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Air Racer John Livingston's Waco Restored to Its 1928 Livery

Waco
NC7527 in Mid-West Airways livery.  Photo: Jim Koepnik

1928 Transcontinental Trophy
John Livingston after winning the Class B race of the 1928 National Air Races. Notice the lack of an engine cowl. Courtesy: Gary Hyatt

December 23, 2010 — EAA volunteers and staff have finished painting air racing Legend John Livingston’s original custom-built 1928 Waco CTO Taperwing. The new look sports the livery of the Mid-West Airways Corporation, a short-lived airline based in Waterloo, Iowa, that was operated by Livingston in the early 1930s. Between 1928 and 1933 Livingston participated in 139 air races, both pylon and cross-country, placing in the top three in all except two. Considered one of the top pilots of the era, he won 79 of those races and collected $53,000 in winnings over that span. With his Waco, Livingston placed first in the Class B race of the 1928 National Air Races. If you attended an AirVenture fabric workshop in the past three years you may have participated in the Waco’s restoration.

John Livingston received NC7527 new from the Waco Aircraft Company in 1928. In the 1928 race he crossed the continent in the Waco in a little less than 23 hours. Decades later a group of owners acquired the aircraft, upgrading the engine and adding a turtle deck behind the rear seat, an engine cowling, and other aesthetic enhancements so it could be used in air shows and skywriting.

“It had this bright red and white paint scheme that fit the kind of exhibition flying they were doing,” said John Hopkins, EAA manager of aircraft maintenance.

Three years ago the Waco was donated to EAA by Fred Grothe of Shakopee, Minnesota, and work began to slowly restore the aircraft to its 1928 look and configuration. The engine and the cowl will stay, but other minor changes have been made. The fabric on the wings needed the most work and it took a core group of nine volunteers approximately three years to finish the restoration. The project was helped along by wheeling it to the AirVenture fabric workshop forums each year allowing attendees to help with the recovering while they learned new dope and fabric skills.

“We found that we made the most progress during this time [AirVenture], and there was a lot of fabric work to be done,” Hopkins said. “People learn something and we get the airplane covered.”

Hopkins says that the Waco is not flyable but has been restored to static display quality in the original colors and scheme used by Livingston in 1928. Beginning in the early 1920s, John would fly for several companies in Iowa and Illinois opening and operating airports. He opened the airport in Aurora, Illinois, and then was invited to move his Mid-West Airways Corporation to Waterloo, Iowa, in 1928.

That fall Livingston established air service between Waterloo and Des Moines, which lasted 11 months before shutting down. In a questionnaire he submitted to the Iowa Aeronautics Commission, Livingston said that the airline operation failed because at that time “not enough people as yet were air-minded.”

In the mid-1930s, Livingston worked as a test pilot for the Waco Company before returning to Waterloo to operate the airport with his younger brother through World War II. During the war they executed an Army Air Corps contract to train and solo flying cadets. John Livingston would live until 1974, when he died from a heart attack moments after climbing out of a homebuilt Pitts Special he had just test flown.

Author Richard Bach used Livingston’s exploits as the inspiration for his novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  A detailed history of Livingston’s flying experiences, including rare photographs, scans of his logbooks, and other artifacts, can be found at aviation historian Gary Hyatt’s website.

Thanks to the EAA Waco Project Volunteers:

Roger White
Ken Young
 Ron Kempky
Sam James
Orville Perdue
Jim Orvedahl
Richard Carter
Jim Self
George Rotter
Covering and all paint materials were provided to this Restoration by Stit’s PolyFiber.

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