RONNIE RIPPON’S HOWARD DGA-15P
Back in 1952, Ronnie Rippon was using a Howard to haul live turkeys. Just a few years out of the Navy, and using his GI Bill benefits to learn how to fly in a J-3 Cub, Rippon was one of many post-WWII pilots who sought just about any means to earn a living in an airplane. To the 24-year-old, the newly purchased Howard was just a tool; the first in a succession of flying tools. What he didn’t know was that he would go on to own a Howard for nearly all of his adult life, and would eventually become an award-winning restorer of several of Benny Howard’s airplanes.
The first few years were hardly an auspicious start for Rippon’s aviation career, so he headed to Illinois for a steady paycheck as a corporate pilot flying a Twin Beech. That was the beginning of nearly three decades of business flying in the left seat of a Twin Bonanza, a King Air and finally a Lear jet, before his retirement in 2000.
Even while flying successively more sophisticated airplanes, with someone else footing the bills, Rippon kept returning to the stately round-engine singles designed by Benny Howard and Gordon Israel. In 1962, he bought his second Howard, and from that time on, he would never be without one. He recalls its condition when he discovered it in California, “When I got it, it was flyable, but it had been in storage for 25 years out in Santa Paula, Calif. The wings were off, and the gear was off, and the propeller was on a dolly. I went out there with five guys and put it together, and I ferried it home. It used a gallon of oil an hour on the way home; but it ran smooth.”
Looking for his dream Howard, Rippon decided he would need to start almost from scratch. “I picked up three more Howards in pieces,” he explains. That was the beginning of a 15-year project that culminated with the finished Howard DGA-15P NC1227 in 1999.
During the decade and a half he spent restoring NC1227, Rippon continued to work as a full-time corporate pilot, spending most of his time off on the project. He owned a Cessna 140 and a Stinson 108, both of which kept him up to speed on old tailwheel aircraft until the Howard was ready. He was so fond of the Howard paint scheme that he painted both the Cessna and the Stinson to match. After completing the restoration in 1999, he flew the Howard to Oshkosh, Wisc., where it won Grand Champion Custom Classic honors, the same award his previous Howard restoration won 20 years earlier.
Though he now owns a Bonanza, the big Howard is the machine in which Rippon and his wife Ellen love to travel. And he’s quick to point out that without Ellen’s patience and support, he’d have never attempted the restoration that has resulted in an airplane he considers so comfortable that he compares it to a flying armchair—a fast flying armchair.
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