The Phil Essey/Harry Kruppenbach Meyers OTW-145
In our Summer (August) 1986 issue, we featured an authentically marked Stearman N2S-3 owned by Phillip Essey of Laurinburg, North Carolina. A high school shop teacher, Phil loves vintage vehicles, as evidenced by the fact that he also has a collection of antique John Deere tractors he has restored.
In May of 1999 he turned up at the Spring Fly-In of EAA's Vintage Aircraft Association Chapter 3 in Southern Pines, NC in a newly restored Meyers OTW - the sixth one built, in fact. Owned in partnership with his friend, Harry Kruppenbach, the airplane was purchased in September of 1992 in an estate sale. According to the plane's log books, it was last flown in 1963 and had gone through its last four owners as a project awaiting a restorer's healing touch. Literally one of those legendary "airplanes in a barn" when purchased by Phil and Harry, it was disassembled, the wings and tail surfaces were in tatters and in need of extensive structural repairs, and small parts were scattered all over the place. Fortunately, however, when everything was toted up after a thorough scavenger hunt, all the parts were present and accounted for.
Phil and Harry rebuilt the upper wing panels, but with the press of other obligations, finally decided to turn the completion of the restoration over to a friend, A&P Robert Stegner of Santa Rosa Beach, FL. Robert completely rebuilt the lower wings, covered them with Poly-Fiber D-103 and finished them with Aerothane #140 Yellow. The previous owner had had the 145 Warner majored in 1985 and it was mounted on the fuselage when the airframe was delivered to Robert Stegner in Florida.
"He was so particular about the airplane," Phil says, "that although the engine mount was painted, he went to the trouble to pull the engine and strip the paint off the mount just to be certain there were no cracks. He's a real detail person, an excellent craftsman." In addition to the work on the major airframe components, all the little stuff, the control system, engine controls, etc., were removed, repaired as needed and refinished, and all the instruments were removed, overhauled as needed, and certified.
The OTW was returned to service in December of 1997 after some 37 years in limbo, and flown back to North Carolina. It is hangared on Phil Essey's private strip near Laurinburg, NC and has become a regular at EAA/VAA Chapter 3 fly-ins.
THE MEYERS OTW
In the Winter 1991 issue of Sportsman Pilot we featured an article on Gary and Marti Hays' Meyers OTW, N34327. In that article I included a brief history of the Meyers company and the CPTP, which made it possible for Al Meyers to start his company and build the OTW. Since many of you were not yet subscribers, and because the CPTP was so much a factor in the development of two of the aircraft featured in this issue, the Aeronca L-3 and the Meyers OTW, I am reprinting that history here - with some updates, as appropriate.
Al Meyers was born in Allenhurst, NJ on September 4, 1908, the son of a Swiss mechanical engineer who had migrated to the U.S. Growing up with a fascination for airplanes, Al left home after high school to go to work for a succession of the pioneer aircraft manufacturers . . . Glenn L. Martin, Chance Vought, and Stinson. He became a specialist in aircraft metal work, but also longed to fly. In 1928 he finally managed to get in enough dual to solo a Jenny at Curtiss Field on Long Island.
Al bought a Waco 10 from Eleanor Smith in 1932 and used it for barnstorming and instruction, as well as building up his own flying time. The following year he and Martin Jensen took an extended barnstorming tour together in a biplane with a metal fuselage Jensen had designed . . . and Al apparently came away quite impressed with the airplane. For some time he had been harboring the desire to build his own plane and perhaps put it into production, and the Jensen biplane crystalized his thinking.
While still employed as a sheet metal worker at Stinson in Wayne, MI, Al began work on a biplane of his own design . . . a biplane that was very much like the Jensen in configuration and construction. He started the fuselage in a one-car garage, but in the fall of 1934 was given the opportunity to move the project to the Keehl Foundry at nearby Romulus, MI. With a lot of help from fellow aviation enthusiasts, Al finished the biplane (later to become NC15784) and made its initial test flight from the Wayne County Airport on May 10, 1936.
The Meyers biplane was sort of an odd combination of features for 1936. Its metal fuselage was state of the art for civil lightplanes, but its fabric covered wood wings with their very thin modified RAF-15 airfoil section were a throwback to the Wacos and Travel Airs of the late Twenties. By this time, nearly a decade later, thick airfoils like the Clark Y and NACA 23000 series were all the rage among lightplane designers. Then, of course, it was an open cockpit, 125 h.p. biplane at a time when the 50 h.p. closed cabin Cubs, Aeroncas, and Taylorcraft were inheriting the world of civil aviation.
Nothing may have come of Al Meyers' dream of becoming an airplane designer/manufacturer had it not been for World War II. For several years he was unable to do anything with his airplane except enjoy flying it, but his break finally came as the nation began to take notice of events in Europe and Asia . . . and began taking the first steps toward preparing for what everyone realized was going to be the second world war in a quarter of a century. The Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 contained legislation that had been initially proposed by Robert H. Hinckley of the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) that funded a test program for what would become the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). Germany, Italy, and other European countries were known to be training thousands of young people each year to fly in government sponsored programs that were little more than thinly disguised para-military organizations . . . while the U.S. was doing absolutely nothing to create a pool of pilots. The CPTP was the nation's rather tardy response. Initially, the plan was for the government to pay for a 72 hour ground school that was to be taught by colleges and universities around the nation, and between 35 and 50 hours of flight instruction that was to be taught by flight schools located near the colleges and universities. The test program got underway early in 1939 at 11 schools . . . the Universities of Michigan, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, Minnesota, and Kansas; Purdue; Georgia Tech; North Texas Agricultural College; Pomona Junior College; and San Jose State Teachers College . . . and proved to be successful beyond anyone's expectation. After the invasion of Poland that September, the CPTP was kicked into high gear and would eventually involve 1,132 educational institutions and 1,460 FBOs. By the time the program was phased out in the summer of 1944, an incredible 435,165 persons, including several hundred women, had been taught to fly.
Initially, the CPTP was strictly a civilian enterprise, although the Army and Navy eventually allowed persons recruited from the program to bypass their "elimination" courses and go on to primary training. Immediately after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration of war, the entire program changed. The name CPTP was dropped in favor of War Training Service (WTS) and from early 1942 until 1944 the program was, in effect, the military's screening or "elimination" course for prospective aviation cadets. The ground school was still taught in colleges and universities and the flight training was still done by civilian contractors, but students had to sign an agreement to enter military programs upon completion of the program.
When the CPTP was instituted early in 1939, there was as big a shortage of training planes as there was of pilots. The initial CAA requirement for a contract flight school was that it have one airplane of not less than 50 h.p. for each 10 students. This combined with the fact that the schools would be paid between $270 and $290 per student for the 35 to 50 hours of flight instruction essentially dictated that the trainers be Cubs or some of the other new 50-65 h.p. lightplanes being built in the late 1930s. For whatever reason, the schools preferred tandem aircraft . . . which virtually gave the market to Piper for its Cub. Soon the production line at Lock Haven was operating around the clock . . . and Taylorcraft, Aeronca, and others were hastily designing tandem spin-offs of their side-by-side lightplane designs. After the German invasion of Poland and, especially, after Pearl Harbor, every airplane every company could crank out was needed... and that's where the Meyers biplane came into the picture.
After the CPTP was shifted into overdrive, the program was expanded to incorporate a secondary phase that included aerobatic training. Waco received a contract to build UPF-7s for this work, but still more aircraft were needed. The flight schools favored open cockpit biplanes for aerobatic training, so the Meyers stood a good chance of being selected by schools around the country. The biggest immediate problem for Meyers was that the design had to be certified in order to be used in the CPT Program. A second airplane was built, again in the Keehl Foundry, and was rolled out in September of 1939. The paperwork for a Group 2 approval (No. 2-550) had already been issued on August 22, which, in effect, allowed the company to begin building airplanes even while full certification tests were being completed. The airplane was not formally announced to the public until May of 1940, by which time it had been named the OTW . . . which, patriotically, was said to stand for "Out To Win." It would be February 18, 1941 before the government's paper mill would finally grind out the OTW's Approved Type Certificate No. 736, but by that time around 30 of them had already been built.
When the word spread around the Detroit area that Al Meyers had orders for his airplane, the little town of Tecumseh, MI offered special tax incentives if he would come there and set up a company. The move was made and the Meyers Aircraft Company ("Manufacturers of Fine Aircraft") set to work in what could be considered no more than a fairly good sized hangar on what is today the Al Meyers Airport. 100 OTWs would be built there during the early 1940s, most of them in 1940, 1941, and 1942, variously powered with 125 and 145 Warners and the 160 Kinner. One OTW, Ser. No. 43, was fitted with a 120 Ken Royce, but more power was needed for the training role, especially in the large number of the aircraft that were used in the far West.
The OTW carried out its training role with distinction, ending the war with one of the best safety records in the CPT/WTS program. Sold off by the government after the war, they were quickly absorbed in the civil fleet as trainers, sport planes, and for conversion to crop dusters. Probably because they had smaller engines and thus were more affordable, OTWs were among the earliest of "old" airplanes to become treasured as collector's items . . . which is unquestionably one of the reasons that today there are 56 of them still on the U. S. Civil Aircraft Register. 23 are registered simply as OTWs, 15 are registered as OTW-145s and 18 are registered as OTW-160s. Both Serial Numbers 1 and 2 survive: Ol' Number One, NC15784, is registered to the Combat Air Museum, Inc. of Topeka, KS and Number 2, NC23799, belongs to Russell W. Kilmer of Sacramento, CA. The last OTW, NC34357, Serial Number 102, was retained at the factory until after Al Meyers' death in March of 1976 . . . after which it was donated to the EAA Aviation Foundation in his memory.
After the war, Meyers Aircraft switched to the manufacture of aluminum boats, Jeep cabs, and Jeep winterization kits. This provided the firm with the resources to design, certify, and manufacture first the two-place Meyers 145 and, later, the four-place Meyers 200. Both were sleek, low wing, cross country type airplanes that seemed light years ahead of the OTW . . . and in a way they were. World War II was an abyss that separated two very different worlds. The world of the 1930s that had given birth to the OTW was gone forever, and only a few artifacts such as the surviving OTWs remained. The future would belong to the likes of the 145 and, especially, the 200. Actually, though, the OTW had been a bridge of sorts between those two worlds. It had originally been conceived in the early '30s as a sport plane, but it would serve as a trainer for prospective military pilots during the war years. Today the circle has been closed . . . the OTW is a sportplane once again, and a treasured part of our aviation heritage.
Meyers OTW NC26453, Serial Number 6, was completed at the factory in Tecumseh, Michigan in July of 1940 and initially licensed under the Group 2-550 authorization. It was powered by a 125 h.p. Warner Series 40 radial engine, had an empty weight of 1,258 pounds and a gross of 1,770. The airplane was sold on July 26, 1940 to James W. Hatch of nearby Detroit . . . who sold it two months later, on September 27, to Kenneth S. Barber for use as a student trainer at his Barber's Flying Service located on the Pontiac Municipal Airport, Pontiac, Michigan. On January 3, 1942 the airplane was force-landed in a snow-covered farm field by a student and stood on its nose against a fence. In the course of repairs, the original 125 h.p. Series 40 engine was replaced by a 145 h.p. Series 50 Warner. This and other upgrades (including stall strips on the wing leading edges) apparently put the airplane in compliance with Approved Type Certificate 736, because thereafter the paperwork shows NC26453 to be an OTW-145. On June 30, 1942, the Meyers was sold . . . to Curry Flying Service of Galesburg, IL. The following March 25, 1943, while tied down outside with its engine off for overhaul, the OTW was blown over and suffered severe damage to both upper wing panels and the center section, plus moderate damage to the lower wings. The whole mess was returned to the Meyers factory in Michigan for rebuild, which was completed in early May of 1943.
The next month, on June 17, 1943, NC26453 was "bought" by the U. S. government for $5,457.56, apparently for use in the War Training Service (WTS) program. The bill of sale listed the Defense Plant Corporation of Washington, DC as the new owner. This was the agency set up to "buy" civilian aircraft for wartime use. Owners really did not have a choice, but at least they were paid for their airplanes.
The FAA records currently on file for NC26453 do not contain information on the wartime use of the airplane - just that a year later, on June 20, 1944, it was sold as war surplus to the Lou Foote Flying Service of Lancaster, Texas.
Late in 1947 the Foote Flying Service was in bankruptcy, and NC26453 was purchased in a sale by Bill Massey of Dallas for a bid of $350. He, in turn, sold the airplane to the Corsicana School of Aeronautics in Corsicana, TX on February 22, 1948. Eight months later, on October 28, it was sold again, this time to Quentin S. Freeman of Commerce, GA. The next owner (on April 21, 1950) was Lee Roy Long of Hull, GA, who, in turn, sold the airplane to William M. Berryman, Jr. of Elberton, GA on January 8, 1951. Late in 1953 Berryman had the Clark Flying Service of Rayston, GA recover the wings, center section and tail surfaces, finishing them in silver. The OTW was apparently involved in an accident sometime in late 1954 or early 1955, because it was signed back into service in March of 1955 after extensive sheet metal replacement in the tail cone area and repairs to the wings.
NC26453 changed hands several times over the next few years...
- On Jan. 30, 1956 to William G. Simms of Greenwood, MS
- On Dec. 8, 1956 to Bayless Flying Service of Alice, TX
- On Dec. 21, 1958 to Luby Aviation, Inc. of Corpus Christi, TX
- On Jan. 4, 1959 to W.R. Tompkins of Alamo, TX
- On Oct. 11, 1974 to Joe F. Jenkins of Vidor, TX
- On Aug. 4, 1975 to Earl C. Atkins of Liberty, TX
According to the current owners, the OTW was hauled to North Carolina in 1977 by William Poole of Raeford. Apparently, Mr. Poole died before a legal transfer of the aircraft to him from Earl Atkins was made, because when it was sold on September 9, 1992 to Phil Essey and Harry Kruppenbach by the Poole estate, a bill of sale backdated to Nov. 25, 1978 had to be obtained from the last registered owner, Earl Atkins.
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