South Carolina aviator Jeff Warren liked the look of the Bellanca Cruisair Senior the first time he saw it. And when the opportunity came to buy one, Warren, an architect from Simpsonville, S.C., jumped at the chance.
That was in 1991 and Warren says he has been answering questions about his plane ever since.
“It is unique,” Warren said, standing in front of the aircraft in the Vintage Aircraft Camping area at this year’s SUN ‘n FUN. “I get a lot of people stop by interested. I don’t mind talking about it and learning a little at the same time.
“I’ve done my own research and I think there’s only about 300 to 350 registered at this time in this series in the FAA registry,” he continued. “There are maybe about 100 out of the approximate 3,500 entire production of the 14-13 series still flying.”
Warren’s plane was named Outstanding Vintage Bellanca at AirVenture in Oshkosh in 2014.
The 14-13-2 designation on Warren’s Bellanca, N86728, comes from designer Giuseppe Bellanca’s tradition of identifying the model first with the wing area in square feet, then the horsepower, both with the last digit omitted.
In the case of the Cruisair Senior, the naming convention didn’t quite match up since the plane came with a 150-hp Franklin engine.
“It has a wooden wing covered with a plywood skin and this one is covered with Ceconite, originally covered in canvas,” Warren said. “This model is a 1946. What they changed eventually in the Cruismaster was the increase of about 4 inches in the cabin, the change first to a Lycoming and then to the Continental O-470, and in the wings was to beef them up structurally as the later models gained weight. Basically it is the same wing dimensionally.”
He noted that while the planes came out of the factory with a Franklin 150 engine, his plane was upgraded to 165 hp.
“I switched back to an Aeromatic propeller from the fixed metal Sensenich that was on the plane when I bought it, which did a lot for improving climb out, but not so much for cruise,” he said. “But I prefer the better climb performance over the slightly higher cruise.”
The 14 series model continued in production for about 10 years, eventually becoming the 14-19 series Cruisemaster. He said some of the people looking at his aircraft initially mistake it for the 14-19 Cruisemaster, which appeared in 1949.
That version was beefed up structurally and was powered by a 190-hp Lycoming engine.
Warren, who flies from Parker Field (SC47) at Simpsonville in South Carolina, said, first became interested in the Cruisair after visiting a friend in St. Augustine, Florida, who had one.
“I thought it was a nice airplane,” he said. “It seemed like good value for the money, given its performance. I liked the retractable gear. The aileron control is outstanding, very responsive. The plane doesn’t fishtail around or do anything weird in turbulence.”
Warren is an accomplished aviator who became an architect after an early career in flying.
“I learned to fly in 1965,” he said. “I got my private pilot’s license in May 1966 and went in the Army in 1967. After the Army I got my commercial, instrument, multi, and CFII on the GI bill in 1971. I instructed out of Pompano Beach, Fla., for a couple of years with charters and then got involved in a construction business in western North Carolina. Then I went back to school and became an architect and didn’t fly much until I bought the Bellanca.”
He has about 1,700 hours in his logbook and has flown the Cruisair Senior approximately 500 of those hours.
Warren also owns a J-3 Cub and is building an RV-14A.
He said the Cruisair Senior performs well on cross countries.
“I’ve been to SUN ‘n FUN a couple of times and to Oshkosh and down to Naples, Florida,” he said. “The plane cruises at full power leaned, 2,600 rpm, 5,500 feet, about 145 mph true air speed. It approaches over the fence around 60 and touches down around 50.”
It’s a very easily controllable airplane, he added.
“This is just an easy plane to fly,” Warren said.