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'Wonderful little bird': Alberta man retrieves his first plane 48 years later


CREMONA, Alta. — Richard Reid never forgot his first love.

Growing up on a farm near Cremona, Alta., about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary, he was obsessed with airplanes as a kid and became a fully licensed pilot by the time he was 17.

At 19, he persuaded his mother to loan him the $2,700 required to buy a vintage 1946 Aeronca Champion (Aeronautical Corporation of America), two-seater airplane that was sitting on an airstrip with a For Sale sign on it.

"That was immediately post-war and every aircraft company was turning out planes like this by the thousands in the post-war boom," Reid said in an interview. "It spent its first 20 years in the United States and was imported to Canada in 1967." 

Reid said he never wanted a fancy sports car.

"I flew my airplane and drove around in a 1963 Chev Belair with a two-speed automatic transmission. I was perfectly happy to do that as long as I could fly — and I flew a lot."

The plane had a maximum speed of 133 km/h, a four-cylinder engine and weighed just 362 kilograms full of fuel. It had a metal-tube frame and strips of wood to which the synthetic fabric skin was fastened.

Reid sold it in 1972 for something "bigger and faster."

His son Dave Reid, also a pilot, managed to track the plane down after hearing stories and seeing pictures of it growing up.

It had sat in a barn on a farm north of North Battleford, Sask., and it's new owner hadn't flown it for over 20 years.

The younger Reid said the farmer, who was 90, agreed to sell it and a short time later, Dave and his brother dismantled it and brought it home.

"It had been kept inside so the fabric was in good condition. It hadn't been flown in a long time so it's needed quite a bit of work," he said.

His father had kept a souvenir from the original plane, a wooden propeller, which had been hanging on the family wall for the last 40 years. It's now back on the plane, which Reid said he's missed.

"I have nothing but fond memories of flying this wonderful little bird."

Reid, who's now 69, said one thing is likely to have sealed the deal for his son to purchase it back.

"What tipped the scales for him was when he had a look at the old flight log book and saw all those pages filled up by me, with my signature, when I was a crazy flying kid. He had to have it."

Reid flew a total of 350 hours in the plane, which would have amounted to about 1,000 takeoffs and landings. He and his son are working at making it airworthy again, but it needs to pass a number of tests before that can happen.

"I wouldn't be the least bit afraid to climb in and fly it again," Reid said.

"When you're in a little flivver like this, out by our beautiful mountains, you ... feel really, really small in a little airplane next to those big rocks up high."

Dave Reid said he's had the engine running already and has done work on the carburetor. Findings parts isn't too difficult and it's a simple design.

Getting it back in the air makes him a little nervous and he hasn't set a date for it to fly again.

He said he doesn't think he and his father will be flying together.

"He offered to go first, but I don't know if I'd let him."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2020


Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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