North Carolina builders restore Stits Skycoupe

When Tom Hall, a member of our EAA chapter, called me this spring with the news that his friend wanted to donate a Stits Skycoupe project, my first reaction was “Sure!” My second reaction was “what’s a Stits Skycoupe?”

Since then, we’ve learned that the SA-7D Skycoupe was one of 15 designs from Ray Stits, an early icon of the homebuilding movement, co-founder of EAA Chapter One at Flabob Airport in Riverside, Calif., and inventor of the Stits fabric covering method we all know today as PolyFiber.

EAA1114 members retrieved Skycoupe in late May 2011

EAA1114 members retrieved the Skycoupe in late May 2011

We were surprised to learn that not only was it one of the most common homebuilts in the early 1960s — probably since it could be built for around $3,000 back then — but that the design proved so popular that Ray and his business partners took it through certification. The Type Certificate for the Stits Model SA-9A Skycoupe was granted by the FAA in December 1961 after four years of exhaustive testing.

Our SA-7D Skycoupe, very similar in appearance to a Piper Colt, is of typical construction for aircraft of the late 1950s — welded chromoly steel tube fuselage, wooden wing, fabric covering, powered by a 125-hp Lycoming O-290-D converted from a military ground power unit.

Retrieval of the project, which had seen only two careful builders since the early 1960s, coincided with our annual chapter picnic in May, where our many builders were able to have a closer look at what we had discovered in the back of a forgotten hangar south of Raleigh. When our chapter’s two technical counselors, Jack Phillips (whose award-winning dark green Pietenpol was parked at the Brown Arch at this year’s AirVenture) and Terry Phillips, gave the aircraft a thumb’s up, we formed the Bear Creek Aero Club as a separate entity that owns and will operate the aircraft once it’s flying.

The Skycoupe back on its freshly rebuilt legs It is the goal of the Bear Creek Aero Club to rescue projects such as this Skycoupe from the scrap heap, provide area builders with an excellent means to gain skills, then offer flying opportunities at rock-bottom prices. We’ll do our best to keep the Skycoupe and future projects LSA-compliant and power them with low-cost, lead-free, ethanol-free autogas.

Terry Gardner has generously loaned us his well-equipped hangar at the Eagle’s Landing residential airpark near Pittsboro, N.C., which has one very important feature — a large air-conditioned loft where we’re nearing completion of the wooden wings in comfort despite the sultry summer weather typical of the Carolinas.

Joel McLaughlin, Andy Thomson and Terry Gardner prep the wings for varnishing

Joel McLaughlin Andy Thomson and Terry Gardner prep the wings for varnishing

The ‘Coupe’s tailfeathers are ready for covering, and we’re preparing the nicely pickled Lycoming for its first run, then the fuselage will be prepped for covering. We expect to be in the air before the end of the year.

The FAA’s Greensboro, N.C., FSDO has been very helpful so far, and we are receiving support from PolyFiber of Riverside, Calif., and from Marvel-Schebler Aircraft Carburetors of Gibsonville, N.C.

Even better, Ray Stits, still an active pilot and frequent visitor to Flabob, is following our progress and providing important advice.

Follow the club’s progress at EAA1114.Blogspot.com.

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