“I decided that I wanted to have some fun after all these years.” That’s how Shawn Knickerbocker of Jacksonville, Fla., explains his decision to buy a 1943 SNJ-5.
Knickerbocker, who has been a pilot for 40 years, doing everything from flying for the U.S. Customs Service in Blackhawk helicopters to being a pilot examiner, acquired the warbird in December 2008. Despite its chronological age, the SNJ looks like it just rolled out of the factory. Knickerbocker credits the aircraft’s previous owners with keeping the machine in top condition.
“I am only the third owner. I am very lucky to have acquired the airplane,” he said. “The previous owner had it for 34 years at Gillespie Field in San Diego. It runs good, feels good and uses almost no oil. I was concerned about that, it being a round engine.”
Ferrying the airplane from San Diego to Florida took 13.3 hours. “I made seven stops and it was wonderful!” he said. “It was the cross-country flight of a lifetime!”
At fly-ins it is the paint scheme that draws people to the airplane. It sports the red circle in the center of the white star insignia, the so-called “meatball” design from early in the war.
“The paint scheme is original,” he confirmed. “1943 is the last year that the Navy had the meatball. After that, because it looked too much like the Japanese rising sun, they changed the insignia to the white star.”
Knickerbocker plans to keep the cockpit original. “I won’t be putting in an horizontal situation indicator, no electronic means of navigation — I want to keep it just the way it was in 1943!”