By David Gustafson
We should all be so lucky. It was a father/son team from Minnesota that won the Gold Lindy designating their Hatz Classic open cockpit biplane as the Grand Champion Plans Built Aircraft at AirVenture 2013. What an incredible bonding experience it must have been to have a homebuilt aircraft as a central focus in their lives for the ten years that went into the construction. After they finished it in 2009; Jeff Hanson, the son, flew it to AirVenture in 2013 and entered the aircraft judging on what could almost be called a whim. He called his dad, John, a few days later and said “five guys have already signed off on this thing”. Another few days went by and he told his dad there were 17 sets of initials on the “Judge Me” sign hanging on his prop. “Guess what?” he said when he called his dad a day later with a Gold Lindy in his hands. The measure of the builders’ surprise may exceed the sense of satisfaction they enjoyed in receiving the award.
Today Jeff is 42, his dad is 74. John grew up in an aviation environment (his father started working at the Rochester airport when John was 3), got his private ticket in 1957, at age 18, and went on to earn a Commercial and IFR ratings. John, who’s roots with EAA go back to Rockford 1966 (his EAA number is 26,876), built a Rose Parakeet, single seat biplane, between 1969 and 1978. He still has it and often flies formation with Jeff, who in turn fills the front seat of the Hatz with his son who is now 13. The two aircraft are pretty closely matched in performance which makes formation flying easy.
The idea for building the Hatz began to take shape in 1997, when John spotted an article on Billy Dawson’s Hatz Classic in Sport Aviation. For awhile, he’d been thinking about building a second airplane and began discussing the possibility of a joint venture with Jeff. Jeff, who picked up his Private license in 2001 shared his dad’s enthusiasm for all things that fly.
There was no doubt that the project was going to be another biplane. Jeff showed some positive interest in the article and in the spring of 1998 the two men went to the National Biplane Association Fly-In in Bartlesville, OK and managed to each get a ride in a Hatz. That experience converted the talk into action.
Later that summer, at AirVenture, they had some discussions with Bill Dawson, who had built several Hatz biplanes, always adding to the basic original CB-1 design; until he came up with a version he called the Hatz Classic. It was influenced by Dawson’s love of Wacos and featured a number of significant changes from the original CB-1, like push tubes in place of cables, aluminum ailerons, a larger engine. There were no plans for the Classic, just Dawson’s prototype, but Dawson’s friend, Jeff Shoemake, agreed to reverse engineer the aircraft and develop some plans and eventually kits. Jeff and John signed up for a set. They were 12th in line (perhaps ten times that number have been issued since then). In July of 1999 wing drawings arrived and the work began. They ordered wood from Wicks and began working on a set of wings. Since Jeff had the room for the four wing panels, the work started in his basement. In one of the few deviations from the plans, Jeff discarded the aluminum ailerons in favor of wood and fabric, but that was after making an attempt to bend and rivet aluminum. Meanwhile, John tackled some of the wing fittings that were initially sketched out on some sheets of 8’5” X 11” paper.
Not long after, drawings appeared for the fuselage so steel tube was purchased from a source in Pennsylvania that has since gone out of business. Thereafter, all the components were ordered from Aircraft Spruce. “I’d phone in an order on Monday and it would arrive on Thursday. It was like having Christmas 52 weeks a year,” said John. Since Jeff was busy with the wings, John began welding up the fuselage at his home, 30 miles away from Jeff. Typically, they’d get together at least one day a week to work on the wings or fuselage and then they’d spend the rest of the week working in their own shops. There were lots of phone calls between the two workshops.
It took about four years to accumulate a complete the collection of CAD plans. There were times when they sat around waiting for the next group of drawings. Since the designer was in no rush, they were under no pressure to produce parts. Consequently they took their time and put quality ahead of quantity never dreaming they were on the way to a Grand Champion award. “The amazing part is that in the end all the parts fit together perfectly,” said John. Of course, in those days, Jeff had a day job, working in the refrigeration business. John had retired from his position with IBM as a printed circuit card designer.
As work progressed on the wings and the fuselage, Jeff trucked the wings over to his dad’s place several times to make sure everything fit and the flying wires were the right length. Both were impressed with how easily all of the parts went together. John found the 23-gallon aluminum fuel tank, which goes into the center section of the upper wing and feeds by gravity straight into the engine, a real challenge given its size and the need for TIG welding skills. John had experienced gas welding with the Rose Parakeet replica and truly enjoyed welding up the steel tube fuselage. Jeff was intrigued with the wood working challenges and got his greatest satisfaction out of piecing the wings together. They both found running wires for the electrical system took some time and head-scratching and noted that each of the systems, electrical, fuel, control rigging, required a lot of thought and trials. However, the two men seemed to complement each other and often found that a good night’s sleep would produce a lot of solutions to the problems they confronted. In the ten years of working together there was never a serious disagreement or argument. For those truly baffling moments, when two minds couldn’t get around the solution, they called in some of the members of EAA Chapter 100 or their Tech Counselor (who was in his 90’s and recently passed away at age 100).
They devoted a year and a half to fabric, having ordered what they needed from Polyfiber. They were fastidious about gluing, stitching, and taping over the stitches. Both of them enjoyed the process.
They hung a Lycoming 0-320-A2B, 150 horsepower engine on the front end which is the typical installation for a Hatz Classic. In keeping with the biplane tradition they forewent anything associated with modern glass cockpits and installed round gauges for flight and engine monitoring. The front panel only has airspeed, altimeter and turn/bank instruments. The rear panel, used for solo and PIC, has a full complement of gauges. They were careful, however, to avoid anything not deemed absolutely necessary and in having used that philosophy throughout the construction process, they wound up meeting the empty weight spec right on.
They ran out of things to tweak and tinker with in June of 2009. With a Certificate of Airworthiness on board, John took the active runway on June 9 for the first flight. Jeff followed him in a chase plane. Aside from a minor engine cooling issue, everything in their Hatz Classic was in harmony. “It’s a very well designed aircraft,” said John, who noted that throughout the Phase One flight test program, “it flew just about perfect.” Jeff made the third flight and they traded off thereafter. Since they’d both logged considerable time in John’s Rose Parakeet, they felt they had enough time in a “similar type” to be able to handle the Hatz without any problems. There were no transition training issues.
John’s observations: “It’s a great airplane. You lift off at 40 mph and cruise at 105. It’s got short field capability and handles a lot like a PA-12 Cruiser. Stall is gentle and straight forward. It’s not a cross-country airplane, and being in Minnesota, it’s definitely got a limited season.”
Jeff’s thoughts: “It’s a lot like owning a classic car. It’s great to just hop in and go cruising. It turns heads wherever you go because it looks like something out of the 1930’s. It’s a great plane to give rides in. People really appreciate it.” Jeff agrees with his dad that Minnesota winters really put a crimp in the flying schedule.
There’s some talk about building a cover for the front cockpit, which might extend the temperature range for an open (aft) cockpit a little bit. John admits that the goal was to keep the project as close to the plans as possible and keep an eye on weight. Both admit that they enjoyed the experience of working with a variety of materials: wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass; and they actually had fun stringing wires, tubes and cables.
Though the Grand Champion award was a pleasant surprise, and though they have enjoyed every minute of the 207 hours they’d logged in the Classic as of September 2013, both would likely admit that the best part of the total experience was the teamwork, the hours of studying and discussing the plans together, the years of communicating with each other about a thousand problems big and small that eventually led to the finest example of a Hatz Classic on the planet. They built an airplane together. The memories are priceless.
We should all be so lucky.