Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Saddling Up A Colt
A novice rebuilds a Piper classic
Jim Miller first learned to fly in the Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and earned his license in 1970. Today, a retired Navy dentist and part-time pharmacist with no formal training in aircraft repair, he has completely refurbished his 1962 Piper Colt PA-22-108 with modifications from sight fuel gauges in the wing roots to sheet-metal fasteners in the aircraft belly.
"The changes he put together make more sense than what Piper had in the '60s," said Richard Blazer, a noted A&P, and proprietor of Ragwing Aircraft in Tullahoma, Tenn. "He's just got some natural talent."
"It's impressive," said Gilbert Pierce, a board member of the Tennessee chapter of the Short Wing Piper Club (www.shortwing.org), speaking about the innovative modifications that make Miller's Colt easier to maintain, and more comfortable to fly than stock versions. "He adapted quite well to modifying airplanes."
And with the eye-catching military livery of his airplane, Miller demonstrates a bold aesthetic flair to go with his gumption.
"I'm not afraid to tackle projects," the soft-spoken Miller said, as he told the story of the acclaimed Colt at Tullahoma Regional Airport (KTHA). "I was always into that kind of thing, like working with old cars as a kid."
"I was from a small, poor town in Kentucky. Flying was just something people there didn't really do, unless they were born into family with ties in general aviation," Miller said. "I remember standing outside the airport, looking through the chain-link fence. That was my whole exposure to general aviation."
Miller learned to fly in the Air Force as an enlisted man. Stationed at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, he borrowed money from the credit union for lessons at the base flying club. "A Cessna 150 was six dollars an hour, wet. The instructor was five dollars," he recalled.
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Labels: Classic Airplanes, Features, Modifications, People and Places, Aviation Personalities, Aircraft, Adventure Aircraft, Aircraft Ownership