Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back to Life-L-17B 48-974 Restoration Completed

After a long twelve months our restoration of an actual L-17B is complete. Found stuffed in a broken down hanger where it had been sleeping for almost thirty years behind piles of junk , painted with yellow house paint; Ryan Douthitt saw it as aeronautical treasure and put it back in the air after stripping the old paint.

As a matter of fact it is the silver and red partially restored Navion in civilian markings on this user group website masthead.After buying it last year from Ryan, we took it another level after demate and complete systems, instruments overhaul and anew interior. The second phase of the restoration was completed by Bob Juarez after we worked throughout the year in my T-hanger in Fresno. I learned a ton about this wonderful flying airplane and although painful and expensive, I recommend the demate which forces an overhaul of all plumbing, wiring, etc. to anyone who hasn't done it. It gives you peace of mind of what is lurking inside( 1.e. 3 rats nests!).Hope everyone enjoys these pictures we will do one last blog with in flight photos in a month or two(working off a pretty good list of sqawks since Ryan took back into the air).Thanks to everyone who helped and offered suggestions(i.e. the tip on how to stop aux. tank leaks using McFarlane grommet screws-works great!, the original L-17 checklist copied by Rip Quinby-see interior shot, etc.).I love the big IO-550, three blade modified Navion hot rods but I hope some of you still appreciate what I believe is the most original bird miltary Navion flying- green panel and all. Would love to hear what you think. Ron Paliughi Fresno, California.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

General McArthur’s Ride

Thanks to Alan Renga of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, I received recently some wonderful photo’s of L-17’s from their Archives. Here are two great shots of General Douglas Mc Arthur, boarding an L-17 in Korea.Notice the star plate on the cowl door(fabricated in the field). Also the “audience” standing in the back of the picture and the three tail Lockheed Constellation that has no doubt flown the general in from Japan. The amount of help the General is receiving while boarding is also interesting. The best part is the young Captain Army Aviator shown waiting patiently on the wing to get in and fly the General to the destination. Nowadays so high ranking an officer would be flown in a military Gulfstream, complete with two pilots and flight stewards. What an awesome amount of responsibility for the young Captain( would love to know his name) flying McArthur single pilot/ single engine in the combat zone. I always felt when I flew general officers there was no upside-you were expected to do well with recognition only coming if you screwed up and gave a bad ride. So our project pays tribute to the wonderful but pretty anonymous Army L-17 and its Army Aviator crews(exclusively commissioned officers in those days) who in the 1950’s flew important missions in hostile territory in virtual obscurity.


The new photos show our progress since our last report, with a superlative effort by Bob Juarez in taking the engine back down to bare metal by use of a soda blaster and carefully re-painting it with Continental Gold and Black (the engine has only 140 hrs since O/H).Mounted back on the engine are its newly overhauled generator and oil cooler. The engine basket was completely stripped, power washed and repainted. Care has been taken to correctly match original paints and even save original inspectors stamps and part numbers which have been taped over before painting on each component restoration. As we work along we continue to polish the aircraft surfaces thanks mostly to the efforts of Todd Monson from Exeter, CA who specializes in the Nuvite polish system. Military markings authentically reproduced by Moody Aero graphics(FL) and Woodway Signs(AL) both specialists in Warbird paint masks and decals are starting to bring back the mil. look of 974. Stars and Bar’s are next. Its still early but I’m starting to see that image so beautifully photographed by Bill Larkins back in 1950(see our original blog) take shape before my eyes-its what motivated me most to tackle this project. Happy Holidays, hope to be flying by spring and see everybody at the west coast Airshows- Ron Paliughi.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Its been almost four months since we happily brought 974 back to Fresno from its location in El Centro. After deciding to fly it for 25 hours or so before beginning the final restoration process back to its military form and markings, we got to hour 5 when we experienced a major fuel leak which was definitely a safety of flight issue and probably not a complete surprise on a 60 year old airplane.. Unfortunately one of the few design flaws in the Navion is the total inaccessibility of the fuel tanks and supporting accumulator tank system. Although it ended up being a small leaking Y fitting that leaked probably due to a clogged return line fitting on top of the accumulator tank, everything is buried in the wings and center section, repairs requiring the dreaded Navion de-mate. Yes, both wings must be removed from under the fuselage and separated to reach the leaking fitting. This is a major undertaking and is very expensive. But a great side benefit is the ability while the aircraft is taken apart to completely go through the fuel system by re-inforcing the metal tanks( including the fuel bays that become filled with dirt and in our case two rats nests), landing gear, cables, wiring, new hydraulic tubing lastly a complete cosmetic cleaning and make-over for the wings. Bob Juarez, A&P has diligently led this effort and he and I have worked steadily on restoring the wings. His methodical, careful approach led to a successful upgrade of the wings and fuel bays.
Some of the fun creeps in once in awhile between trips to the wash rack for pressure washing old greasy parts-when we discover “aeronautical treasure” like all the original Ryan inspectors ink stamps(which we have preservrd). Areas of original paint hidden under old coats of hastily applied civilian paint are also exciting to find and match. We are going for originality and are anxiously awaiting some L-17 files stored at the San Diego Aerospace museum that apparently has the original Ryan Aircraft archives. If anyone out there in the ether has L-17 pictures esp. the interior please contact us. Hope you enjoy the new pictures. You should know I never think of owning vintage aircraft in a prideful way, they really are just in our trust for a little while before we pass on the really worthwhile one’s to the next generation. This L-17B one of about sixty left out of 246 is going to be worth passing on and I hope to keep you informed of its status.

Ryan Douthitt to the Rescue

Ryan Douthitt found Ryan L-17B 48-974-the 54th production a/c out of a military order for 163 in 1948-49- aka. N7733C in a hanger at Redlands, CA in 2008 where it had been stored for 25 years and brought it back to life ferrying it back to his families unique airstrip and maintenance base in the outskirts of El Centro hard by the Salton Sea and only ten miles from the Mexican border. There are over ten Navions based there and this all goes back to his grandfather the late Bob Douthitt who was really a west coast pioneer for Navion operations going back to the very beginning of Navion sales. He had much to do with the original tip tank modification STC (as well as many other authorized Navion mod’s), Ryan’s father also a lifelong Navion pilot passed on this legacy to his son Ryan who today at 29 is one of the most knowledgeable Navion mechanics and restorers, IA and Navion CFI on the West Coast- and one of the nicest guys you‘ll ever meet. Best of all Ryan stood behind the repair of 33C, flying to Fresno in the company Navion for many nights to demate the aircraft then just recently returning to put the wings back on the aircraft. To me Ryan Douthitt is a throwback to the hard working, totally knowledgeable mechanic/pilots of old(and as a former corporate and military pilot I can compare his work with many). His work ethic is amazing and I strongly recommend him to anyone with a Navion or wants to buy a Navion. As the “Old Guard”Navion Yoda’s retire and disappear Ryan will be there to take the Navion into the next generation. He can be contacted at 760-791-8807.

Monday, June 1, 2009

If you receive this blog its because I thought you might have an interest in my project to bring a wonderful airplane back to its original form. To me the greatest American aircraft company ever was North American Aviation, the designers and builders of Jimmy Doolittle's B-25's, the immortal P-51 Mustang, the T-6 Texan and of course the F-86 Sabre. Many people don't realize that right after the war-1946- N.A.A., to fill a void in their production line produced one light aircraft. The same people-Dutch Kindelberger N.A.A. president and Edgar Schmued-who designed the Mustang decided to design and produce a new light plane: the NAvion(you can guess what NA stands for). They built it stronger than all other light planes because they knew no other way. They lost money on all 1100 NAvions because they were built so hell for stout and when they got busy with the F-86 they sold everything to Ryan down in San Diego. Between N.A.A. and Ryan 246 Navion's called L-17's were purchased for the Army and Air Force(out of the total 2300 Navion and Navion A's built). Two L-17 examples-47-1340 and 47-1354- also flew in the California Army National Guard and the wonderful picture above was taken by one the most famous American aviation photographers-William T. Larkins over Stockton, CA in January 1950 from the back seat of an Army Aeronca L-16 with its door off-I'll bet it was cold!. So here we go restoring one of these rare birds few know much about. They did things like flew General MacArthur in Korea, even flew Marilyn Monroe around Korea to visit the troops(lucky Army Aviator, what a memory to have),flew general officers in the CAL Guard. Now there are only about thirty real L-17's flyin g in the U.S. most in civilian colors. Many civilian owners have painted phoney markings on their civilian non-military Navion's but only a couple of actual L-17's have been accurately restored. We are going to restore this wonderful aircraft in the markings of the CAL Guard, just like the Bill Larkins photo. This blog if you are interested will be updated every few weeks. For those that don't know me, I also restored a" Loach"that served in Viet Nam, a T-6 that was in the Brazilian Air Force demonstration team and a Stinson L-5. This will be my last restoration, so I decided to include some special people-you- by putting together this blog-something I absolutely couldn't do without the help of my son Matt a freshman at Fresno State and a competitive cyclist and my tech consultant. I hope you will enjoy hearing about this project. Included in the group receiving this blog in addition to Mr. Larkins are some unique people and I would like to highlight each one of you with your permission(send me an aviation related picture by e-mail)as we go along. For now you should know that among those recieving this is the talented young man who I will highlight in the next blog who discovered and put 33C/974 back into the air (this old bird which had been sleeping in a neglected state in a SOCAL hanger for almost 25 years), two for real former L-17 pilots one of whom actually flew the picture plane in Stockton and one who flew L-17's and Bird Dogs in combat in Korea, two current military pilots (with a connection to Stockton )one of whom just came back from Iraq, and one who started out as an Army Aviator but now defends the west coast while we sleep in his F-16C, and a lifelong friend named Bob highlighed below in this initial blog. I'll keep you posted-the aircraft is now in Fresno at Chandler Field waiting the first steps in the restoration to original.You are likewise free to forward this blog to anyone else you feel may have an interest in old military aircraft. Ron Paliughi

Pictured above is Ryan L-17B 48-974, mfg. ser. no. NAV-4-1680, FAA N7733C. produced in December 1948. In the cockpit is my good friend Bob Juarez. Bob is an A&P mechanic, retired industrial engineer and commercial and instrument rated pilot . Bob lives in Fresno with his bride of 50 years Phyllis, who both own a Stinson 108-1. Bob served in the California Air National Guard as a young mechanic working on the F-86. He is a good tail-dragger pilot, and he made the successful ferry flight of 33C/974 back to Fresno from El Centro, CA three weeks ago in 974. I flew along side in the T-6D with the power pulled back-a neat seldom seen formation: a T-6 and a military L-17 flying through the California skies. Maybe Dutch was looking down. Bob will be heading up the next phase of the restoration project at Chandler Field from his recently purchased hanger. Bob is a methodical, safety oriented mechanic who will do a great job. One of the really neat things he will be doing is restoring 974's nearly original panel.