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One-Stop Shopping for Av Parts and Art at Osh

By James Wynbrandt

July 28, 2018 - Whether you’re looking for an aircraft part or a part for aviation art, an entire restoration-ready historic aircraft, or a family that personifies the spirit of AirVenture, you can find them all at Round Engine Aero’s (REA’s) display at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018. Strewn around its exhibit area (Fly Market, Aeromart Booth 704) are propellers and engine parts, fuselages and wings, drop tanks, a trailer filled with vintage aircraft instruments and much more — and that’s just what’s left after a week of being picked over.

“If you had been here Monday, you could barely walk [inside the display area],” said Laura Lucci, wife of company founder Gino Lucci. “Now we’ve got paths.”

Based in Nashville, Michigan, and founded in 2003 REA began “as a sideline,” said Gino, an A&P, IA, and former U.S. Air Force maintainer for KC-135s. “We wanted to build a [Junkers] Ju 87 Stuka replica,” and Gino started looking for parts, buying and trading along the way. “One thing led to another and the business just kept getting bigger,” he said.

About half REA’s customers at the fly-in are looking for airworthy parts, and half are looking for aircraft parts they can use as art. Propeller blades are the biggest sellers.

“We started out with about 80 or 90 [this week]”, said Giacinto Lucci, 18. “We’re down to one.”

But REA is about much more than dealing in parts, whether air or art worthy. The family’s mission is to save historic aircraft from being parted out, and find someone who will buy them for restoration. That’s exemplified by the star of this year’s inventory on display: the fuselage of a rare and historically significant Percival Pembroke, the British-built twin-engine transport, this model having served as the equivalent of Air Force One for the president of the Belgian Congo in the 1950s. The Pembroke was sitting derelict at New Jersey’s Essex County Airport for several years.

“The gentleman who owned it asked us to cut it up [for parts], but we told him we didn’t have the heart to do it,” Gino said.

Instead, Gino made a deal to buy it whole, then had to acquire old manuals to see how to take it apart so they could get it home. REA has the wings and engines, and the whole Pembroke is yours for $20,000.

Invited to take a look inside the fuselage, a reporter found Garrett Luca, age 8, sitting in the left seat of the cockpit, hands on the controls. Between him and his brother, the company’s future appears assured for some decades to come.

“I’m about 12 hours into my pilot’s license,” Giacinto said. “On the mechanic side, I’ve been helping out the local flight clubs, and trading that for flight time.”

Also on display is a disassembled Cessna 120 in need of restorative TLC and priced at $2,200.

AirVenture is the only event where REA displays. In Michigan the family has five acres with a three-story barn, pole building, and trailers, all filled with old aircraft and parts. Gino and Giacinto go on periodic road trips, looking for items customers have requested or whatever treasures they can uncover.

“We go on expeditions anywhere can imagine,” Gino said, recounting a recent adventure. “We were heading to an auction and blew a tire. We missed the auction but started hunting in the area, and found serial No. 3 of a Stinson Gullwing in a field, and brought it back home and saved it. Hopefully we’ll get that out into some restorer’s hands.”

Over the years the family has had the pleasure of seeing some of the projects they’ve sold after the aircraft have been returned to airworthy form, among them a Navion (“it underwent an amazing restoration”) and a few C-172s. Two years ago they sold a rare T-6g to a 71-year-old from the Oshkosh area. “He wants to see it preserved. Everyone else wanted to see it parted out,” said Gino.

Aircraft aside, Gino buys most inventory in bulk, knowing only about half the items will be suitable for sale either as an airworthy part or art. Many of the vintage instruments he’s salvaged are flying today on restored aircraft — including at least one that had been converted into a piece of aviation art. But not everything Gino finds is for sale.

“This is our pride and joy,” he announced, pulling a propeller blade from some hidden cache and pointing to the inscription on its hub. “An original 1931 Ford Tri-Motor blade, stamped ‘Ford Motor Company,’” he said. “We put $850 [price tag] on it, but the more we thought about it, we thought, we don’t want to sell it.”

Nowadays REA has customers from all over the world who’ve discovered them from their Facebook presence, some who come to the fly-in in part to meet the family in person.

“We’re just grateful we have the opportunity to save this stuff,” Gino concluded. “It’s very satisfying.”

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