North American’s final triumph for general aviation
He took it to Classic Aero in Nebraska for a total rebuild. At the outset, Buchanan decided that only new parts would go into his airplane. What began as a stream of parts finding their way to Classic Aero became a flood as Buchanan got serious: a factory-new IO-550B for 300 new horses ready to go, a new three-blade McCauley propeller, a complete Garmin avionics stack and a 430 GPS navigator, Osborne tip tanks, STEC 60-2 autopilot, Cleveland wheels and brakes, fuel flow and engine monitors and numerous airframe modifications. Everything that wasn’t sheet metal was new and sparkling.
In the three years during the Navion’s restoration, Buchanan triumphed over his bout with cancer. He has a zest for life and flying that won’t quit. He made the test flight after 20 months at Classic Aero and then promptly flew it back East for avionics, interior and paint. His aim was simple.
Buchanan explains, “I wanted a distinctive paint scheme. It’s not actually an authentic L-17, but I like it. The interior is all leather and I did all the custom trim work inside. As for the paint, well, we ended up with two clear coats, I wet-sanded it and then sprayed three more coats of clear. Finally, I polished it twice. I guess you could say I didn’t leave anything to chance. I wanted a brand-new 1947 Navion!”
In order to build time in the Navion, Buchanan searched for another one to fly while his baby was being restored. “Basically, I bought another Navion over the phone. I called my wife and said, ‘I found an airplane.’ The only thing she said was, ‘How much do I need to send?’ I flew it until I finished my project and sold it to a friend. I’ve been flying my Navion almost every day for three years now!”
Buchanan has restoration in his blood. He has been involved in the P-38 Glacier Girl project since the beginning. After 12 years, they successfully restored the fighter, which had been frozen in the ice of Greenland since World War II. “We’re trying to convince the owner to complete Glacier Girl’s mission, to fly the P-38 to Europe. The chase plane would be a King Air, but if it happens, I would fly ahead of the P-38 in my L-17. We would try to go to the Paris Air Show or Farnborough show. I can’t describe how much fun I’ve had on the project.”