B y Derek Liebig
A restoration project nearly two decades in the making recently took flight above the skies of Granville Airport.
Last month, Myron “Mike” Waite, took to the skies above the hills and dales of Granville in a 1946 Aeronca 7AC that he and a few others had painstakingly restored over the last 15 years.
Waite and three others—his brother Sam Waite, Ed Kennedy, and retired New York State trooper, Mark Haskell—purchased the vintage propeller airplane in 1990 from an individual who had flown from Maine to the airport in Middle Granville.
“He just flew in here and wanted to sell it and we didn’t have a tail dragger, so we pooled our money and bought it,” Waite said.
Waite’s passion for aviation dates back to his childhood.
“I remember as a little guy seeing the bombers flying overhead during World War II,” he said.
Several years later, during the Korean conflict, Waite served in the U.S. Navy as a gunner’s mate aboard an aircraft carrier and has been hooked ever since.
The Aeronca was still capable of flight and Waite and the group flew it for the next eight years, but the decades had taken their toll. After awhile the plane got to where it wasn’t safe to fly.
“It was pretty ratty,” Waite said. “The prop was too short and the fabric was ratty.”
There was only one problem, Waite and his comrades had never restored a plane.
“I didn’t have the foggiest idea where to start,” Waite said.
So instead of heading to the garage, Waite headed to the library and began researching the plane. He also leaned on Neal Hulett, who owned and operated the Middle Granville airport until his death in 2009, and spent a lifetime work on planes.
“We took it all apart—the seats, the engine—everything needed to be completely taken apart,” Waite said.
Once dissembled, the plane was moved to Waite’s barn on Route 133 and sat there virtually untouched for two years.
Eventually though, the group began working on the plane, gathering at Waite’s barn every weekend.
Even as some members of the group moved away, Waite continued to toil away.
The fuselage was rebuilt. The wings, which consist of a spruce spar and aluminum ribs, were restored and the frame was sandblasted.
The 75 horsepower engine that was in the plane when it was purchased was replaced with an original 65 horsepower engine.
“We tried to keep it as original as we could,” Waite said.
Once the parts were restored, the plane was moved back to the airport and reassembled. Then they began the arduous task of wrapping the plane in Ceconite, a type of synthetic fabric that replaced cotton as the primary aircraft covering following World War II.
“Once you put the fabric on, you take a flat iron, get the temperature calibrated, and run it over and over to shrink it until its nice and tight,” Waite said.
After more than half a dozen coats of nitrate “dope,” 1,500 screws, some paint (one of the few things that isn’t original; Waite couldn’t stand the original dull yellow color) and a thumbs up by FAA inspectors, the plane was deemed airworthy.
The Aeronca 7AC can reach an altitude of 10,000 feet, although it’s most often flown at 2,000 to 3,000 feet.
The inside of the plane is rather Spartan, with no electronic systems (the plane is started by spinning the propeller) and just a few gauges. It has two seats, each of which has a steering lever. The plane weighs only 800 pounds.
It’s called a tail dragger because one of its three tires or, landing gear, is located at the end of the tail.
“There’s nothing like it now. All the planes now have electronics and GPS. With this, you really had to learn to fly and know how to navigate,” Waite said.
Last month, after years of hard work, Waite finally had an opportunity to take the plane out and while the weather has limited him to only four hours of flight time, he’s enjoyed every second of it.
“As long as it took, it makes you feel good,” Waite said. “It’s a real sense of accomplishment.”