Friday, October 25, 2013

A Little History Before We Cut Fabric (off the airframe)

The Callair Cadet was part wishful thinking and part good old American determination. It came to pass through the sale of the aircraft type certificate (A-737) by the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Company first to Harlow Aircraft Company, then to the Call Aircraft Company of Afton, Wyoming. If Afton rings a bell, it's because in more recent years manufacturing for the Christen Eagle, Pitts Special and Aviat Husky are there. These companies are all heirs to the Call legacy.
Barlow Call flying s/n 1001
More on the Calls and their Cadets (and other designs) in a later post; for now, we'll look at Interstate, an El Segundo, California, outfit that responded in 1940 to a government request that outlined the need for a rugged training airplane to prepare pilots for a war that was sure to involve the United States. The design they came up with looked vaguely similar to the Stinson, Piper, Taylorcraft and Aeronca designs of the day but Interstate came late to the party and their airplanes were priced significantly higher than their counterparts - almost three times as much as a Piper Cub, for example. The Interstate engineers were all young and, for the most part, had no idea how to design an airplane so they stole across the airport ramp and measured several airplanes to come up with some basic configurations. True story. The Civilian Pilot Training Program was in full swing and trainers were in short supply; the airplane the schools got for their money was one that could really take a beating day in and day out. A shortage of the most popular horizontally-opposed, 4-cylinder engines built by Continental and Lycoming left Interstate again taking leftovers. Most of the S-1 Cadets were powered by variants of the Franklin engine.
From the online collection of Ron Dupas
The instructor sat in the back tandem seat and the student sat in front. Inflight visibility was very good for the front seat occupant; the back seat visibility was somewhat restricted by the wing. A couple of the first Cadets were crated and shipped to Hawaii where they were operated by a flying school at the Rodgers civilian airport next to Pearl Harbor. Despite Hollywood's depiction in the movie "Tora Tora Tora", an attractive, young woman was giving flying lessons in one of those Cadets on December 7, 1941 ... but it's better in her own words:
"At the twilight's last gleaming
by Cornelia Fort, Woman's Home Companion, June, 1943.
“I KNEW I was going to join the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron before the organization was a reality, before it had a name, before it was anything but a radical idea in the minds of a few men who believed that women could fly airplanes. But I never knew it so surely as I did in Honolulu on December 7, 1941.
“At dawn that morning I drove from Waikiki to the John Rodgers civilian airport right next to Pearl Harbor, where I was a civilian pilot instructor. Shortly after six-thirty I began landing and take-off practice with my regular student.
“Coming in just before the last landing, I looked casually around and saw a military plane coming directly toward me. I jerked the controls away from my student and jammed the throttle wide open to pull above the oncoming plane. He passed so close under us that our celluloid windows rattled violently ..."
Cornelia Fort was killed in 1943 in a mid-air collision while on a formation flight in Texas. An airport in her hometown of Nashville TN is named in her honor.

As an observation airplane, the Cadet had few peers with its abundance of windows in a rear greenhouse configuration. Some were fitted as air ambulances.
An Interstate L-6A Grasshopper (s/n 43-2680) of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio.
Official description: "The Interstate Co. entered the (military) aviation industry in 1940 with the S-1B "Cadet," a tandem seat liaison airplane. When the United States entered World War II, the U.S. Army Air Forces contracted with Interstate for 250 S-1B aircraft, designating the prototype as the XO-63. It was the last airplane to use the "O" (for observation) designation. Later, the USAAF designated the production airplane as the L-6. The aircraft, however, had significant overheating problems that were only partially solved. It had the dubious distinction that fewer L-6s were built than any other USAAF liaison aircraft. The USAAF used the L-6 as a utility transport, liaison and training aircraft in the United States but never shipped it overseas. After the war, the remaining L-6s were sold as surplus."

The Interstate company was in trouble. The Army Air Corps didn't add to their initial order for S-1 Cadets or the L-6. Prospects were looking dim.  A quiet group of engineers, however, were breaking ground on a totally new technology - television - and a totally new application for that technology with the first operational drones, built for the Navy.
This website: ( describes the TDR-1 more fully as:
"... a TV-guided drone powered by two Lycoming O-435-2 piston engines. It had a very simple cockpit which was manned by a backup pilot for test flights, the pilot only taking over the controls when the remote-control TV equipment failed or when the aircraft was landed."
If you do a little searching you can find even more information on this little-known predecessor to the Predators and Reapers we employ today. Rather than being a recoverable aircraft, the TDR was designed as a one-way flying bomb, guided from up to 40 miles away by an operator using the television link to steer.  When operated as a drone, the landing gear was jettisoned after takeoff. The TDR (and the version built in Philadelphia at the Naval Aircraft Factory as the TDN - probably out of leftover blimp parts) were actually deployed as an operational unit in 1944, scoring hits on Japanese shipping. Take a look at Andreas Parsch's site at:

In 1945, Interstate was out of the airplane business, concentrating their efforts to the production of consumer goods such as vacuum cleaners, vending machines and juke boxes.

Now for the Interstate/CallAir connection. When the Call family bought the parts inventory for the Cadet in 1945, the market was flooded with surplus aircraft of all types. The big manufacturers of light airplanes (Piper, Aeronca, Stinson, Taylorcraft) had large stocks of materials but they weren't about to let them go. The Calls were building  low-wing, strut-braced, 2-and-3-place monoplanes with side by side seating for the civilian market and needed the Interstate stock of supplies as much for construction of their own designs as for any new Cadets.
At least one of the Calls was a big fan of the Cadet and eventually led the charge to buy the type certificate. The next history lesson will take a look at the Call Aircraft Company and one of the two Cadets that emerged from their factory at Afton. In the meantime, we're prepared to cut the old fabric off of Callair Cadet serial number 1002. Stay tuned.
Import after crash 696

Monday, October 07, 2013

On Your Mark! .....

At the time of this writing (September 2013), I've been flying for 42 years, first for the pure, liberating fun of it, then for my livelihood. I retired from corporate flying in 2008 and chose to return to my first love: Flying for the fun of it.

When I found the Callair Cadet I already owned a Piper Cub. Something about this bedraggled wraith appealed to my inner knight and I knew she had to be rescued from the ravages of time. The bones appeared to be strong, the engine was freshly overhauled and the prop was new; I couldn't let a "find" like this one pass me by. 

The history appealed to me, too. Poring over books and papers, the FAA records and contacts all over the place resulted in a fair picture of where this airplane originated and how the design came to be. More on that as we go along.

As with more than one of my pet projects, the Callair kept flying and its restoration kept being pushed back until an opportune time presented itself. The stars have aligned, the planets, too. It remains to be discovered whether or not the budget will dress right and cover down in this formation, but I'm willing to take a chance.

The date is set: We cut fabric on Monday, October 28th, at the latest; Saturday, October 26th, at the earliest. Why the 26th? It's the date for the annual Bob White Airport Fly-In. We might make it an "event" within the event. Nothing like a public commitment to launch a project.

More to come.