The exhibit at DLH is in cooperation with the Duluth Airport Authority and is free and open to the public in the baggage claim area. The Lark of Duluth replica was built over the previous five years expressly for the centennial and to document Duluth's contributions to this important era in aviation history.
On January 1, 1914, the plane was used by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line to provide the first scheduled airline service using a winged aircraft, according to the institute. It carried a single passenger between St. Petersburg and Tampa just 10 years after the Wright brothers' first flight.
The replica was built for the institute by its trustees and experimental aircraft builders from EAA's Duluth-Superior Chapter 272 and Cloquet Chapter 1221. Marino led the effort along with Tom Betts, EAA 233695; Mike Gardonio, EAA 108159/Vintage 722061; Curtis Gehrke, EAA 1114250; Mike Shannon, EAA 576091; Jim Nelson, EAA 9023316; Steve Dorsey; John Vanderhorn; and Sandra Ettestad.
Several companies also contributed significantly to the replica project, including Cirrus Aircraft, HydroSolutions, Poly-Fiber Aircraft Coatings, Aluminum Cabinet Company, SCS Interiors, and Hangar 10 Aero.
Learn more at the Duluth Aviation Institute website.