Rafael loved flying Grumman Travelers, and we both belonged to the same flying club that rented Grummans. For the reader who has not had a chance to fly one, you’re in for a treat. I am not sure which is the most appealing about that aircraft: the handling (it is responsive and a delight to fly) or the sliding canopy. You can open it enough to cool off on a hot day, or taxi out with the canopy fully open among a gaggle of Cessnas, then close it, just like a fighter jock, before taking the runway for takeoff.
When the aircraft was first introduced to the marketplace, it was not well received. This was a time when Cessna had a strong foothold, making it difficult to break into the market, let alone the training niche. The aircraft is not approved for spins, unlike the Cessna line of aircraft. It is not that the aircraft was spin proof—it would spin—but recovery from a developed spin was very unlikely. The 150 and 172 were hard to beat, however as a personal aircraft it found its home.
At any rate, the Traveler has an extremely high fun factor, with good performance. Stalls are very well mannered, and recovery easily handled.
This adventure began one boring sunny Sunday on the fourth of July, with Rafael reading the latest Barnstormers email. The ad simply read, For Sale Grumman Traveler: $1,000. The address came with a local address… and phone number. A phone call and an arranged meeting was made in less time it takes to write about it. I did say he really liked that airplane.
To say it was a sad sight would be and understatement. A kind description would be, “the poor thing was dissembled with extreme prejudice.” The once-proud airplane was sitting on the dirt in the backyard of the owner’s house.
To say it was disassembled does not quite do justice. The wing fairings were cut off to aid the wings’ removal. There were no cables, wiring bundles—all of them—were cut and removed. All instruments were in a box, with the supporting tubing and wiring also cut to provide easy removal. If it was a bolt it was unbolted, if it was a screw it was unscrewed, and if it was a cable well, it was also cut. All this to expedite the airplane’s cannibalization.
The owner had bought the airplane, which was flyable and airworthy, for the engine—which he wanted for his RV-type aircraft he was building. The airframe, he had decided, was to be taken apart to sell off for parts, with no intention of having it fly again.
Rafael told the owner he would think about it and get back to him. Later that day Rafael called back, saying he would buy the airplane as is where is. Fortunately, he arrived at the owner’s house just in time—he had his power saw out and had changed his mind about selling it off for parts. He was going to cut the airframe up and sell it for scrap. The engine was not included in the deal.
The sale concluded, for the airplane, the instruments in a box, and cables (most of which were cut). Arrangements were made to trailer the airplane to Long Beach Airport (LGB), where a tie-down space was waiting.
So, what is the story of the engine?
Later Rafael received a call from the former airplane’s owner. Apparently plans to use the engine from the Traveler did not work out, and he offered to give the engine to him. The owner had planned to use the engine in his RV project. The problem with Lycoming engines is there are several variants, and this one was an O-320-E2G. The oil cooler is in the back by the bulkhead, which for some reason would not work in the project he was building.
Rafael’s close friend said he would fund the teardown and inspection of the engine for 50% of the airplane and flying lessons. When family and business required his friend to move away, he called Rafael and told him to “just keep the engine.” It was at this point I advised Rafael to go out and buy lots of lottery tickets.
A year and a half passed with lots of work and a very steep learning curve while working in a small corner of a friendly FBO. The big day finally came and with much preflight planning, the Grumman returned to the sky. No problems, no squawks. The Traveler was happy to be alive and back in the sky again.
The end of the story? Not quite. Rafael taught his son Gabriel to solo and later received his private pilot certificate in the Grumman. His son did very well on this first solo flight, but Raphael was very worried. He knew that airplane from day one, visions of when he first laid eyes on it sitting in the dirt.
He had lots of mixed emotions from his son’s first solo flight. Signing him off to solo in an airplane he had raised from the dead did cause some amount of concern, but I am proud to report his solo flight went very well.
Rafael still owns the Grumman and its hangared at Fullerton Airport. It is not a lonely airplane sitting in the dirt in someone’s backyard awaiting its fate. It has a home and shares it with a 1938 Aeronca, which is in the final stages of restoration. But that is another story.