By Harold Wood, EAA 357929
EAA Chapter 993’s team was led by Indiana-resident Harold “Woody” Wood, 85, who recalled meeting the town’s favorite son as a young man back in 1959, when Stewart returned for a ceremony re-dedicating the Indiana County Airport in his name.
The monument includes a bronze plaque that commemorates the event and features an etched 1961 photo of Jimmy Stewart and his wife and children in front of the Cessna 310F. This photo served as the family’s Christmas photo that year according to his daughter Kelly Stewart Harcourt who, along with her sister Judy, shared fond memories of flying in this C-310F with their famous father.
Records show that Stewart, who passed in 1997 at age 89, owned this C-310F from 1961 to 1965 and made at least two trips to Indiana in it during those years. During his presentation, I played an audio recording of Jimmy Stewart talking to the Palm Springs airport control tower from N6775X on a landing approach, answering tower instructions with an “Okie dokie” in pure Stewart style.
Prior to its recovery and restoration by EAA Chapter 993, N6775X had been abandoned; rusting away in derelict condition at the Dallas Executive Airport (KRBD) six miles southwest of downtown Dallas, Texas. With its engines, props, and many other parts missing – having been picked apart over the years by scavengers – the prospects of this rusting, corroding eyesore of a fuselage were slim. The scrapyard was beckoning as the Dallas Executive airport wanted it to disappear.
By coincidence, a Cessna 310 pilot and enthusiast from California, Chuck Jessen, who was writing an article in February 2015 for the Twin Cessna Flyer magazine about Cessna 310s owned by Jimmy Stewart, came upon an aviation blog post mention of Stewart’s now derelict 310F model. He called the KRBD airport administration office who confirmed the information and put him in touch with the appointed custodian of the airframe, John Hurn, who operates an aircraft maintenance business there. After speaking with Hurn, Jessen called both the KIDI airport and the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana to ask if they’d be interested in having the aircraft. Indeed they were. Hurn was pleased and relieved.
Soon EAA Chapter 993 stepped forward to take on the project, forming a non-profit 501(c)(3) to raise funds. In early April 2015, we made the 1,400-mile journey – six men in two pickup trucks with trailers – down to Dallas Executive Airport to retrieve N6775X. Over a two-day period with the assistance of Hurn, his shop, and equipment, our chapter crew was able to disassemble the fuselage, build jigs to hold the bulky pieces securely in place on the trailers, and begin their journey home.
With the use of a 60 foot hangar compliments of Jimmy Stewart Airport, the EAA chapter members went to work stripping several coats of old paint off the aircraft, taking it down to the bare aluminum. With a bit of detective work and the help of a donated 1961 Cessna brochure, we were able to ascertain the original colors and paint scheme of the aircraft which allowed them to restore it to its original appearance from the era of Stewart’s ownership.
Miller Fabrication in nearby Homer City, Pennsylvania, donated the use of a heated paint booth which allowed the EAA members to paint the aircraft over a period of months ending in May 2017. Two years later, Miller Fabrication would also provide the pedestal pole material, powder-coated and ready to go.
The Twin Cessna Flyer organization of Charlotte, North Carolina, headed by Bob Thomason, donated funds, provided technical advice, and raised support among its members, which led to the donation of a set of propellers by one of its corporate members, Air Hawk.
Machine Rebuilders in Derry, Pennsylvania, owned by Chapter 993 member Tom Kitchen, donated the large bearings and constructed the bearing housing that allows the airplane to rotate. In addition, they also constructed bearings allowing the props to turn.
After several mechanical engineering firms in the area passed on the project, professional engineer Bob Kitchen of Hadley, Pennsylvania, stepped up and completed the engineered drawings to FAA and county permit specs, pro bono.
Although no detailed log was maintained, I estimate that about 6,500 hours of time were donated by our EAA crew and others involved with the project. The list of challenges they faced were long, and those who contributed were many.
Future plans include building a children’s playground, with equipment, in the area around the Stewart airplane monument on the large lawn in front of the airport administration terminal building. Funds are now being raised for this final phase.