June 24, 2018
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Richmond aircraft mechanic readies first vintage plane for flight

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Peering through the doorway of his 1948 Luscombe 8E — largely in pieces on the ground around him — Scott Royal grabs hold of a control stick used to steer the vintage aluminum aircraft.

“The control sticks and the floorboards are staying,” he said, glancing down at the chipped wood beneath the instrument panel of his new acquisition. So is the wind-driven generator that, save for a battery backup, powers the plane’s interior only when it’s in motion; and the hand-propeller, because the plane has no starter.

But some parts of the aircraft Royal toils on before and after work each day to restore must be replaced — such as an old radio “that’s not actually legal.”

Only a month ago, the lead aircraft mechanic at Kestrel Aeroworks got a call from a friend who saw the Luscombe — in parts — listed in Uncle Henry’s. Royal, 49, of Richmond, was looking for his first plane. This was it.

For Royal, 49, who spent 22 years as an aircraft structural mechanic in the U.S. Navy, a plane in pieces was not much of a challenge at all — in fact, it was more like a puzzle.

So he purchased the two-seater for “less than $10,000, though it’s worth much more than that already,” with the engine disassembled and the wings removed. He even snagged the original bill of sale. And he set to work — on evenings and weekends — piecing his puzzle together.

Royal, like those he works with, love his planes. During the workday, Royal works on Kestrel prototypes and other planes, including those owned by Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier and company co-founder Adrian Norris.

When Norris purchased a new aircraft recently, he flew Royal to Florida to inspect the plane — and then after he purchased it, flew Royal back for three days to work on it, Royal said.

“We just got that flying,” Royal said of the 1966 small, four-seater Mooney, Royal said. “We pretty much rebuilt that one.”

In addition to his daily work as lead aircraft mechanic, Royal has saved many a pilot from an extra night in Brunswick when something goes wrong.

“If anybody has a problem with an aircraft at Brunswick Landing, Scott is the only person who can fix it,” Norris said earlier this month.

That might include aircraft belonging to Klapmeier, Norris, or even John Travolta, who has a summer home on Islesboro.

And a year ago, when a P-3 owned by the Brazilian Air Force broke down at Bangor International Airport and the crew discovered they didn’t have enough support that far north to fix the hydraulic leak and propeller system, “they flew down here — it’ll fly on three engines, easy — and when they got here they had the propeller shipped in and their maintenance people and I helped change it,” Royal said.

But regardless of his tasks during the day, each evening Royal makes his way to his own plane, which sits side-by-side with Norris’ Mooney and various Kestrel models.

So far, he has disassembled the engine, painted the shell a glossy royal blue and white, and sent the crank shaft and other pieces of the machinery out for modifications. Last week, he painted the tail surfaces and then expected to begin reassembling the tail.

Surrounded by plane lovers of all kinds — and means — Royal thinks he may now have the oldest plane in the family.

“Alan [Klapmeier] has a De Haviland Chipmunk from the ’40s or ’50s,” Royal said. “The prop spins backwards. But I think mine’s older.”

He hopes to have the craft in the air over Brunswick by May, and thinks his first real trip will be to the Kestrel facility in Wisconsin — with perhaps a stop in Ohio to take his 92-year-old grandmother for a ride.

The Luscombe soars along at about 115 miles per hour, and can travel some 350 miles before it needs to be refueled.

Before he makes that test flight into the skies over Brunswick, though, Royal will affix one final piece of history to the side of the Luscombe: The 3-inch call numbers the plane displayed when it flew the very first time: N1804B.

“It’s the same number since they made it,” he said. “It’s the history of the airplane.”

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