Davisson, courtesy of
You know those
airplane in the barn stories we all keep
hearing? You know, the guy, who knows the
farmer, who has a cousin, with a friend on
the other end of the state who has a warbird/antique/classic
(insert airplane of choice at this point) in
an old barn and will let it go for a song.
When you track it down, if there even is a
barn, much less an airplane, it usually
turns out to be a C-172, or something
similar, rolled into a very tight ball.
Alan Buchner's eyes adjusted to the dark of
that barn in California, it was an entirely
"It was a great
big, old wooden barn with two side shelters
on it." He's gotten so used to telling the
story, he no longer marvels at it, but his
listeners eat it up. "They used it to store
threshing machines during the winter, so
they needed all the floor space they could
get. That's why they took the airplane
apart. To make it fit."
was standing on its nose in the corner with
the tail still on it. The wings still had
cover on them and were leaning up against
the wall right next to the fuselage. It took
up practically no floor space that way. "
which was still dressed in tattered rags,
was none-other than an ultra-rare, 1932, QDC
WACO. As with most airplanes found in that
condition, the last owner hadn't intended
for it to remain there for so long. In this
case, the years dragged on until the
airplane had been sitting for 15 years when
Alan first laid his eyes on it.
duster pilot had owned the airplane and flew
it a few times when the engine quit and he
landed in an alfalfa field just a short way
from the field. They towed it back, took it
apart and it sat that way from 1954 to when
I first saw it in 1969."
most instinctive reaction in finding an
airplane in that kind of situation is to try
to liberate it for as small an amount of
cash as possible. And Alan tried. And tried.
But was unsuccessful.
"I tried to buy
it from the fellow for three years. But, he
just didn't want to part with it. Then,
without telling me, he sold it to a crop
dusting mechanic who was a friend of mine."
Alan tells the
story with no disappointment in his voice
because it all worked out just fine in the
"He kept it
about a year and then had to move. He came
to me about the airplane and I wound up with
During the year
the object of his affections was in the
hands of another, the time wasn't wasted
because the temporary owner took the wings
to Vern's Wing Shop in Bakersfield and had
them completely rebuilt.
"The wings are
almost completely new," Alan explains. "They
used some of the spars and a few other
things, but most of the rest of the wing
wood was replaced by the time I got the
The wings may
have seen some tender hands, but the
fuselage was almost exactly the way Alan had
first seen it in that dark barn. Besides the
obvious deterioration of the years, the
airplane had been used, abused and modified
as it earned its keep before being
abandoned. Many things had been changed and
the very identifiable QDC rear windows had
been faired over and eliminated, although
the term "...faired over..." may be a little
window area had originally been framed in
wood but someone removed all of it and used
small diameter water pipe to replace the
framing. Some of it still had the threads on
it! It was pretty crude."
"The QDC was
the first cabin airplane WACO produced and
those rear windows were one of the ways the
factory had tried to make folks used to open
cockpit airplanes feel comfortable. Factory
brochures said the passengers could look all
around just like the F-2 series open cockpit
airplanes the QDC came from."
when they designed the airplane, all they
did was take the wings, tail and engine of
the F-2 and build a new fuselage. That was
in 1931 or 32. But, I had to get those
windows right to have the airplane look
Alan is quick
to give credit to his friend Tim Kendall for
his help in getting the wood right.
"Tim is a model
builder, a good one, and that's the kind of
standards he used when he helped me
reconstruct the rear window framing and
other parts. He did everything to the
thirty-second of an inch which is much
better than they were originally."
credits Tom Fox of the WACO Club for
rebuilding the corrugated ailerons, Jim
Alan, Fresno, California for building the
aluminium wheel pants and Terry's Upholstery
Shop for the threads, the rest of the
airplane, every bit of it, is vintage Alan
Buchner. Actually, it's vintage Buckner
family, since his wife of 34 years, Connie
got in on it as well.
family is a second generation aviation
family on both sides of the marriage. Alan's
dad started flying in 1927, no doubt
enthused because of the exploits that year
of a fellow named Lindbergh. He worked
through his ratings, which, to hear Alan
tell the story, didn't take very many hours,
and set up his own flight school and flying
service which he operated until he retired.
As part of that business he flew charter,
including ferrying hunters and fishermen
into remote bush strips in the California
"When I started
working on the airplane seriously in the
1980s, I started tracking down the original
owners," Alan tells this story a lot too
because it is one of his listeners'
favourites. "I was running down the list of
owners and then came to 1938 and owner
number five. It was Les Buchner, my father."
At that point he can't help but smile.
the airplane as a normal charter airplane
and, when I bought it, he had no idea it was
one of his old airplanes."
paint scheme (over Stits) Alan put on the
airplane replicates as closely as possible
the way the airplane looked in 1938 when the
airplane was in the employ of Alan's dad
prior to the war.
"We have a
bunch of old photos from that period and in
sanding down through the layers of paint on
the metal surfaces we were able to verify
the colours and paint scheme."
around the Buckner's WACO it is important to
remember that it is an airplane that was
done almost entirely by the two gracious
folks who stand beside it answering
questions. That includes replacing all of
the metal work themselves. That's one reason
it took nearly 15 years for them to finish
it. They had to complete it in the narrow
niches of time left between making a living
and raising three kids and then minding to
Alan makes his
living the hard way, one piece at a time, as
an A.I. doing annuals on "...primarily
Cessnas with a few Pipers tossed in..."
He'll also do an occasional restoration, if
asked. What that means is the thousands of
hours he put into the QDC were either before
or after work, which accounts for the many
14 hour days Connie remembers so well. And
which she so willingly accepted because the
Buckners are obviously a team as well as a
couple. She showed more excitement than Alan
at being at Oshkosh.
But then, after
logging nearly 24 hours getting to the
Convention, maybe Alan was just too tired to
right up to the last minute finishing the
airplane. In fact, when we departed Fresno
for Oshkosh we only had four hours on it."
"We went by way
of Branson, Missouri and Troy, Ohio where we
sat in the rain for three days at the WACO
fly-in, then on to Oshkosh."
As he relates
the experience, it appears one of Alan's
proudest achievements is to have the
airplane sit in the rain for three days and
not have a single leak in those yards and
yards of window fairings.
went to Oshkosh as part of the largest WACO
assemblage the Convention had ever seen but
they were far from being lost in the crowd.
The QDC's undeniably unique lines attracted
crowds all week. But the crowds were shared
with the airplane parked right next
door...the only other QDC still flying. The
entire population of QDCs was parked stubby
wing-tip to stubby wing-tip.
After all those
years of living with the airplane, Alan and
Connie are anxious to show it off,
especially in the air. So, when I put that
soft, fuzzy, gee-whiz look on my face, they
recognized the signs and started clearing
away chairs and tie down ropes to take me
flying. They'll never know how hard I've
worked to perfect that look.
You're just in
the process of stepping through that big
door into the soft, mohair interior when
you're struck by how bright the cabin is.
Most cabin bipes, actually all cabin bipes,
have a closed-in feeling. Their cabins may
be huge. But a little dark. The QDC, however
is like an upholstered greenhouse. The
windshield works its faceted way up past the
main spar to a nearly all glass roof. There
is only a short area that is not glass,
before the rear windows begin. The overall
effect is incredibly cheerful. However, the
solarium effect and heat stroke potential is
obvious. A pilot could fry his brains in
notice, or rather have pointed out by Alan,
the tiny hook which is still welded to the
carry through-over the pilots' heads. He
reaches back and pulls a translucent, white
window blind forward and fastens it to the
hook. It looks for all the world like a
garden variety, spring-loaded, roll-type
window shade that completely blocks the
skylight while letting a great deal of
diffused light through. The neat part about
the blind is that it is accurate to the
airplane. 1930's pilots apparently perspired
Sitting in the
co-pilots seat you have to look hard to find
signs of the 1990s in the airplane. In fact,
the only obvious one is a manifold pressure
gauge attached to tubing under the panel.
Other than that, it is totally 1932. You
have to look down on the left cockpit side,
behind Alan's left leg where there is a
small one inch slot in the upholstery. If
you snuggle over and look down, you can see
the face of a radio and transponder mounted
vertically behind the upholstery panel
looking up at you. It is far from convenient
to use, but it is practically invisible.
Continental 220 hp, R-670 (the original
Continental was replaced in 1946 because it
was such an early version) cranks over and
that sound so identified with radials coming
to life rumbles back through the cockpit,
you suddenly realize the engine is only a
few feet in front of you. If it weren't for
the windshield, you could literally lean
forward and touch the cylinders. This is
when the F-2 lineage is noticeable, since
that's the way it is in the front pit of
that earlier airplane.
windows cranked down, elbows on the sills we
worked our way past admiring stares to the
runway. During taxi Alan scoots up the seat
so his butt is half way up the back which
allows him to see over the nose.
Since the wheel
is of the throw-over variety and there were
no brakes on the right side, obviously I was
going to have to get a passenger's-eye view
of the takeoff and landing. That's okay. I
don't think I was up for making my first QDC
takeoff/landing in front of several hundred
thousand people anyway.
throttle, the engine sounded as if it was
barely turning over as we began rolling
leisurely down the runway. We rolled several
airplane lengths, Alan picked up the tail,
then another half dozen lengths later, the
airplane floated off the runway. I want to
repeat that... it floated off the runway. It
didn't takeoff. Or rotate. Or do anything
else we associate with modern airplanes. The
wings developed so much lift, so early, they
simply overcame gravity by themselves and we
floated off the runway in a level attitude.
The takeoff felt like the airplane looks.
Very unique and enjoyable.
As soon as we
were off the end of the runway, Alan pulled
the pin and swing the big, round wheel over
into my lap. Even as my hand curled around
the polished wood, I began searching for
traffic anywhere I could look, which
included staring through the openings
between the cylinders because they had no
baffles and were right in my face at that
was going up at over 800 fpm so it wasn't
long before we levelled out and made our way
across Lake Winnebago in search of clean
Even as we
climbed I was conscious of the airplane's
Everything about the airplane feels, well,
it just feels light. Just the way it felt on
takeoff. The ailerons aren't light by modern
standards but, when put against its peer
group, the pressures are quite reasonable
and the roll response is too. It's not a
Pitts or even a Bonanza, but it is
surprisingly quick. Again, the F-2 is felt.
needs rudder. Not huge amounts of it, but
you can't drive around with your feet on the
floor without being aware of your rear-end
trying to move back and forth on the seat.
As with most WACO's, the rudder pedal ratio
is short, so you don't actually move a pedal
so much as pressure it. Also, keeping it
coordinated noticeably increases the roll
We were showing
a solid 115 mph at cruise and I asked Alan
if that was right. He said that was the
exact number he uses for flight planning,
which is amazingly fast considering.
Considering, I could look out at the bottom
of the wing panels and see things like
polished brass fuel lines hanging right out
in the wind on their way to the engine. It's
big. It's blunt. It's aerodynamically dirty.
It's also fairly fast. Its looks are
wheel hugged to my chest I could see why the
airplane was so successful in the old-time
bush environment. I never did get the stall
to break and the airspeed was hanging under
40 mph while we sagged down hill at
something around 500 fpm. With even a hint
of power we could stagger along at 45-50 mph
all day long and feel perfectly comfortable.
Back in the
pattern that slow speed friendliness was
again obvious. I flipped the wheel back over
to Alan and he came down final at 60 mph to
land on the taxiway (18 Left). As we flared
and slowed for a wheel landing, it was as if
we were coming to a halt before we even
touched down on the mains. Then, as the wind
went out of the tail I was again reminded of
the F-2 as the tail started down. And down.
Then down still more until we were again
sitting on the ground at the incredibly
steep three-point angle of those early
airplanes. Because the angle is at, or
close, to the actual stall angle of the
airplane, a design practice long since
abandoned, if something like the QDC is
three-pointed, it slows down even more
QDC is more than just an award-winning
example of a rare and unique airplane. It is
a stand-out example of what built the EAA
and the sport aviation movement from the
beginning: A family working together to
fulfil an aviation dream. Even if they had
the finances, which they didn't, to have
someone else restore their airplane, they
would have still done it themselves. They
obviously enjoy the soul-satisfying feeling
of achievement that comes from a job well
That being the
case, the Buckner's should be feeling pretty
good right now.
Just goes to prove you can't ignore the
airplane-in-the-barn stories, doesn't it?