Plane & Pilot
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.
It's not the biggest, strongest or fastest stallion in the paddock. But the spirited two-place Piper Colt PA-22-108 serves as a perfect mount for pilots seeking a trusty, uncomplicated steed over a high-strung, pricey thoroughbred. And you won't find a sweeter Colt than Jim Miller's. With no formal training in aircraft repair or modification, Miller, a retired Navy dentist and part-time pharmacist in Normandy, Tenn., completely refurbished N54592, his 1962 PA-22-108. And the makeover incorporates a number of Miller's own modifications—alterations some experts consider solid improvements to the original Colt—from the sight fuel gauges in the wing roots to the sheet-metal fasteners in the Colt's 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 (, 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."

But working with an old airplane—let alone owning one—was something Miller never considered as a youngster, despite his interest in aviation.

"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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