'Old Blue,' a key part of Unity museum, has frigid flight history
By Craig Smith
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
It had been 30 years since Mike McCann saw the single-engine airplane he pulled from Alaska's frozen tundra, then hauled piece by piece to a nearby river to be shipped to Montana for rebuilding.
“It's bigger than I remember,” McCann, 61, said when he was reunited with the plane on Tuesday at the KLBE Air Museum at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity. “The last time I saw it was heading out of Billings.”
The Stinson V-77 Reliant, dubbed “Old Blue,” was one of 1,327 built between 1939 and 1949. It is the same model of airplane that flew the first scheduled airmail pick-up at Latrobe in 1939.
McCann, a nurse who was working in a large Alaskan village, was looking for old planes he could rebuild.
“There were a lot of wrecked airplanes around Alaska,” he said. “I had saved up $3,000 and got laughed out of Fairbanks.”
Then he learned of the blue plane he found frozen upside down. It had been there 30 to 40 years.
“The Indians along the Yukon River used (the plane) as a campsite,” said airport authority chairman Don Rossi. “They built fires in the cockpit.”
Despite the plane's state of disrepair, McCann took it on as a project.
“The price was right … and then I became an expert on scrounging stuff,” said McCann, who has worked onairplane “skins” in Ireland and New Zealand. His searches for old planes took him to Russia and other countries.
The toughest part of his effort to disassemble the plane?
“Beating the spring sun,” said McCann, who spends half of the year in Ennis, Mont., and half in Homer, Alaska. He had five days to complete the task.
“This panel was gone, “ McCann said after climbing into the cockpit on Tuesday. “I rebuilt it.”
For Rossi, the plane's connection to Latrobe was strong enough to warrant a visit to see McCann in 1984 with hopes of acquiring the plane. The mechanism for airmail pick-ups was developed by Lytle S. Adams, a dentist from Jeannette, Rossi said.
Rossi, Elias “Babe” Krinock, Ed Sobota and Attlio Negro headed to Montana and bought the plane for $30,000. It flew in the Westmoreland County Air Show for a number of years but has been housed in the museum since its last air show in 1998.
“I thought it was quite a significant thing to have this piece of history,” said air museum director Sam Schrengengost, 74, of Delmont.
Getting the plane back to Latrobe wasn't without incident, Rossi said. After leaving Billings, they were to land in Sheridan, Mont.
“We landed at the end of the runway and it stopped ... It was leaking oil like a sieve. We couldn't get it started again,” Rossi said. “We had to push it the whole way back up the runaway.”
In addition to their use as airmail planes, the Stinsons were used for flight training and firefighting, and as cargo carriers or air ambulances.
Once back in Unity, the plane was painted the original red and gray colors of All American Aviation, the company that delivered airmail via the Adams system to small communities throughout western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Long-serving fire chief shrugs off honors
- Officials say programs are making Pennsylvania roads much safer
- Bank nixes Jeannette finance plan
- Judge rejects deal in metal theft case
- Latrobe raises earned-income tax rate
- Police: Witness’ tip leads to arrest
- West Newton again holds line on tax rate
- Sewickley Township worker accused of threats seeks pre-trial program
- Inmate population up over 2012
- Rullo demotion hearing postponed
- Geyer Performing Arts Center to present ‘The Nutcracker’