George York of Mansfield, Ohio, had those dreams, or some similar. When he found his L-2, it was a faded, wrinkled caricature of a once-upon-a-time airplane. It had been the airport derelict for 15 years and nature had done what only nature can do to an airplane. It was a sad looking bag of parts that George York trucked home to his garage. But, as a past director of the antique-classic division of the EAA and a well-known member of every organization having to do with old flying machines, he knew what was down the long road to restoration. Eventually, after two years of scraping, painting and stitching, the piles of torn fabric and empty dope cans were swept out of the garage to make room to pull the completed airplane out to the airport. That was in 1969 and dozens of awards, including the Most Original Restoration award at Oshkosh in '74, have proven the time well spent.
I got a chance to try, my hand at mini-warbirding at Oshkosh, where George's son Stan (now a West Point cadet), had flown the airplane after just receiving his license. We trundled out to a nearby airport and I got my first careful look at an L-2.
The Gorman's airplane is an "M" model. The one outstanding difference between the "M" and the others is that it has spoilers on the upper inboard surfaces of the wing. A many-fingered strip of metal pops out when you grab a handle in the cockpit ...or at least it's supposed to. The Feds apparently frown on the spoilers and asked (is "asked" the correct word?) that they be wired shut. The original intent of the spoilers was to give the pilot a way of controlling the typical T'craft float the L-2 apparently has. Gorman says he's talked to the factory test pilot and they ran tests with the spoilers and actually took off with them extended to prove it can be done.
Another little military goody the Feds wanted deactivated was (are you ready for this?) the rear seat. L-2s have a little map table behind the rear seat and the seat would swivel 180 degrees to allow the observer to ride backwards reading maps and talking on the radio. I guess the powers-that-be don't like the idea of somebody seeing where he's been instead of where he's going.
York's airplane was originally accepted by the Army Air Force on October
13, 1943, and interestingly enough was delivered to its first
duty station by a WASP. Where is Florence Lawler today? It was assigned
to the 323rd fighter squadron of the 327th fighter group at Richmond
Air Base in Virginia where it collected 224 hours at the hands of 41
different military pilots. One wonders what the fighter jockies were
doing in this little bird... buzzing their girlfriends' houses? Then,
for no reason, which appears in the logs, it was placed in storage
in mid-1944. Again unexplained, it was taken out of storage in
September of '44 and sold to civilian ownership. Somebody got themselves
a nearly new (224 hours) L-2 while the shooting was still going on.
(Anybody have any more information on L-2M, serial number 43-26205,
Aircraft Number 205 at Richmond Army Air Base?)
The only non-original part of York's airplane is the glossy finish on the doped fabric ("People don't like to look at dull airplanes") and the old military radios that are missing. It's straight G.I. and the only thing that struck my eye as I climbed in was the lack of anything to strike my eye. The military didn't exactly do interior decorating in their airplanes and the color scheme of early olive drab totally subdued any characteristics the interior might have had. Only the stark white of the inside of the covering provided contrast.
With my feet on the heel brakes, Stan York walked up front and easily threw the prop through with one hand. Stan stands 6'4" in his stocking feet and could have easily hand-launched the L-2. The well-muffled 65-hp Continental doesn't run, not in L-2s at least; it clatters. It smoothly rattles the airplane and responds to the throttle like a noisy sewing machine as it drags you out to the runway. The trip down the taxiway consisted mainly of looking around and grinning. There is glass everywhere you look (most of it vibrating) and somehow it seems as if you're flying an incomplete airplane be-cause the only thing you're taking aloft with you is what you need to fly. There's no upholstery, radios, electrical, and very few instruments. It's as basic as you can get.
The noise following my application of power can best be described as very unwarbird-like. It quietly trundles down the runway with the pilot peeking over its nose; and steps, not leaps, into a climb-out that wouldn't exactly make a Bearcat jealous. There's no doubt that the huge wing isn't carrying much weight on climb-out. It seems to float on a carpet of super-soft air, sort of lunging upwards, the engine laughing, the wings loafing. It's all very relaxing.
It takes a little while to get up to altitude, especially since Stan and I put the airplane very close to its 1300 pound gross weight. But that's all right, the airplane is best flown around 1000 feet AGL anyway because it's a great sight-seeing machine.
That 36-foot wing gives good performance on low horsepower, but works against itself in roll maneuverability. The controls do a very precise job of pointing the airplane where you want it to go, but it's not going to do its maneuvering in a hurry. Of course, if you were pounced upon by a Zeke or a FW-190, you'd better head for the trees and do the old hedge-hopping number because even though you may be able to turn quicker, you'd still be cold turkey.
We poked slow holes in the sky with me rolling from side to side. Just for a change of pace. I got the carb heat and slowed to a stall, not expecting anything at all. Then I got a surprise—the L-2 does have a stall. It happens down around 38 mph, but it isn't the mush of a Piper J-3. It has a detectable edge to it, which in some ways makes it easy to feel and control. I didn't spin it, but it would probably go around fast and re-cover the same way. I glanced over my shoulder to see how Stan was taking all of this and found he was nearly asleep, scrunched up in the back seat like a centipede in a matchbox. Time to go play grasshopper: and the clatter-lever was brought back to let us down into the pattern. One thing is certain, if you like to fly, you'll love the L-2 because you certainly get a lot of time to enjoy it in the air ...like on downwind for instance. It only cruises at 80 mph, at best, so even at cruise, a decent-sized traffic pat-tern involves a cross-country on each leg. By the time base leg shows up, you've already eaten the sandwich you had stashed away.
On final I got another little surprise... the L-2 does not glide like a feather. But then feathers don't have 6'4" hitchhikers in the back seat. I'd like to have flown the airplane lighter to see if this steepish glide was normal. Of course, I'd flown a pattern twice as big as the airplane required to fit us into traffic, so I was bound to use power.
But, even though it had a rate of des-cent higher than a J-3, it was definitely T'craft when it got into ground effect. As soon as the ground began to straighten out those wing-tip vortices and that wing picked up efficiency, it was just as if the airplane was skating around on ice a few feet in the air. It just didn't want to stop flying. That's where those spoilers would have been really handy. But even the most efficient air machine eventually be-comes a not-so-efficient ground machine when that magical speed shows up. Clunk. And the speed arrived, and the runway with it. As I plopped onto the runway, my first instinct was to start pushing pedals, but we were so slow that my second instinct was to get out and walk. The roll-out was Cub-like, the speed chopper-like and the visibility Cessna-like. In short, landing is a no-sweat operation.
George York and his partner Jim Gorman figure they've got about $3000 and two years of George's spare time tied up in their L-2. That includes the original purchase price of $350 in 1967. A quick check of advertised L-2s show prices ranging from $2500 to $3500 which means there's only a thousand bucks difference between a questionable dog and a newly-restored bird that requires nothing but gas and oil. But with an already-restored airplane, you don't get to spend all that enjoyable time scraping skin off knuckles and explaining to your wife why the house smells like fingernail polish. You also miss out on the satisfaction that shows up when the Yorks, father and son, talk about how they straightened out this, or rebuilt that. If all you want to do is fly, buy a complete air-plane. If you want to create a piece of history, buy a basket case. A low time 65-hp Continental won't run much over $850, fabric and dope $400 ($1500 if somebody else does it), toss in a few bucks for welding and having your work checked by an A&P, and you're in business.
I've decided the L-2 is going to be my next project. Don't ask me why. There's something about it that's cute, unique, and historic all at the same time. I don't know exactly how my wife's going to react to this, but then she never said anything about the Pitts, or the L-5, or the Wedell. Honest, honey. You'll love it. Every family needs a 1000-pound grasshopper in the garage. BD