When you ask the owner of a vintage aircraft why he or she picked that particular model, you’ll likely hear about a family connection.
For Don Baggett of Okeechobee, Fla., it was that familial connection that made him chose to become part owner of a Stinson V-77. The other owner is Bill Watkins, but it was Baggett with whom we caught up at Sun ‘n Fun as he relaxed in the ample shade provided by the high-wing aircraft.
“I’ve been coming to the show since about 1970,” he told us. “But not always with this airplane, which was bought from someone in Arizona in 2003. My dad had one, so I was raised around it. Like a majority of aviators I just identify with it,” he said, gesturing to the green and white gull-wing that drew looks of admiration from passersby as it sat in the vintage display area.
This was a flying airplane from the start, notes Baggett. “When we bought it, it was a good flying airplane,” he says. “It just needed some refurbishing and some TLC.”
One of the most striking and recognizable features of the airplane is the shape of the wing.
“Back when Stinson started building the Reliant series, they came out with a straight wing and then they went to the gull wing in 1935,” said Baggett. “I love the lines of it! I love those gull wings! It’s a typical art deco — you just don’t find much more art deco than this.”
In their heyday, Stinsons were used as corporate transports, “but they were clearly outclassed by the Howards and Beechcrafts, especially the Staggerwing Beeches from that era,” he continued, adding affectionately, “It is a nice, gentle, big old airplane.”
When World War II started, the Stinson designs were adapted for military use, according to Baggett. “For starters, the fuselage was made a little bit longer and made so that it had more interior room,” he said.
Baggett’s airplane rolled off the assembly line in 1943 and was sent to England as part of the Lend-Lease program. The aircraft’s designation at that time was AT-19 (AT stands for Advanced Trainer.)
“It was used as a navigation trainer by the British Royal Navy,” he said. “But not many hours were put on it — maybe 70 hours total. When the British were done with them after the war, they were crated up and sent back to the United States.”
The aircraft, like so many other items considered war surplus, were put through a demilitarization program to prepare them for sale to the American public.
“The aircraft were dirt-cheap by today’s standard, but they had to be civilianized. There was some instrumentation differences on them,” Baggett explained. “The units of measure, for example, were different. The fuel gauge was in imperial gallons and the airspeed was in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. Although the airplane was manufactured in 1943, its heritage as a V-77 starts in 1946 when it was civilianized.”
The mixture and throttle were changed so that pushing the knobs all the way in gave “full power and throttle” because on British airplanes pulling the knobs full aft is full power and mixture.
“The throttle quadrant moved to the center, but that was done later, in the late 1950s I think,” said Baggett. “Back in the 1940s when the airplane was military, the throttle quadrant was on the left hand side of the panel.”
While Baggett’s Stinson went through several owners between 1946 and 2003, it is still a fairly low time airplane.
“It is coming up on 2,000 hours total time now,” he said. “The previous owners treated it very well. It went through a restoration in the late 1950s because the cotton they used to cover it back in the day got rotten. During that restoration it was replaced with more modern fabrics and it has been taken care of since then with no trouble.”
Although the aircraft was used as an instrument training platform in its heyday, Baggett does not keep it IFR certified.
“I use a handheld GPS when I go someplace, other than that it is all steam gauges,” he said. “It is a little too much of an old lady to be sneaking around in the clouds with.”