By DAVID NIXON
Back in the 1950s, if you wanted to build your own experimental airplane from a “kit” with all the plans, builder instructions, and parts provided, you were out of luck. This was the era of the scratch-built experimental airplane. If fact, you were lucky if you even had formal plans. Fast-forward to 2011 and just about all of that has changed. But one thing that hasn’t changed is a product of that early homebuilding era: The Coast Ranger #1, which is still flying today, doing what it was intended to do — be a low-cost, easy-to-maintain and, most important, fun-to-fly airplane.
The Coast Ranger #1, N6099C, was the product of the fertile mind and able hands of Cliff Krum, a pioneering Oregon homebuilder, mechanic, and pilot. Krum was no stranger to the process of building his own airplane. He and his partner Fred Shepard built their first airplane in 1938 and were part of the “Beaverton Outlaws,” a group of builders and pilots in Beaverton, Ore., who made Bernard’s Beaverton Airport the hot bed of West Coast experimental aviation.
After World War II, Krum worked as an A&P. In the winter of 1953-54, he became part of a crew tasked with recovering a Boeing B-17 from a garbage dump in Eastern Washington. He spent the nighttime hours away from home designing an airplane, which he named the Coast Ranger #1. With the sketches made, he began construction in the basement of his Portland, Ore., home in the spring of 1954.
Like most homebuilders, Krum was also responsible for a wife and young family, so there was not a lot of spare cash around. Buying off-the-shelf items, such as new 4130 chrome-moly tubing, was not part of the family budget, so he did what any proud homebuilder would do: He scrounged around the airport. It helped that he worked for an outfit that converted war surplus biplanes into crop dusters. The outfit bought the biplanes for the airframes and Vultee BT-13/15s were purchased as engine donors because of their higher horsepower engines. The engines were removed and installed on the modified war surplus biplanes. What wasn’t used was just pushed out back and considered scrap. Other kinds of airplanes ended up in the scrap mix as well. For a homebuilder, it was a veritable stockpile of bits and pieces to salvage.
The steel tubing making up the Coast Ranger #1 fuselage was salvaged from the remains of a Cessna UC-78 and a Fairchild PT-19. The one-piece wing was constructed from cut down Luscombe 8 wings mated together. The ailerons were from a Stinson 105. The Shinn wheels and brakes were from a Taylorcraft, as were the heel brakes. The two main landing gear shock absorbers were modified from Stearman PT-17 tail wheel oleo shock struts. The wing struts were modified from a Piper Cub set. The cowl and nose bowl were fabricated from a Vultee BT-13 oil tank that was hammered out and formed by hand. The boot cowl was cut down from a PT-19 cowl. Being a mechanic, Krum fabricated access panels into the boot cowl to service the brakes and rear instrument panel, noting that he had already spent too much time on his back, squeezed to impossible positions working on other people’s airplanes and wanted to make his own a little easier to maintain. The control cables were all handmade, with Navy 5-tuck splice terminals.
In the cockpit there are many war surplus parts and pieces, from the seat belt to the throttle quadrant, fuel selector, and instruments. In fact when the project was completed, 13 different airplanes were sourced for parts, as well as a Fowler water heater (aluminum sheeting was used for the jacket).
Powering his creation is a used Continental A-65, modified to produce 80 hp. It swings a metal McCauley propeller.
The Coast Ranger #1 first flew in 1957 after three years of building and has been flying ever since. When Cliff’s son, Dale, was 21 he cut down the headrest behind the pilot seat because he persuaded his dad that it just looked better. It has remained in this configuration ever since.
The Coast Ranger is a regular around the Willamette Valley aviation scene. It could often be found tied down underneath the wing of the B-17 — the same one Krum helped retrieve — at Columbia Airmotive in Troutdale, or tied down next to a fleet of U.S. Forest Service Beech 18s as both outfits employed Krum.
Krum has since gone West, so his son is now the caretaker of the Coast Ranger #1. The one-of-a-kind homebuilt, still based at Krum’s home airport of Sandy River Airport (03S), flies now and again when the weather is just right. It cruises at 100 mph, stalls around 45-50, is very light on the controls, and there is no float on landing, according to Dale. When describing the Coast Ranger #1, the grin on Dale’s face tells the story more than his words, as he just chuckles and says, “The airplane is a lot of fun to fly.”
Looking at the ship today and hearing its construction story, it really is a testament to another time and era, when the goal was to access the freedom of the sky, using your wits and sweat equity, without breaking the bank. The Coast Ranger #1 is a reminder of the homebuilding generation that went before us and still serves as an inspiration.
There may be some who say Cliff Krum’s creation is out of place in today’s modern airspace because it doesn’t have any modern gizmos or gadgets. But the Coast Ranger #1 is about what the human spirit can do — and that has a place at every airport.