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Wings over Hector

Couple shares passion for flying rare planes

A long time ago Ed Newberg’s interest in planes started as a young boy when he sat in front of a 1950s black and white television screen and watched episodes of Sky King.

Now, nearly 50 years after taking his first plane ride and being infected with the flying bug, Newberg, 60, of Hector, continues to appreciate the splendor of flight in his career as a pilot and sharing his knowledge of aviation history.

That becomes evident every year when he and his wife Connie help host the annual Fly-In Breakfast at the Hector Municipal Airport. Usually held each September for the past 72 years, the event is believed to be the largest fly-in of its kind in Minnesota, when hundreds of aircraft of all types attend, with big crowds coming for the traditional flight breakfast.

The Newbergs have been the airport managers since 1977 and this year’s fly-in event featured their rare 1943 Timm N2T-1 Tutor plane.

The 1943 Timm is the only remaining “Plastic Trainer” in the world still flying out of 262 American composite aircraft produced for the U.S. Navy during WWII.

The Timm Aircraft Corp. introduced a method of aircraft construction that involved the use of a plastic-bonded plywood, which was designed and developed by Lakefield, Minn., native and pioneer aviator Otto Timm.

Using the Areomold process, wood veneer parts were molded together, bonded with plastic and baked at 180 degrees. The surface then had a plastic paint applied. It was inexpensive, faster to build and designed in anticipation of an aluminum shortage for the construction of other war planes.

The Navy took an interest in the innovative use of nonconventional plastic materials and issued contracts for the Timm Tutor monoplane, with deliveries beginning in 1943. They remained in use as the primary trainers for pilots until towards the end of 1944.

Several Timms still remain in existence but most are in museums, including the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla., and at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Always on the lookout for unusual or rare planes, Newberg, along with his son Dustin, purchased the Timm about a year ago from a man in Lake Mills, Wisc. Rebuilt in 2004, the plane is the newest pride in his collection.

Newberg says the 220 horsepower single engine Timm needs to be hand cranked instead of electric, and is one of the few remaining aircraft that uses that procedure.

When working on his two-seater Timm N2T-1 or flying it, he sometimes thinks about where his plane has been over the past seven decades and the pilots who trained in it.

The bright yellow Timm was prominently parked in front of the hanger for the crowd to view and admire as they waited in line during the flight breakfast.

“The Timm is a special plane,” said Ed. “A friend of mine, Matt Quy, in the Air Force saw it was for sale in the Barnstormers publication and called me. I bought it over the phone, which I’ve done a lot because after a 20 minute conversation with the owner you can get a feel if it’s in good condition,” he explained.

Newberg said why so few Timm’s survived after the war years was due to them mainly sitting around and deteriorating. “They were bought cheap and flew until they fell apart because of the type of material that was used and that was the end of it. A lot of Stearman’s were also converted to crop dusters after the war and if they hadn’t become spray planes, they’d have fallen apart too,” he explained.

And Newberg should know. He has had his own crop dusting business since 1981 and owns 22 aircraft including four used in his agricultural spraying work. Most of his planes are parked in hangers at the Hector Airport.

The Newbergs winter in Mesa, Ariz., and have four of their planes based there including a 1943 Stearman biplane, a 1942 T-50 Bobcat Cessna Bamboo Bomber, a 1928 Travel Air biplane and a MASH helicopter.

Newberg figures he’s owned and sold about 250 airplanes over the years.

“I once owned a 1935 Cessna C-34 that was the only production model still flying at the time but I sold it in 1987 to a museum in Sweden because the King of Sweden once had one back in the 30s,” he recalled.

Another of his more recent additions is a 1928 Travel Air. “It has a big old 500 cubic inch water-cooled OX5 engine, which is pretty rare and produced by Glen Curtiss between 1910-28,” he noted.

But he definitely has a fondness for the Stearmans. “My first year of crop dusting I flew a 1941 Stearman for a man out of Murdock before I started my own business,” he said.

One of the more interesting aircraft Newberg owned before selling it last year was a Red Baron Squadron 1942 Stearman, which was the lead plane for the 28-year aerobatic team.

“In 2009 the Schwan’s Company in Marshall discontinued their Red Baron Pizza advertising promotion using eight Red Baron planes and sold them at an auction,” Newberg explained.

“A fine art dealer from Albany, N.Y., bought one of the two Red Barons that were allowed to keep its artwork intact,” Newberg said. “Then I had a chance to buy it from him and flew out to New York and picked it up, and man, it was in flawless condition. I then flew it 22 ½ hours cross country to Arizona, with 15 fuel stops,” he recalled.

After owning the plane for about four years, Newberg sold it to a 91-year-old man from Davenport, Iowa, who flew the plane around the country to air shows.

While in Mesa each winter, Newberg is active with the Commemorative Air Force at Falcon Field. There he recently developed a fork system to lift disabled veterans sitting in a parachute harness into his Stearman for plane rides. “The biggest gift I can give somebody is to take them for a ride in an airplane,” he commented.

An accomplished, self-taught musician, singer and songwriter, Ed wrote the song Fortress of the Sky and sings about “The Sentimental Journey” WWII B-17 bomber that is based at Falcon Field with the video available on You Tube. In addition he’s worked together with an author to help produce an airplane children’s book called, The Zoomers

Because of their passion for airplanes, the Newberg’s have met a lot of great airplane enthusiasts since they got married in 1977. According to Ed, some fly by the book and others by the seat of their pants.

“Kind of like what I did when I got my pilot’s license just out of high school and a few years later delivered by myself a Piper J-3 Cub plane to Alaska in 1976. It had no electronic navigation equipment, only a compass,” he recalled. Piper Cubs have been popular aircraft used by Civil Air Patrol groups and with bush pilots in Alaska for its short takeoff and landing abilities.

After nearly 40 years of being together, Ed and Connie still love to fly anywhere. “Connie likes to say if there’s a mall at the end of a rainbow, let’s fly there too,” he laughed.

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