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In the Spirit of Harold Johnson

1930s aerobatic routine to be re-created in newly restored Ford Tri-Motor

First flight

Trimotor crew
The restoration team from Hov-Aire and MW Aviation (standing, l to r): Max Corey, Bill Bakkila, Mike Wetveer, Steve Heath, and Dick Van Linder. Kneeling are Cody Welch, pilot, and Maurice Hovious.

October 21, 2010 — Greg Herrick, president of the Aviation Foundation of America, owner of Historic Aviation and avid vintage aircraft collector, has a personal rule when he acquires an aircraft to restore: Never change an N-number. He is making an exception, however, for his newly restored 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-B, which flew for the first time following a multi-year, ground-up restoration by the Hov-Aire and MW Aviation team in Vicksburg, Michigan. He’s changing it from the original NC-7684 to NC-9610. That’s the number of 1930s air show performer Harold Johnson’s Tri-Motor. Johnson performed incredible aerobatic maneuvers in that aircraft, and Herrick plans to recreate those performances with this airplane.

“When we contemplated recreating Harold Johnson’s performances in this airplane, we sought approval of his surviving relatives to use Harold’s registration number,” said Herrick, EAA Life Member 402961. “When we told them we were going to re-create his flying routine, they not only said ‘yes,’ but ‘please do it!’” Johnson is slated to be inducted into the ICAS Hall of Fame this December.

The airplane, serial number 42, was acquired from Island Airlines, which flew it for some 40 years out of Port Clinton, Ohio. Hov-Aire started the restoration, and MW Aviation completed it – they’re the same team that performed the restoration of a number of the old Fords, including EAA’s, as well as Kalamazoo’s Island Airliner now owned by Kermit Weeks. AirVenture visitors have also grown accustomed to seeing another example of Hov-Aire’s work: S/N 10 is parked in front of the Ford Hangar each year.

The original 300-hp Wright engines were swapped out for 450-hp Pratt and Whitney R985s, engines that will enable it to have plenty of performance to re-enact the Johnson performances, said the pilot who made the first post-restorative flight, Cody Welch, EAA 115674.

Welch, who has been a volunteer pilot for EAA’s Tri Motor the past 18 years, described the again-flying-NC-9610.

“The first flight was Wednesday, October 13, on the grass runway next to Hov-Aire, and it was pretty much a normal flight for a major project like this with only minor issues.”

Those included a very slight wing heaviness, some brake issues – with the Johnson bar that actuates the hydraulic brakes – and an inoperable alternator. “But no major deal breakers,” Welch added. All squawks have been fixed, he added.

Welch also noted that landing the airplane is very smooth, thanks to the rubber disk shock absorbers and balloon tires. He made four flights averaging 15-30 minutes each.

“It’s an exquisite restoration, inside and out, by the entire team in Vicksburg.”

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