An oh-so-rare CallAir

It’s hard to say what first attracts you to Pepe Anderas’s CallAir A-1.

Is it the bright, international orange paint scheme? The design of the cowboy on a bronco on the tail? The fact that it looks like a cross between a Piper-esque crop duster and a Bellanca?

Perhaps it was all of the above that made it such an attention-getter in the vintage parking area at this summer’s AirVenture. People gathered around it, carefully studying the informational placard, commenting on how they had never seen an aircraft like it before.

CallAir 3“I haven’t owned it very long,” said the Green Bay, Wis., resident, adding, “this is the first time I’ve had it at Oshkosh.”

There are other CallAirs around, he said, but most were crop dusters. The passenger variants didn’t last too long on the production line.

“This is serial number five,” he said. “It was designed in 1939 by Reuel Call, an oilman and rancher living in Afton, Wyo. He wanted something that could be used for overseeing ranches and the like. It was designed to be sturdy since he realized that most people were going to be taking off and landing from rough fields.”

The CallAir is a low-wing taildragger, but the placement of the wing is higher above the ground than many of its contemporaries, such as the Ercoupe. The height of the CallAir from the ground to the top of the cabin is a little over 7 feet. This places the wing about 3 feet off the ground, which can make it a challenge to climb into. You can grab hold of the handle on the fuselage and give yourself a big push off with your back foot — or you can do what Anderas does and place a step stool beneath the wing to give yourself an extra boost.

The cockpit is approximately 43 inches wide, which makes the side-by-side seating arrangement reasonably comfortable for most people. The on-top-of-the-wing struts reminded me of ag airplanes, so I asked if it was an ag plane converted to passenger use.

“It was the other way around,” Anderas said with a smile. “It evolved into an ag airplane.”

The CallAir didn’t have a chance to establish a foothold in the market as a passenger airplane because of timing. Just as Call Aircraft Co. was ready to begin mass production of the new plane, World War II began. Production was shelved as the factory became a repair facility during the war. After the war, Call found the market flooded with passenger aircraft, so the airplane was refined for use as an agricultural airplane.

“They built about 35 of the passenger variants before they converted it to an ag airplane,” said Anderas. “To do that they took out the turtle deck and put in a hopper.”

The powerplant was adjusted as well, he noted.

“The first versions had 80-hp engines,” he said. “That was too little for its intended purpose, so the next version had 100 hp, then it went to 125 and so on. It eventually reached 400 hp.”

Most of the A-1 models sport 100-hp Lycoming O-235-A engines, he said, adding that during all the engine changes, the airframe basically stayed the same. Anderas’s plane, which came out of the factory in 1945, sports a 100-hp Lycoming O-235-B engine.

The CallAir is the latest acquisition for Anderas, who ticked off the other airplanes he has built and owns, including an RV-4, a amphibious Murphy Rebel, and an award-winning 80% scale Tiger Moth. He had his eye on the CallAir for more than two years before he bought it.

“It was just sitting in Phoenix,” he said. “It had been on the ground for about eight years. The prop was off and it was not airworthy, but I was so attracted to the lines of it that I wanted it.”

He made two offers for the plane over two years. “The first one was rejected, probably because it was too low, but I didn’t want to pay too much because I wasn’t sure if I was buying a pile of junk,” he said. “I had seen the airplane only once, along with some pictures of it in the hangar. Then the next year I heard it was for sale and made an offer and that one was accepted, so a buddy and I drove from my home in Green Bay to Arizona with an 18-foot trailer to pick up the airplane.”

Anderas said he had studied the plane and devised a plan to dismantle it and pack it for transport, but memory can be a deceiving thing. When he laid eyes on the CallAir again, he almost panicked.

“I forgot how big it actually is,” he said with a laugh. “And I found out the wheels are partially attached to the wings, which made taking it apart for transport a bit of a challenge. We started taking it apart at 8 in the morning and by 4 p.m. it was loaded on the trailer.”

You can’t drive across the country with a vintage airplane on a trailer without attracting some attention, said Anderas, showing off a photo taken by a stranger that appeared on the Internet of the trailer on the highway. “Every time I looked in the rearview mirror, someone was there,” he recalled. “We got followed by a few airplanes. Once, when we made a U-turn, a cop followed us. I thought, ‘oh boy, here we go,’ but he just wanted to know what kind of airplane it is.”

Once the plane was back in Wisconsin, the real work began. Anderas was pleasantly surprised at the plane’s condition.

“The wings and fuselage were in tip-top shape,” he said. “The inside of the wings are pristine, beautifully varnished wood. The fuselage is welded steel tubing with wood formers that give it the distinctive shape. The tail is all steel. The best surprise was the engine. There were four different types of spark plugs in it. I put in some oil and the prop turned smooth like butter. I put in some gas and on the second prop blade the engine started, after eight years of silence.”

Because the airplane is so rare, spare parts are hard to come by. He plans on buying a CallAir 4 that’s already in parts, but notes the parts also can be hand made. “After all, they were made by hand in the factory,” he said.

The airplane flies as pretty as it looks, he continued. “On takeoff the tail comes up quickly. It doesn’t really have any bad habits. Even in a stall there is no wing drop. It just sort of mushes.”

The cockpit isn’t exactly ergonomic, he noted, because there are some things you have to reach for. “The trim lever is located above the pilot’s seat,” he said.

The panel is still authentic and Anderas has no plans to load it with modern avionics.

“I am not even going to put a GPS in there,” he said with a shake of his head. “This is strictly a fun, ‘go out and kill mosquitos with it’ airplane!”

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