Most people spend their teenage years planning their future. But Dillon Barron, who just turned 20 in June, spent a good portion of his teen years with an eye to the past as he restored a 1950’s-era Cessna 170B to fresh-from-the-factory condition.
Dillon and his father Mike made the trip to this year’s SUN ‘n FUN in the restored Cessna from their home in Perry, Missouri. The pair spent a good part of their time sitting under the wing telling the story of the polished metal and blue airplane.
Dad Mike, an A&P/IA, proudly notes that Dillon did the lion’s share of the work.
The teen’s efforts did not go unnoticed. The C-170B brought home the award for the Best Restored Classic, as well as the Youth Achievement Award from SUN ‘n FUN.
Dillon is modest about the accomplishment.
“I was born and raised in aviation,” he said. “My father and grandfather both flew for TWA and my father started Barron Aviation, a business that rebuilds Cessna 195s, so I guess you could say I was born and raised around the old classics. I love the old radial engines. I grew up in the shop working with my dad.”
“I soloed a glider on my 14th birthday,” he said. “On my 16th birthday I set a record for soloing the most conventional aircraft in one day. My dad was my instructor.”
You can find the 16th birthday video on YouTube and join Dillon in the cockpit as he solos no fewer than seven aircraft, ranging from classic Cessna singles to a twin Beech.
“The airplane had been sitting derelict on the ramp at the airport in Hannibal, Missouri, across the river from Perry, for about 20 years,” he recalled. “It had been blown around in storms and was pretty beat up and in rough shape. The rudder was all beat apart. It was home to all sorts of critters and insects.”
“My father offered me a proposal,” he continued. “He said he would buy the project and supply the parts if I did all the work, then we’d have an airplane to fly around.”
Dillon agreed, and soon found himself inside the cabin of the airplane that had been sitting on the ramp and neglected since before he was born.
“It had bird nests, mud daubers — virtually every kind of bug you can think of was in there,” he said. “There were mouse nests up in the headliner, which has a zipper. It was a hot and sticky day the day I went to unzip it, and when I did, the insulation comes raining down, sticking to my face, and baby mice were hitting the floor.”
The next step was to dismantle the airplane. Parts were removed, inspected and either cleaned or replaced. Although the airplane had passed through at least three different owners, there was sufficient paperwork to recreate the airplane’s history and, therefore, original appearance.
“We found a lot of documentation on it,” he said. “And there were some unusual things, as well. For example, although the airplane rolled out of the Cessna factory in late November of 1953, the serial number assigned to it put it on the Cessna rolls as a 1954 aircraft.”
The engine is a 145-horsepower, 6-cylinder Continental. All three generations of Barron men did the overhaul.
“My dad and I worked on it and my grandfather John, who is an A&P, found details in the aircraft manual on how to tie-wrap the ignition leads, so he did the ones on the airplane the old fashioned way,” said Dillon.
There are some cosmetic flaws in the details of the airplane that were recreated on purpose.
“Because that’s how it came out of the factory,” Dillon explained. “For example, the letter ‘C’ in the word Cessna on one side of the tail is squared, but on the other side, the letter C has a more rounded appearance. In addition, the letter ‘A’ has a thick side and a thin side. It’s sort of flipped on the other side of the tail. Also, the paint in the dorsal side of the airplane is not symmetrical. The paint line starts on one side a rivet sooner than it is on the other side, so the paint line is off-center. We put the flaws back in because they are unique to this airplane.”
To get the colors right he carefully matched chips of paint that were found when components were removed.
“We found examples of the original blue under the venturi,” he said. “There was no ultraviolet light damage, no fading, so it was perfect. Back in those days, gloss paint wasn’t around, so when we repainted the airplane we took care to give the clear coat sort of a matted appearance like it would have had in the 1950s.”
The polishing of the metal took hours and hours, he reported.
The cosmetic detail continued inside the airplane where placards were painstaking restored to the original font, size and color using a brush and stencil. The diamond-print panel was recreated using paint and a plastic overlay, and carefully crafted decals.
“Most of the pictures in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook are line drawings, with the men in slacks and white shirts and black ties and hats,” he noted.
Despite this, he is reasonably certain that the airplane looks just as it did when it came from the factory.
For the interior upholstery, Dillon had the help of Darlene Heightmeyer, a local woman who often works on boat interiors. The airplane interior is still pristine and smells of leather.
He has also added a vintage headset, E6-B, a 1950s sectional. Some 1950s-era suitcases and a fedora in the backseat add the finishing touch for the static display.
“This airplane is a time capsule,” Dillon laughed.
The airplane will not become a hangar queen, he stressed. It is a flying, go someplace, do something airplane, but he’s not sure how much time he will get in it in the next few months because he is enrolled in the Flight Operations Management program at the University of Central Missouri and will be focusing on school.
“That’s where my father, grandfather and grandmother went,” he said with a smile.