On the Record With: Spring Grove airplane restorer Neil Anderson

Matthew Apgar - mapgar@shawmedia.com
Attorney Neil Anderson poses for a portrait holding a throttle quadrant at Galt Airport on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Greenwood.  Anderson is rebuilding two T6 World War II-style aircraft.
Matthew Apgar - mapgar@shawmedia.com Attorney Neil Anderson poses for a portrait holding a throttle quadrant at Galt Airport on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Greenwood. Anderson is rebuilding two T6 World War II-style aircraft.

WONDER LAKE – Neil Anderson’s passion started with a bucket list.

About 20 years ago, the Spring Grove attorney won a case for his client, and the two got to talking about all the things they wanted to do before they die.

“On my list was to go for a ride in an open-cockpit biplane. The client called me up and said be at Gilmer Airport at such and such a day,” Anderson recalled, as he stood among planes in his Galt Airport hangar.

From there, Anderson was hooked. He soon got licensed, and one of his first planes was a World War II-era T6 airplane. He eventually sold the T6, which he called the “college fund.”

But he never forgot the thrill of flying it. Seven years ago, he and a group of investors bought another T6, but this one had to be fully restored. It’s a 1942 Canadian Harvard II airplane. The investors eventually whittled down to Anderson and John Bilik, both of who are restoring the old warbird with the help of their friend, Ed Moricoli, and the mechanics at JB Aviation.

Anderson took some time to show Northwest Herald reporter Chelsea McDougall around the airport hangar where the guys are about another year from restoring the airplane and having it ready for takeoff.

McDougall: So what happened after your first flight? You fell in love?

Anderson: Oh, instantaneously. … It’s a disease. It’s just a disease. You either love it or you really don’t care. I’m in the category of loving it.

McDougall: Tell me about the T6. How did you find it?

Anderson: It came out of Franksville, Wisconsin. As a hobby, I track warbirds throughout the world. There had been a rumor of a T6 in Wisconsin that had an incident, that was cracked up and in a hangar.

My oldest son and I would fly our Cub [airplane] around and just land at every little airport, and we’d be looking around trying to find this plane. We never actually found it. And then one day, it hit the advertising circuit. And I was like “Franksville, Wisconsin, has a T6? No way! I know everybody in this area that’s got a T6.”

McDougall: What condition was it in?

Anderson: The airplane was in a hangar that was a non-heated hanger, and it had been there for about 50 years. It was pretty rough. We bought it from a gentleman who was in his 80s. He was the second civilian owner of the airplane. … It had been sitting for 50 years.

McDougall: What did you need to do to repair it?

Anderson: We tore it down to its bare frame. There’s wasn’t a single bolt on this airplane.

McDougall: Do you know the history of this particular plane?

Anderson: It was purchased from the government in the 1950s. It was originally built to be used as a platform to experiment with different electrical devices. ... The gentleman that we bought it from … he had lost it on a landing. He hurt the right wing, it’s a very common thing in this plane. People scare themselves in them.

McDougall: Do you know where this has flown before?

Anderson: I have all the original log books dating back to 1941. This airplane was used by the Canadian government. An interesting little fact … it was assembled in California. By treaty, it could not fly and land into Canada. So the [U.S.] would fly them into Washington state, land them and push them over the border and the Canadian government would accept them.

McDougall: What’s it like to fly one of these?

Anderson: Being it’s a military airplane, it’s not real forgiving … It’s phenomenal to fly. The airplane will do anything you ask it to do. It is a very, very well-performing airplane.

Usually, when you have good performance, you give up a little in safety. You just don’t tell it to do something wrong because it doesn’t have a wide forgiveness factor. You don’t want to go out and do something stupid in this one. It will bite you.

McDougall: Still, I’m sure you’re looking forward to flying it.

Anderson: I will tell you, I will probably be more scared the first time I fly this than the first day I ever flew a plane solo.

McDougall: Why’s that?

Anderson: Because there wasn’t a nut or a bolt on this airplane six years ago. Not a single thing on it. We took it down to bare frame. Every single part came off this airplane. Every single part is bolted back on to this airplane. When it sat for as long as it did, you need to really, really be thorough.

McDougall: How do you know what you’re doing?

Anderson: We have all the military manuals. … These airplanes were designed and built to have 18- to 20-year-old kids in the military working on [them], and they were worked on in the field. There are step-by-step procedures and manuals that tell you exactly what to do and how to do it.

McDougall: How much time have you invested in the rebuild?

Anderson: Oh, God. It’s impossible to even guess. If I knew, I would probably throw the plane out. [laughs]

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