Christmas comes early for college


Christmas came a little early to Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Washington, with the arrival of a 1957 Tri-Pacer during the first week of December. The vintage airplane, painted bright red, was donated to the school by Dennis Urfer of Port Angeles, Wash., who had owned it since the 1970s.

“I learned to fly in 1963 at Oregon State in a Piper Colt, which is a two-place airplane,” he recalled. “When I went looking for an airplane I wanted something that I could take more than one passenger in. I was married by then and we had a kid and another one on the way, so we needed a four-place airplane.” The four-place, high-wing tricycle gear Tri-pacer fit the bill, he said.

Urfer said he decided to donate the airplane to the school out of a sense of loyalty. He can’t keep the airplane any longer, and he wanted it to go to the school because of its aviation programs. “I want someone to learn something from this airplane,” he said.

This is the second time the airplane has been in the school’s possession. The first time was in 1976 when the then-21-year-old airplane was brought to the college as a project airplane for maintenance students. At the time, the airplane, which was badly in need of recovering, was pink and white. “It was the original covering and, back in the 1950s, there was a lot of pink and white,” said Urfer, who let the school have the Tri-Pacer for a little over a year as a project airplane.

“It was recovered by our students,” said Mike Potter, chief instructor of the airframe and powerplant program as he showed off a scrapbook with photos of students carefully applying cotton fabric and dope. “Back then we taught tube and fabric work. These days we do more work with composites.”

Tripacer2The engine is the stock Lycoming O-320. The panel is pretty much original, with the exception of the radio. “I kept upgrading the radio. I would get ones other people were going to throw out,” said Urfer. “When I first got it it had an airline quality radio under the back seat. I also added the G-meter in the airplane because it rides like a buckboard and I was curious as to how many Gs it pulled. That meter came out of a fighter plane.”

Urfer plans to keep tabs on his former airplane. He predicts the maintenance students will be impressed by the workmanship and materials used in the construction of the airplane, while the school’s student pilots, who currently fly a fleet of Cessna aircraft, might get more of an education when it comes to learning the quirks of the airplane.

“The Piper Tri-Pacer will surprise you,” Urfer laughed. “You have to know when to rotate because, if you don’t, you will just drive off the runway at 85 miles an hour.”

When the aircraft was flown into the college’s campus at Pierce County Airport (PLU) in Puyallup, students and instructors gathered around it in awe. Most did not believe they were looking at a vintage airplane.

“It’s obviously been meticulously cared for,” remarked Chief Instructor Bill Coyner. “We’re looking forward to adding it to our fleet and giving the students the opportunity to fly it.”

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