Fun and history wrapped in a classic design
Florida architect Ed Hoffman acquired his love of aviation quite traditionally: He grew up around aircraft, many of them designed by his father. Today he flies a Fairchild 24W, a classic that endures from the time of the Great Depression.
“My dad, Edward Hoffman the second, designed and built five different airplanes,” said Hoffman of Tarpon Springs, Florida. “I am Edward Hoffman the third.”
The elder Hoffman introduced his son to aviation beginning at the age of 3. Young Ed soloed on his 16th birthday in 1968 and earned his private pilot’s license in 1972.
In April Ed Hoffman flew his 1946 Fairchild 24 to SUN n’ FUN and parked it in the Vintage Aircraft area. Once there, he was greeted by visitors interested in the lines of the aircraft designed by Sherman M. Fairchild and first produced in 1932.
“It has four seats and roll down windows and a round engine,” Hoffman said. “But it is also great because it is dope and fabric on wood wings and has a steel tube fuselage with control sticks rather than control wheels.”
Hoffman learned about the Fairchild models from his friend Charlie Bell, who flies from Woods and Lakes Airpark (FA38) near Ocklawaha, Florida.
“I am in a vintage aircraft group and they have fly-ins every month at little grass strips,” Hoffman said. “And Charlie Bell is the Fairchild guru. I was always admiring his Fairchild. And then I went out to Chico, California, and flew one. It was so light on the controls.”
Hoffman bought his plane in 1995 and flew it cross country from Chico. “It was the trip of my life at that time,” he said.
Last October he flew another long cross-country to Yosemite National Park in northern California and that now competes with the Fairchild buying trip as his best flying journey.
The Fairchild 24 design came off the drawing boards during the Great Depression as a model designed to appeal to small commercial flying operators and private pilots. It has a roomy interior suitable for four, comparable to an automobile sedan of the era with ashtrays in the backseat.
“The 1946 has a 36-foot wingspan and weighs 1,700 pounds,” Hoffman said. “It carries 60 gallons of fuel and burns nine and a half gallons per hour. The 165-hp Warner Super Scarab radial engine gets about 10 hours per quart of oil.”
It is a fairly easy aircraft to fly, he noted.
“Advance the throttle and the tail comes up at 30 mph,” he related. “Liftoff is 60 to 65 and you climb out at 85. You cruise around 112 or something like that. It has an Aeromatic prop, which gives better climb and better cruise by flattening out for the cruise. The airplane is very responsive, but it doesn’t particularly like to go uphill. Controls are very light and very quick, not unlike the Fairchild PT19, a monoplane used for military flight training during World War II.”
The Fairchild 24 was a World War II warbird, operated by the U.S. Army Air Corps, Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard, plus the Civil Air Patrol, which outfitted some of its aircraft with bombs and used them to attack German submarines along the U.S. East Coast.
Over the years, the Model 24 was flown as a military aircraft by nearly a dozen other countries, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. There are more than 300 Fairchild Model 24s still listed on the FAA registry.
Hoffman said owning the Fairchild makes him a popular member of the fly-out group for Hernando County Airport (KBKV) in Brooksville, Florida.
“I go to the fly-ins in the area like Thomasville, Georgia, in October,” he said. “It’s nice because a lot of my buddies have Cubs and I’ve become the Sherpa. I carry all their junk. And when they buy all the stuff here at SUN n’ FUN, I have to fly it back.”
Hoffman has explored the history of Fairchild aircraft during his 20-plus years of ownership.
“Mr. Sherman Fairchild was originally an aerial camera manufacturer,” he said. “He sold his cameras to the U.S. War Department after the First World War but found no suitable aircraft available as a platform for the camera, so he formed the Fairchild Aviation Corp. and built his own planes.”
Another aviation history chapter significant to Ed is the career of his father, Edward Hoffman II, designer of five aircraft. His dad’s first flying design was Sweet Patootie, registered in 1960 as N6163D. The cantilevered monoplane was an all wood fuselage construction powered by a 65-hp Continental engine.
His father, along with several friends, also built a flying replica of the 1913 Benoist Airboat Model XIV. The original Benoist was flown on the world’s first regularly scheduled heavier-than-air commercial passenger flight from the Municipal Pier in St. Petersburg to Tampa on New Year’s Day 1914.
“My father flew the completed replica Benoist in 1984 for the 70th anniversary of the 1914 flight and it is now hanging in the St. Petersburg History Museum close to the historic departure point,” Ed said.
He flew his father’s X-4 design, the Mullet Skiff Flying Boat, on the centennial observance of the Benoist flight, New Year’s Day 2014.
Edward Hoffman II was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and a founder of the Florida Aviation Historical Society. He was inaugurated into the Society’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008.
“A big goal in the last couple of months of my dad’s life, as he was fighting a blood cancer, was to have him attend the Hall of Fame ceremony,” Ed said. “He died the day before, so the family drove over to Lakeland without him. It was a bit like an aviation funeral in a way.”
An irony of Ed’s attachment to the Fairchild is that he has a for sale sign on it.
“Well, it is a little sign,” he said. “I’m not trying very hard to sell it. They shut down our little airport that is 12 minutes away from my house in Tarpon Springs. Now I have to drive to the Hernando County Airport in Brooksville, which is almost 45 minutes away. It is hard to invite people to go for a 15- to 30-minute sunset ride when it’s that far away. I’m thinking that I would be better off with a Super Cub on amphibious floats to park in front of my house on Lake Tarpon.”