Like a Champ

By Ricky M. Grimshaw, EAA 688378

I am the father of Nicholas Grimshaw, who was featured in your story published in the June 2018 issue of EAA Sport Aviation (“A Hard-Won Victory,” What Our Members are Building/Restoring).

I am overwhelmed by the acknowledgement given to our project, but what I am writing about is the unsung hero in this story, my good friend and partner in this aircraft Mark Keema.

Mark and I have known each other since junior high school. When we met, we shared a love for farming, machinery, firearms, and aviation, but especially aviation. When we were in our senior year of high school in Elk Grove, California, we went to Sacramento City College to tour the aeronautics program, and it was right then and there that we knew what we wanted to do.

After we graduated from high school in the spring of 1974, Mark and I signed up for a two-year stint to earn our A&P. In the fourth semester, Sac City moved the students out to the Sacramento Executive airport where the college had about five Cessna 150s, a Piper Apache, and about six flyable Aeronca Champs.

While Mark and I were there, a private owner’s Champ came in painted in silver with blue trim. It was love at first sight with that airplane for us. We started dreaming and scheming on how we could get one of our own and paint it just like that. After we graduated with our new A&Ps in hand, we started to watch the want ads. A couple of hopefuls came up for sale, including an Aeronca Champ 7AC project in Sacramento. We bought the Champ and brought it home, where it sat covered in plastic sheeting for years.

At this point life got in the way. With no money and no extra time to work on the plane, it was put on the back burner. Then in the early 1990s Mark went to work part time for Air Repair in Clarksburg, California. At that time, it was owned by Lauren “Smitty” Schmitt. Mark found some Aeronca 7AC oleos and other parts laying around and asked Smitty what he wanted for them. Smitty said, “You want them, take them. I need to get rid of some of this old stuff anyway.” So Mark, with Smitty’s help, rebuilt the old oleos from our Champ.

That was the spark for us — the day he called me to tell me what he had done. He said, “You know we can do this! We can get the Champ going again.” By that time my financial situation was looking much better and I said, “Let’s do it!” Mark and I took inventory of what we had and what we would need, and there was a lot.

We took it one step at a time. If you look at it as a whole project you will shove it away again due to the epic size of it all, but if you just take one part at a time and don’t get in a hurry you can do it. We recovered the fuselage and repaired and covered the wings and had all to silver when in the first part of 2000 I had a family crisis that took me away. Mark didn’t want to work on the project alone so again it sat. Then in 2014 my son, Nicholas, really became interested in learning how to fly.

After I earned my private, I would take Nick on flights around the countryside in my Quicksilver MX II and in rented Cessnas. When he showed interest in getting the Champ finished, I called Mark, and we said, “Let’s do it! Let’s finish it!” Then began what we like to call “Sanity Sundays.” While others might find comfort in church or watching ball games, Mark and I spent every Sunday working on the Champ.

Mark is one of those people who is a perfectionist and a problem solver. He is somebody who takes the old wheel, looks it over, studies its imperfections and invents a new wheel, so to speak. He took a wrinkled, dented, torn aluminum nose bowl for the Champ and repaired it to the point that if you didn’t turn it over you would have never known there were any repairs done on it. He recovered the rudder three times before he was satisfied with it. He tried to scrap the door because it was in such bad shape, but I kept encouraging him to take a stab at it. Finally one Sunday he picked it up and started working with it, looking it over like a sculptor would a block of granite and then said, “I think I have an idea.” A month of Sundays later it was done.

Coming into July of 2016, it was all coming together, and we moved the Champ to a borrowed hangar at Franklin Field and assembled it. Another unsung hero came into play here in the form of one Mike Pavao, EAA 277905. Mike had bought Air Repair from Smitty and had flown many planes in his time. He had owned a few 7ACs and he graciously accepted our offer to be the first to fly our project.  So in July 2016, after a few taxi and brake checks, away it went into the sky. Wow, it flies! Mark always knew it would; I was a little more hesitant and fearful for Mike’s wellbeing, but it did great for a first flight. It handled fine and with just a few adjustments to cable tension needed, it was good to go!

Now Nick has received his tailwheel endorsement in it, both Mark and his daughter, Alice, and his wife, Kathy, are taking flying lessons in it, and I am a bit hit-and-miss in it because of a lost medical issue. But this is the story behind the story. Names being named are a big deal for me and Mark’s name should have been in there, because if it were not for him the Champ would still be in a barn in Franklin, California, being used as a bullseye for some pigeons.

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