My hangar landlord has a passion. Not for women, money or fame, but I’d deduce his passion is just as ardent and just as satisfying as any of the aforementioned obsessions. Lloyd Thompson has a grand passion for Aeronca Champions, but not just any Champ. His favorite are the military versions, the L-16A and the L-16B.
Built in 1948, Lloyd’s L-16B has found new life in 2010. His newly restored military model was delivered to the Army Ground Forces on March 9, 1948. Three years of N2558B’s service in the military remain undocumented, but it is known that she was assigned to the 3585th Pilot Training Wing at Gray AFB in Texas in February 1952 and then deployed to the 2589th Air Reserve Training Center in 1953.
Possessing a notebook of documentation and other interesting background information, Lloyd knows the airplane was transferred to the Georgia Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, first to Athens and later to Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta. The airplane was at Dobbins until it was finally decommissioned and sold to civilian Bob Meadows in 1973 for $878. From that time until 1991, when Lloyd purchased the airplane as a project, there were only two other owners. He practically bought the airplane sight unseen for $3,000.
Today, for him, it is priceless.
This fondness for the military versions stems from their rarity. About 600 “A” models were made and only about 100 L-16Bs were made.
Basically a Champ in military colors, the L-16B has few differences. The “B” model boasts the added horsepower of a C-90 Continental engine, hydraulic brakes and the addition of observation windows. Lloyd finds that the basic Champ and the L-16B fly similarly. The airplane may be a little more stable and with more horsepower carry a little more oomph.
During his quest for information, he was fortunate to find a photograph of this very airplane in an old National Aeronca Association magazine. The photo depicted the airplane sitting on the ramp of some Army airbase painted in its original military colors and markings.
Serial number 457 is not his first military Aeronca project, but he claims it will be his last. Lloyd has owned and/or restored three L-16A models, as well as another L-16B, which he sold to a friend.
His current “A” model, which was built in 1947, has a C-85 Continental that came from the factory with fuel injection. That was changed later to a carburetor after parts and support became scarce. This project was purchased locally in the late 1980s and took about a year to restore with the help of family and friends. His wife, Faye, and his son, Nickey, were instrumental in the project’s completion, and the airplane is a reminder of his family’s devotion and closeness, especially since both of these members have since passed away.
A passion of such fervor has to start somewhere, and this man’s started as a child. As a kid, his face was always turned skyward, but his dream didn’t materialize until he was married and well into adulthood. In the 1970s he purchased a 7AC and hired a local flight instructor to teach him to fly it.
From the first he was drawn to the high-wing tandem taildragger for its good visibility. “I like to be able to watch the countryside,” he says.
His restoration skills were honed through years of ownership and were a natural evolution after years of working on military aircraft at Lockheed Martin in Marietta.
Most vintage airplanes at the time were neglected, not considered worthy of the time and money to restore. Some were restored and most were maintained incorrectly. Lloyd recalls, “I saw so many dogs that I decided to go through them before flying them. I found lots of things wrong with them.”
Such an obvious Champ fan attends the National Aeronca Association Convention held in Middletown, Ohio, the home of the Aeronca Champion, every other June. His seven restorations have won awards, praise and admiration under his name or the name of the current owners. His L-16A has taken home two first place awards from the convention in Middletown, as well as from Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Florida. His 1963 7HC project restoration (another rarity) also won “Best Restored Champion Built Flying to the Convention.” This year he hopes to fly both the L-16A and the L-16B to the fly-in.
For years, Lloyd bought any wrecked Champ he could get his hands on and scoured flea markets and parts marts for good used and “rebuildable” parts. This focused diligence paid off on a calm evening in April when he test flew his L-16B, newly restored as close to original as he could make it. Engine and airplane performed as expected with few squawks.
The local airport gang here at JZP didn’t have to ask if he was pleased with the result. His smile communicated that well enough.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.