By: Norm Goyer
(I also wrote about this aircraft in a column during February 2009, it was a very unusual, sometimes fun airplane.NG)
I must admit, I have always owned cars and airplanes that I thought were beautiful, sometimes I had to factor in usefulness as well, but if the lines bothered me, I looked elsewhere. Another requirement is that it not be a “belly-button” airplane, you know everybody’s got one. So my hangars over the years housed some very different type aircraft. The ultimate of course is a genuine Piper Cub, had several of those fine critters. I have always loved the lines of a Cessna 195, had two of those. I like the macho look of the North American SNJ-6, had a few of those as well. Of course there is my love affair with the Lake Renegade, now that was a fun, worthless airplane. I loved the load carrying capability of the Cessna 206 but it was a trifle ugly, whereas the Piper Lance had very nice lines. I was asked by one of our readers which airplanes I thought were ugly, lousy performing aircraft, ah yes, I have taken a few of them in trade as well, but several really stand out, way out.
I took a Callair A-2 in trade one day, against my better judgment, but my floor plan was filled up and I needed to get rid of few new airplanes. What? You never heard of a Callair A-2, shame on you. This ugly duckling was the pride of Wisconsin. It seems that the Callair folks made a real efficient ag-plane the Callair A-9. So they decided that they were going to manufacture a two place sport aircraft. Everything about the airplane was ugly, the landing gear, the shape of the cockpit area, the wing struts, a too high an angle of dihedral and they compounded the problem by hanging a wheezing Lycoming 90 hp four-banger on the nose. The plane was large, it was heavy and it was a drag queen. I feel like I have just insulted some real live drag queens who take great pride in their looks. Then it hit me, who in SoCal is going to buy this weird looking airplane?
I feel that I must confess that this ugly airplane flew beautifully. It was super comfortable with its control sticks and very large high cabin. I don’t knew who signed this airplane off for its last annual but when you pulled the prop through it would spin around two or three times, zippo compression. I told my salesman, the late Roger Atwood, to inform the buyer that the engine was tired, but the price was so low he could afford to top it, or even overhaul it. I thought it was sure to become a static display until it faded away. I forgot to inform you that this ugly airplane was also a slow airplane, but once in the air all the negative points went away. The controls were velvety smooth, it came over the fence at walking speeds and slid onto the runway. It was the easiest flying tail dragger I had flown, almost as easy as the Fairchild PT-19 series.
Roger once told me that he believed that, “there was an ass for every seat.” My friend was right, he sold the airplane to a farmer in the next town over who raised chickens. My bird had come home to roost. I really thought that the check would bounce, once the buyer had sobered up, but it didn’t. The next day the buyer came in to be checked out in his new airplane. He walked with a limp and was overweight. Now I was in trouble. I knew that the tired engine would balk on a hot day with two large adults aboard. Little Joe was my smallest instructor, only weighed about 110 pounds and he loved tail draggers, Little Joe had a new assignment, check out the buyer in his new Callair. Then the buyer laid another bombshell on me, he wanted to fly it from his chicken farm between the hen houses where he had scraped off a makeshift runway. Lil’ Joe thought that was just great. Joe worked with “Colonel Sanders” for several days and deemed that he was safe to solo. He had a Private Certificate and a current medical. I will now try to capture the dialog that occurred the following morning on the telephone. “Norm, this is Joe, we had a slight problem over here.”
“Anybody hurt?” I asked with my heart in my mouth.
“Well we’ve got about 100 dead bodies over here.”
After I recovered from my near heart attack he continued. “My student was taking off between the chicken coops and climbed out perfectly. He cruised around for a few circuits and then he came into land. Made a perfect landing too, but, he drifted a bit and landed on top of the chicken coop. Then I heard this creaking noise and the plane and the pilot slowly sunk into the old wood building. That’s when all the Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks got squashed, some of his best laying hens too.”
The last I heard the Callair, still covered with chicken feathers, was sitting on the farm covered with tarps. Never heard from the owner again. I am sure there are those of you out there that doubt this story, but it really happened. So help me Rhode Island Red.