This Eagle Has Landed
For the last time
Serial No. 1 of the Christen Eagle II taxis to the Kermit Weeks Hangar after its final flight on Thursday, October 27, landing at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Its creator, Frank Christensen, donated the airplane to the EAA AirVenture Museum.
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October 27, 2011 – An important airplane that fueled the growth of the homebuilt kit aircraft industry arrived in Oshkosh Thursday morning, where it will take its rightful place in the EAA AirVenture Museum’s aerobatics gallery. The prototype Christen Eagle II, Frank Christensen’s powerful and nimble aerobatic biplane designed in the 1970s, flew a nine-leg journey from California this week with longtime builder and airline pilot Dick (Butch) Pfeifer, EAA 42135, at the controls. “Well, that’s the last landing for this airplane,” Pfeifer said as he exited the rear seat.
Christensen, EAA Lifetime 36663/IAC 90, said he always wanted Oshkosh to be the ultimate destination for N2FC. “Tom Poberezny and I talked over the last couple of years about my donating the airplane to the EAA Museum,” he said. “That’s where it belongs.” The Eagle II was the first aircraft sold in a kit containing a complete set of parts. Its arrival was heralded in a four-page advertising spread in the December 1977 EAA Sport Aviation. (Click here.)
He based the design on the Pitts Special for unlimited aerobatic competition as well as advanced aerobatic training and sport cross-country flying. Its final journey certainly was that - departing San Carlos, California, on Tuesday with fuel stops in Lovelock and Elko, Nevada, and Idaho Falls, Idaho, before meeting Christensen at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
On Wednesday morning Pfeifer took off for Caspar, Wyoming; then Chadron, Nebraska; Mitchell, South Dakota; and Albert Lea, Minnesota.
“Once I got to Chadron, I was right back on the flight path I used when ferrying the plane to Oshkosh 30 years ago for the air show here,” he said. “The airplane seemed to know where to go from there.” He made the final leg to KOSH Thursday morning in just under 90 minutes, thanks to a nice tailwind.
When Christensen was marketing his Eagle kits he would invite pilots to fly into the air strip at his manufacturing facility in Hollister, California, on Saturdays to see the plane in action. The strategy was successful; between 800 and 1,000 complete kits were delivered, Christensen said, and a high percentage of them have been completed. The company was sold to Aviat in the early 1990s.
“I would say I put about 500-600 hours on the airplane,” Christensen said, although he hasn’t flown it in about 15 years. For the past 11 years N2FC was on loan for display at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, and Pfeifer was tasked with getting it airworthy for the Oshkosh flight, which took about three months.
“The airplane wasn’t unairworthy from being worn out; it was because it hadn’t flown in 10 years,” he said.
Sure enough, there wasn’t a mechanical problem of any kind on the trip to Oshkosh. “It’s a wonderful flying machine,” Pfeifer said.
Pfeifer is a 35-year veteran of United Air Lines, making his final flight in a 747-400 in 1999. He has built a number of airplanes, including his own Christen Eagle II, which he modified to accommodate the larger 540 engine, and some World War I replicas: a Sopwith Pup and a Nieuport. Pfeifer has also restored a number of aircraft including a Fairchild 22, Davis, and Phillips Skylark.
Although this will be EAA’s first Eagle II on display, it’s not its first Christen Eagle in the collection; the three Eagle I single-place models, custom-built for the Eagles Aerobatic team of Tom Poberezny, Gene Soucy, and the late Charlie Hillard, hang in the entryway of the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh. That team performed in the distinctive airplanes for almost two decades, and Pfeifer used to ferry those planes around the country as well.
“I’ve been in aviation all my life,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy.”