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Modern Methods Create a Champion Howard
By Randy Dufault
July 26, 2015 - Craig Bair of Grenville, South Dakota, had already built much of the wing for his Howard DGA-15P restoration project when he got wind of another option.
“I had the ribs done, the spars done, and then I found out about this guy in Wisconsin who was able to CNC (computerized numerical control machine) wing parts,” Bair said.
He and other members of the very active Howard Aircraft Foundation type club had recently purchased the type certificate for the airplane. The type certificate came with more than 2,500 original factory drawings, so it became feasible to digitize the design and feed the information directly to the milling machinery.
“I thought a set of CNC wings would be better than my hand-built wings,” Bair added.
And they must have been. The black scallop trimmed, white Howard won the Antique Grand Champion award here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015.
Bair’s digital design also allowed for the construction of a very accurate set of jig fixtures, both for assembling the ribs and for final construction of the plywood-skinned wing.
Another key update to the Howard is an improved landing gear.
“The Howard gear has some issues that can make it kind of cantankerous on landing, if the gear is not serviced right,” Bair said.
Another Howard restorer in Ohio totally redesigned the landing gear system, and the new configuration, according to Bair, resolved all the nasty tendencies and gave the Howard much better manners on the ground. One key goal for the redesign was to retain the exact outside appearance of the original gear configuration.
Other Howard community contributions to the restoration included metal stringers formed using new dies that replicate original factory tooling, and new universal joints in the control column sourced from the same company that originally built them for the Howard company.
Production of the DGA-15 began shortly before World War II. Popular for executive transport, the radial-engine-powered monoplane was faster than the airliners of the day. Ultimately most of the approximately 520 Howards that were built went directly into military service.
The Howard Aircraft Foundation is a very active group, meeting each year in northwestern Wisconsin the weekend before AirVenture. Many of the planes and their owners—like Bair and his wife, Teresa, did—fly from the gathering to Oshkosh.
Roger Brown of Port St, Lucie, Florida, also flew to Oshkosh from up north with his wife, Terese. He estimates that there are approximately 30 DGA-15s actively being flown, with another 20 that are airworthy. He said about two new restorations are being added to the fleet each year, although two were lost in a hangar fire a couple of years ago.
Brown’s black Howard won a Bronze Lindy at AirVenture 2013, just after his restoration was completed. Over the past two years the plane has accumulated 220 flight hours, and other than a minor fuel system issue here this year, it’s been problem-free.
Although Bair had previously owned a different Howard, the award-winning restoration is the culmination of a childhood dream.