The Oregon Aviation Historical Society & Museum in Cottage Grove marked the Oregon Department of Aviation’s (ODA) 99th anniversary on Feb. 11 and announced local preparations for the department’s centennial celebration in 2021.
In gearing up for the centennial event, Cottage Grove’s Aviation Historical Society is currently restoring three vintage aircraft. In all, six antique aircraft with roots in Oregon aviation history will embark on a traveling exhibit around the state, culminating in a demonstration in Oshkosh, Wisc. in July 2021.
Vice president of the museum Tim Talen has been in the restoration business for more than 40 years and has spearheaded efforts to find and restore the aircraft for the centennial.
“Tim has a knack for finding things and knowing what he’s looking for,” said Annette Buswell-Whittington, director for the aviation historical society.
One notable project among the restoration efforts is John Gilbert “Tex” Rankin’s Great Lakes Bi-plane.
“Tex was probably our most famous aviator, maybe of all time, in Oregon,” said Talen. “He was world-renowned for his aerobatic flying.”
Rankin earned his legacy not only as an aerobatic pilot, but also an air racer and flight instructor. In 1928, Rankin was listed as running the largest civilian flying school in the world out of Portland.
Through the ‘30s, Rankin gained fame for his showmanship and flight instruction, earning accolades in both national and international competitions.
His plane, which currently resides in the Cottage Grove museum, was modified specifically for aerobatic flying.
This Great Lakes aircraft, while famous for Rankin’s own record-breaking during useage of the plane, also contains historical ties to one of Oregon aviation’s groundbreaking pilots: Dorothy Hester.
By 19 years old, Hester was an up-and-coming pilot in flight school. Though harboring some skepticism of female aviators, Rankin quickly changed his tune when he witnessed Hester’s piloting skills and he began teaching her stunts.
Hester would go on to become renowned for her weekly airshows and stunts. Throughout 1930, she became the first woman to complete various aerobatic maneuvers and would set several more records the following year, even inventing her own maneuvers.
During her time on the flying circuit, she also became the first woman to be invited as an air show performer at the famous National Air Races in Cleveland.
For her famed skill, the Great Lakes Aircraft Company gifted her with a plane specifically designed for her. Because of her age, Rankin owned the plane on paper and signed it over to Hester when she turned 21.
Hester would later open her own flight school in Cornelius, Ore.
Recovered from a junkyard in Pennsylvania by Talen, the famed Great Lakes plane is receiving a full restoration.
“It’s been totally rebuilt, but there’s a lot of the old parts that flew with Tex and Dorothy that are back in this airplane again,” said Talen. “We’re taking it back to its original configuration that Tex had it in.”
The aircraft is slated to fly for the 2021 centennial event.
Also undergoing restoration is “Wimpy,” a Long Low-Wing Longster built by homebuilt aircraft pioneer Leslie Long.
“He was probably one of the first guys to popularize the idea of building your own airplane,” said Talen.
Known as the “Sage of Cornelius,” Long was an avid promoter of amateur plane building and drew up build plans for enthusiasts to follow.
Wimpy was the last in a series of 11 planes designed and built by Long.
“The Wimpy design was the quintessential low-wing design aircraft because it begat a bunch of other throw-off designs,” said Talen. “It was what we would call a ‘heritage homebuilt’ here in Oregon. It was built by Oregonians, Oregonian-designed and under license by the state.”
The Cottage Grove museum has determined that it was the first successful and most-copied low-wing design of its time.
In 1935, the American Bureau of Aviation restricted homebuilt construction of aircraft, though a small group of Oregon-based homebuilders known as the Beaverton Outlaws continued the practice. The Longster was adopted as the official aircraft design by the promoters of homebuilt experimental aircraft.
Buswell-Whittington has a personal connection to Wimpy, too, as her father, Myron Buswell, acquired the plane in 1938 and made his own modifications.
According to aviation lore, the plane earned its name in reference to the Popeye character.
“There was a little hamburger stand along the airstrip,” said Buswell-Whittington. “So apparently, the story goes that he would get in the Wimpy, take off and then fly over and yell down, ‘Fix me a hamburger!’”
Buswell’s last flight with Wimpy was 1944 and over the decades ended up in Granada Hills, Calif. It was donated by that owner to Cottage Grove’s aircraft museum in 2005.
“I had never seen the airplane until it showed up here,” said Buswell-Whittington. “It means a lot to me to see it restored.”
With the help of Buswell-Whittington’s husband, Wimpy is being restored to Buswell’s configuration and will be on ground display during the exhibit.
Rounding out the restorations is the Story Special #1, an aircraft designed and constructed by builder Tom Story.
Based on the Longster design, Story and his friend Dick Andrus built twin aircraft in the late 1940s. The planes would be featured together in an air to air shot on the first color edition of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) magazine Sport Aviation in 1960. Both planes are currently housed in Cottage Grove.
Planes such as these symbolized the ability for plane enthusiasts to build aircraft that was safe and reliable. In 1947, 1949 and 1951, a pilot named George Bogardus made flights from Oregon to Washington. D.C. in a plane he purchased from Story to convince officials that homebuilt planes were capable of cross-country flight.
Then in 1952, the Civil Aeronautics Administration sanctioned the registration and operation of experimental, amateur-built aircraft and the EAA developed in Wisconsin the following year as a result of the lifted regulations.
“The EAA has always recognized Oregon’s influence,” said Talen.
Restoration to the Story #1 will attempt recreate the 1960 Sport Aviation photo with its counterpart and the two planes are scheduled to fly for the centennial celebration next year.
Piecing together elements of Oregon aviation history over the last century, the restoration projects at Cottage Grove’s Jim Wright Field will compliment a documentary chronicling the story of the Beaverton Outlaws and the founding of the EAA.