By Steve Zoerlein, EAA 1011500
About 25 years ago, one
of my best friends, Ron France, EAA 1127878, was restoring his third UPF-7. He
and his dad have been in the Waco community for more than 40 years, and it was
an honor to help during the final assembly stages. Through Ron, I acquired my
Waco project, NC32091, from famed UPF-7 restorer John Shue. The aircraft had
been in its third major accident in 55 years in a field in Pennsylvania during
the spring of 1996.
John wanted to restore it
and keep it for himself, but business and life got in the way. The project was
stored until I acquired it in 2013. After taking inventory, I began production
of the center section and upper wings, followed by the lower wings, which were
finished in the spring of 2015. The entire restoration, with the exception of
the engine, was done completely at my house. Having a complete woodshop and all
the woodworking tools are a must for a restoration of this era aircraft.
In February 2015, I
scheduled the rebuild of my Jacobs R-755-B2 engine with Radial Engines of
Guthrie, Oklahoma. Out of all of the things I learned during the restoration,
the week I spent with its mechanics participating in the reassembly was the
most rewarding. We began assembling the engine on a Monday morning. On Friday
morning of that same week, it started on its first try and ran for five hours
on a test stand.
Shortly after getting the
project to my home, I ordered all of my sheet metal from the engine cowl back,
to include the firewall, cockpit coamings, baggage door, and a few pieces for
the tail. I cannot overstate the importance of doing this early. The turnaround
time on most of those pieces is months, not weeks, and you need someone
familiar with Waco aircraft and drawings. I chose David Wenglarz of San Pierre,
Indiana. Everything I ordered from him was spot-on correct.
After wrapping up the
wings, it was straight into the fuselage. I ordered new cables and collected or
manufactured cable guides and began the task of fitting and rigging the flight
controls. The instrument panel, electrical, and pitot-static system started to
take shape here also. The formers and stringers were attached to the fuselage
frame, and finally I had something that looked like it was part of an airplane.
I spent the next few
months cutting and fitting the cockpit coamings, front door, windshields,
baggage door, inspection accesses, and a step into the rear cockpit. Once
satisfied, the fuselage was moved up to my garage for covering and painting.
I’m fortunate to have a garage large enough to fit a 20-foot spray booth. Eight
months later, I had the fuselage painted and up on the landing gear. From May
2016 until the first week of June 2017, I finished painting various metal
pieces from the firewall forward, hung the engine, rigged the controls,
attached the center section, installed the fuel tanks and fuel lines, and
finished painting a stripe down the side of the fuselage. During that first
week of June 2017, family and a few friends helped move the project to its new
home at Poplar Grove Airport (C77) in Illinois.
For the next three
months, I spent every day off at the hangar, bringing all the pieces together
to form a restored 1941 UPF-7. After a few scary high-speed taxies with Ron, we
discovered that it didn’t track straight at high speeds. Once we remedied a
couple of issues with the rigging, we settled on September 7, 2017, for the
first flight. I had recently spent three days in Florida with my good friend
Evan Dumas getting some stick time in a UPF-7. With his blessing, I returned to
Illinois to prepare for my first flight.
The first flight was a
bit nerve-wracking, but once in the air I began to relax, and it finally
started to sink in what I had accomplished and what others before me have
accomplished in a restoration such as mine. With the exception of the rudder
trim tab needing some adjustments, the airplane flew hands-off in straight and
level flight. Toward the end of the flight, just before the first landing, my
eldest daughter hopped in a chase plane with a camera to document the first
flight from the air. I have no regrets and would do it again, but I still love
being married to Patti, my wife of 35 years.
Share your craftsmanship with EAA Sport Aviation readers worldwide! Send us a photo and description of your project and we’ll consider using it in the What Our Members Are Building/Restoring section of the magazine. Please include your name, address, and EAA number.