Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Luscombe Phantom II: A Modern Time Machine


With its radial engine and timeless design, Luscombe introduces an LSA with attitude


luscombe
The majestic radial engine adorning the Phantom II’s nose is easily its most prominent feature. The smooth aluminum cowling and unmistakable seven cylinders demonstrate that this isn’t your everyday LSA.
That is, until the flashing little e-mail icon beckoned me to a place where the ghosts of airframes past have led a path to the present. I was to meet John Dearden, president of the “new” Luscombe-Silvaire Aircraft Company (www.luscombe-silvaire.com), at historic Flabob Airport in Riverside, Calif. Dearden and his small team of dedicated artisans are building new Luscombe aircraft using the original designs. Though the type certificate has been plagued by legal issues, Dearden and his group are currently offering handcrafted originals from their small facility.

Flabob is one of America’s oldest airfields (1925) and it’s an appropriate place to be re-creating the classy and timeless Luscombes. The airport—whose name comes from a contraction of the two first names of Flavio Madariaga and Bob Bogen, who purchased the airfield in 1945—is itself like stepping back in time.

Inside round-roofed wooden hangars, you can catch glimpses of Globe Swifts, Stinsons, Zlins and biplanes of every feather. Desert palms poke up into the always-blue sky as dry winds help preserve airframes that reach back seven decades. In the northeast corner of the field stands a hangar where I catch the glint of something very special.

luscombeDearden’s team has rolled out the Phantom II onto the ramp. The airplane’s highly polished aluminum skin refracts the late-afternoon sun exactly like a solar mirror. I put my hand up to my forehead just so I can look at it. Though I don’t see pillars of light or hear angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the effect is the same: I’m staring at a heavenly ghost. Like a hazy mirage, the Phantom II comes into full view, and I have to catch my breath.

Dearden assures me that this is no ghost. In fact, the Phantom II is brand-new. I can smell the fresh leather through the open cockpit door as I shake my head. By now, several members of his team have come out to offer information about the craft. I suspect they’re also keeping me from getting fingerprints on the fuselage. I know this because the airplane’s handlers wear white cotton gloves. I can only imagine the time spent polishing this bird.



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