From basket case to award winner: Charlie Brown’s Fairchild

There is something eminently satisfying about pouring time and energy into an aircraft restoration project then having that plane bring home an award from the first fly-in you take it to.

Charlie Brown from Sand Point, Idaho, knows that feeling very well as his 1946 Fairchild 24 took home second place in the 1945-1955 Classic category at the Northwest EAA Fly-in at Arlington, Wash., this summer.

When we caught up with Brown he was relaxing in the shade provided by the ample wing of the hunter green aircraft. According to Brown, the Fairchild is the latest in a long line of aircraft projects, but was the first full restoration he’s done in the more than 30 years he’s been involved in aviation.

“I bought it as a basket case project in September of 1999,” he recalled. “I finished it in September of 2005.”

The Fairchild is not one of the more common vintage machines on the market, Brown noted, but there is something about the aircraft that drew him.

“I have always admired the lines of a Fairchild,” he explained, casting an appreciative look at the airframe. “To me they are a nice looking plane with an interesting history.”

One of the things Brown was surprised to learn was how many owners the airplane had over the years.

“The paperwork I have indicates about 30-some owners, but some of them were only owners for a month or two. Sometimes the airplane was owned by a company, then it was taken out of the company and converted to private ownership and back and forth but most of its life was on the West Coast. It was in California, Oregon and Washington and then I found it in an ad in General Aviation News in the fall of 1999 in Salt Lake City. I pursued it and ended up buying it in September and hauled it home.”

According to Brown, with the exception of shoulder harnesses and modern radios, his aircraft looks as it did when it rolled out of the factory, right down to the Pegasus carved on the stick and on the rudder pedals.

Brown noted that the covering materials, as well as lots of nuts and bolts, came from Spencer Aircraft at Pierce County Airport/Thunn Field in Puyallup, Wash.

“The interior was done by a fellow who was a fifth generation upholsterer,” he said. “He had done lots of antique cars.”

Although the man had never done an airplane, he assured Brown that the techniques used on cars applied and they went to work.

“We did the headliner first,” Brown recalled. “We had nothing to go by — I mean no pattern. We just had pictures. Then we covered the airplane, then he did the rest of the interior and the seats and everything. I think it is one of the nicest upholstery jobs of an airplane that I have ever seen. I’m pretty proud of the upholstery job in this thing.”

He’s also proud of the paint job. What sets it apart from most other aircraft on the field, he notes, is what it doesn’t have.

“Look around, what do you see on virtually airplane here?” he asked, makings a sweeping gesture to the rows of airplanes. “You see stripes and I hate stripes!”

Brown opted instead to go with solid green with the Fairchild logo, a gold Pegasus, on the side.

The trip to the Arlington show was the farthest jaunt Brown had made in the Fairchild.

“This is strictly a VFR airplane,” he explained, “and the weather was too poor over the winter to really go very far.”

The longer trips are a pleasure, he adds, because the aircraft is so stable.

“It is a hands-off airplane,” he said. “I flew over here from Sand Point in three hours and my feet were flat on the floor. I nudged the stick once in a while with my knee and a little bit of trim here and there. Once you get it off the runway it is hands off – but on the runway it is a full-hands airplane. You don’t stop flying it until you come to a complete stop.”

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