“A classic from the day it rolled off the assembly line.”
That’s how owners of Cessna 190s and 195s describe their machines. The cantilevered, high-wing, round-cowled airplanes were among the first to be mass-produced as America shifted back to a peacetime economy after World War II, yet because they evolved from the 1930s AirMaster, the 190s have an art deco look to them.
When you walk down row after row of 190s at an event like AirVenture, you may get the impression that thousands of them were built. Not quite.
According to Jayne’s Encyclopedia of Aviation, approximately 1,100 Cessna 190 series were built between 1947 and 1954. Known as the Businessliner, they could seat up to five people and were touted in colorful magazine advertisements as the way the sophisticated salesman or contractor covered his territory.
Uncle Sam had an interest in the line as well. Between 1949 and 1952, approximately 83 LC-126s, the military version of the 195As, were produced. The Air Force found them very versatile, especially for use in Arctic rescue operations.
An LC-126 sporting the colors of the 10th Arctic Rescue Squadron out of Elmendorf Airbase in Alaska got lots of admiring looks as it sat parked in the camping area of EAA AirVenture. The airplane belongs to Barron Aviation in Perry, Mo., a company that specializes in repairs, refinements and restorations of the Cessna 190 line.
The company owned the airplane about two years before officials decided to restore it, according to John Barron, vice president of the family-owned business.
“It was our get-around airplane because it has a large baggage area,” he said. “We use it to haul parts like propellers and such.”
According to Barron, he and his son Mike, who is president and owner of the business, toyed with the idea of giving the airplane the same treatment that had turned so many of their customers’ planes into show pieces.
A major challenge was finding the time to do the work.
“The shop can get pretty busy,” the senior Barron noted, “but fortunately we have several skilled craftsmen in the area whom we can call on when we need help.”
After making the time they had to pick a restoration theme. The Barron men opted to go with the colors of the 10th Rescue Squadron for both aesthetics and as tribute to the outfit.
“They have lots of heroic stories and they had the most attractive paint scheme in our opinion,” Barron explained, quickly adding that this particular airplane never flew in Alaska as part of the rescue unit, “but it is very similar to those that did.”
The military scheme continues on the inside, starting with the metal seat frames with canvas stretched over them and held in place with large snaps.
“You could unsnap the canvas and on later models they would unsnap the entire bottom cushion and remove it so they could sit on their parachute packs,” he said. “Some of the military airplanes also had side doors you could jettison, unlike regular C-195s.”
RESTORING A CLASSIC
Of the non-military restorations the company does, aircraft with highly polished aluminum and maroon detail are the most popular.
“We’ve done quite a number of those,” said Barron. “They can be beautiful, but because they are 60 years old and have been painted so many times it can take a lot of time to get one to polish!”
The age of the aircraft also makes it difficult when a client is asking for a “100% authentic” restoration.
“That can be difficult because so much has changed over the years,” he said. “For example, they had radios in 1948 that today would not even make good boat anchors — and you couldn’t use them legally today. Then the previous owner probably modified the panel to make room for a new radio. Also the fabrics and materials used in 1948 that were attractive and popular at the time aren’t around today.”
Still, Barron Aviation tries to meet each customer’s wishes when it comes to restoring an aircraft.
“We can put the aircraft back to about 99% of what it was from the factory and it will be correct in color and panel detail, but it will be a VFR only airplane, because modern avionics would destroy the authenticity of it,” he said.
For the owner who wants to improve comfort and safety — and expand the mission of the aircraft — Barron Aviation has refinements such as the installation of a specialized panel or interiors using leather or fabrics made of manmade substances that Cessna couldn’t have imagined way back when.
Cosmetically, a little can go a long way toward improving an aircraft, notes Barron.
“You can install certain kickplates and window sills and decals and take the inside of an unattractive airplane and make it look beautiful,” he adds. “You fall in love with each one of them that comes into the shop and then you have to let it go, but sure enough here comes another airplane and you fall in love with that one too.”