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The Only One Flying

Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker

By Randy Dufault

  • The Only One Flying
    Becki Pike, John Pike, Warren Wright, and Jeremy Harris stand with Wright's newly restored Bellanca Pacemaker. The craft flew for the first time in 65 years only last week.
  • The Only One Flying

July 29, 2016 - Giuseppe Bellanca had an obsession with aerodynamic efficiency. In an era when airplanes looked very much like packing crates, he sought to create designs that pushed the bounds of available technology.

“Everything was supposed to fly,” John Pike said about the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker restoration he and his team at Big Sky Stearman of Oregon City, Oregon, recently completed.

“They won efficiency contests in the day,” Pike added. “But I can’t tell you that [the airfoil struts and other treatments] are very effective. Nowadays it’s just a big, slow flying barn door.”

Even though its efficiency might have been only slightly better than other craft produced in the late 20s, the CH-300 was highly sought after for a common activity of the day.

“They’re very, very famous for long distance record-breaking endurance flights,” Pike said. “Japan to Wenatchee Washington, 41 hours, New York to Istanbul, Turkey, 51 hours. [It is a] pretty incredible airplane.”

The previous owner of the 1929 CH-300 here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 had registered the airframe with the same N-number as Bellanca Lithuanica. The plan was, after restoration, to recreate the path Lithuanica set out on from New York City to Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1933. The original flight successfully completed only the seventh crossing of the Atlantic, and spent 37 hours in the air, only to tragically end in bad weather some 400 miles short of its destination.

The airplane’s call letters will be changing, however. Warren Wright of Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, Canada, owns the plane and he acquired registration CF-ATN. ATN was a well-known Canadian Pacemaker that met an unfortunate end in 1938. However, ATN’s remains served as a model for a number of details Pike had to resolve during restoration.

Much like the original CF-ATN, Wright’s Pacemaker will go into bush service operating near the Arctic Circle off of floats in the summer and a pair of original 1929 wooden skis in the winter.

Pacemakers are not new to Pike and his team.

“The Pike family bought a wrecked Bellanca for $150, restored it, and flew it as our family freighter for many years,” Pike said. “But it was the founding aircraft for Hawaiian Airlines.

“Six years ago they were celebrating their 80th anniversary and they wanted it back. So we sold it to them. They were flying it out of Honolulu and flew it 1,600 hours in six years. They liked it.”

Recently the Hawaiian CH-300 was disassembled and is now returning to the mainland for a complete overhaul. It was the only other Pacemaker in airworthy condition so the example here is currently the only flying example. Pike said there are at least four others in various states of restoration.

The two-year restoration effort literally just finished.

“We didn’t know where we would be and whether we could make Oshkosh,” Pike said. “It was on our list, but we made a rush to get the airplane done for Warren and got close.”

Ultimately the craft took to the sky last week for the first time in 65 years. Two hours of shakedown testing indicated all was well with the craft and its 450-hp Wright Whirlwind 975. So they headed east following Interstate 90 and after a lengthy, but not record-setting, flight at the craft’s 110 mph cruise speed, arrived here at AirVenture.