Local duo finish rebuilding vintage aircraft

NORTH CREEK History has taken flight in the Southern Adirondacks as two World War II training aircraft have been painstakingly rebuilt by local enthusiasts. Friends and pilots, John Alexander of Warrensburg and Don Latterell of Glens Falls, have recently completed their second aircraft, a 1943 Boeing Stearman PT-17. Two years prior, the two men resurrected a 1942 Fairchild PT-23, which had been destroyed in a near fatal crash in 2000. The Stearman reconstruction effort was capped in August with the initial test flight after extensive FAA inspection, Alexander said. There is nothing like a radial engine, Alexander said. We relish in the opportunity to fly a piece of history. Latterell and Alexander are co-owners of a hangar at Bennett Field in North Creek, where the two aircraft are housed. Each rebuild took thousands of hours of research and construction, Latterell said. The PT-19 required not only the basic pulley and wire technology of 1940s aviation, but also wood bending and installation of the traditional canvas covering. With only 47 PT-23s in existence, we are doing our part to preserve a formative period of aviation history, Alexander said. Latterell and Alexander both said that the smell and sound of a radial engine is infectious. The 220-horsepower Continental engines found in both aircraft were also the power plants of the Sherman Tank which propelled Patton through Europe with unprecedented haste. The aircraft can regularly be seen weekly on clear mornings above Warren and Washington counties, often at low altitudes, the distinctive U.S. Army Air Corps. emblems clearly visible from below. Alexander and Latterell routinely fly their craft on pleasure trips for dozens of miles in the region, often to the airport in Argyle. According to Latterell, both aircraft were designed to be simple to fly. They were meant to be the first step in the training of pilots who later went on to fly P-51s and other high powered aircraft, Latterell said. According to the original service manuals, which were vital to the reconstruction of the planes, the intended service length of either was only six to nine months. Alexander said the lack of longevity was due to crashes. Alexander ought to know. He downed the plane in July 2000, shortly after takeoff when the plane stalled. While attempting a landing, one of his wings hit a utility pole. The aircraft was virtually destroyed in the incident, and he nearly was killed. They were crashed all the time, Alexander said of his vintage airplane. Thats why they are so rare now.

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