Back in the early 1970’s, when my father was just getting into collecting and flying antiques he asked his friend and antique aviation mentor, Jack Nees “What’s the holy grail of antique aircraft?” Jack replied, “The Waco UBF-2 and the Stinson SR-9F.”
Following Jack’s lead, Dad was able to find a flying UBF-2 in Texas in 1974. That aircraft certainly proved its sterling reputation as a fantastic performer and showstopper and remained under the stewardship of our family until 2010. Sometime in the late 70’s after starting his aircraft restoration company, Aero Meridian, he was able to locate and purchase a complete Stinson SR-9F project (NC18422 s/n 5714).
Aero Meridian was busy with customer restorations and other projects throughout the 1980s and there wasn’t time to tackle the 9F. In 1991 the company closed its doors and Dad’s focus turned to his development project at Carefree Airport’s “Sky Ranch” fly-in community in Carefree, AZ. Very soon after, the project was sold. (This aircraft is now under restoration in Tulsa, OK.) I was too young to remember the 9F project, but I heard stories about it and the sound of regret in my father’s voice when reflecting. Gullwing dreams unfulfilled.
I earned my pilots license in 1997 and a few years later started flying my father’s Waco UBF-2. I caught the vintage airplane bug and recalled Dad’s stories of the SR-9F with curiosity. Flash forward to 2006 … searching the FAA records one day I decided to see how many 9Fs existed. I knew they were rare, but didn’t know there were only five left on the US registry out of the 30+ produced! I was aware that our friends at RARE Aircraft had recently brokered the only flying example and that Dad’s old project was down in Oklahoma but I wanted to know about the others. I began digging…
My digging became a “little bit” of an obsession and Dad and I discussed attempting to contact the registered owners, and maybe inquire if they would consider selling … just out of curiosity (yeah, right!). I kept Dad updated on my research and I could tell he was starting to get that old 9F fire burning. We discovered that of the remaining three airplanes, there were only two that “perhaps” could be had.
I was able to contact one of the owners, Abel Hera, a crop duster pilot from Miami, Fl. He told me about his project and that he had flown it out of Idaho in 1984. Very soon after that trip home he had disassembled the aircraft for restoration. Despite his best intentions, it was still in pieces. I asked if he would consider selling. At that time he was in the middle of a divorce and could not sell, but he said to keep in touch and I gave him my number to call me if anything changed. I called a few more times over the next year and he still wasn’t ready. It was September 2007 when I finally received the call.
I arrived in Miami in October of 2007 to inspect the aircraft. Tucked away in the back of a hangar, cluttered by years of aircraft hoarding, was the hulking fuselage of an old Reliant. She was sitting proudly up on her gear without wings or tail feathers attached, the fabric was removed, boot cowling, firewall, engine mount and windscreens all still installed. It’s last job as an air ambulance was evident with “Mercy Flights, Medford Oregon” in faded red still visible on the powdery white metal cowl skin. It also had a highly customized interior aluminum gurney compartment for patients and a long access door on the right side of the fuselage.
This was one seriously tired old bird and the last twenty years sitting in a Miami hangar certainly didn’t help. Twenty more and it would have been a pile of rust. We quickly put a deal together with Abel and started planning the retrieval trip.
Restoration began in earnest at RARE Aircraft of Faribault, MN in December of 2012. After an intensive two-year ground-up restoration the aircraft is finally complete and back in her original, majestic form. I traveled to Minnesota in November of 2014 for the big reveal. I about fell over in the hangar when I saw her complete for the first time. It is truly a commanding and emotionally stirring aircraft.
My father was not able to make the trip but was able to do a walk around inspection with me via FaceTime on IPhone and was equally excited. We now have over 60 hours of flying on the Reliant and besides a short list of minor squawks following the test flight, everything has gone incredibly well. She was clearly ready to get back in the air and is an absolute joy to fly. Stinson truly had their act together with the design of the Reliant!
We could not be more pleased with the finished product. It is truly a work of art! 1937 Stinson design and engineering expertly remanufactured by one of the best in the business. RARE Aircraft did an incredible job on this restoration, as they do with all aircraft they take on. What we delivered to their doorstep was literally a pile of parts. There are some who would have written this project off due to missing pieces, condition and scope of work.
Obviously with a rare one like this, you do what you can and with its serviceable airframe there was no question in our minds she had to live again. What they accomplished is nothing short of a miracle, made possible by Roy, Ben and Jeremy Redman’s unique tribal knowledge of Stinsons and intimate experience with Reliants as well as the entire RARE team’s rigorous attention to detail and impeccable craftsmanship. They are a class act and we are grateful.
There is another very critical contributor in getting this project done that must be mentioned. Rick Rezabek, who is the owner of the only other flying SR-9F, NC18425. Without Rick, we would have been in a tight spot with many elements of our restoration. Luckily, he is an accomplished aeronautical engineer (think F-117 and F-22 Raptor) and was able to expertly bang out detailed schematics for a number of essential components for us. Rick has become a good friend over the years since meeting him next to his beautiful 9F at the Reno NAHI Heritage Invitational in 2005. Thank you for all of your support, Rick!
While on my last trip to RARE Aircraft, we paid tribute to the man who brought the 9F into my father’s consciousness all those years ago. Unfortunately Jack Nees passed away in the early 90s, but his spirit lives on in this airplane. We had a custom “Jack” signature applied below the pilot window in his honor.
The greatest part of all of this for me has been sharing this passionate journey with my father. Seeing him get to manifest one of his early aviation dreams is tremendous for me. Together we have brought an extraordinarily rare aircraft back to life, which fills both of us with a great sense of pride but also a responsibility as stewards of a very special piece of aviation history.
My father and I flew the Reliant over to Reno for the National Aviation Heritage Invitational in September of 2015, which takes place during the Air Races. Our old girl won the Paul E. Garber trophy for best Classic.
Our Reliant was picked up from the Stinson Factory in Wayne, Michigan by the first owner, Texas oil man George Barham on October 18th 1937, was sold to the Defense Supplies Corporation in Washington in 1942 for service as a transport during WWII, purchased by the CAA or US Civil Aeronautic Administration in 1945 to be put into service as an instrument trainer for CAA inspectors, and from 1946 to 2008 ping ponged from Fresno, CA, to Tolleson, AZ, to Las Vegas, NV, to Turner, OR, to Ft. Worth, TX to Hollywood, FL, to Floresville, TX, to Cordele, GA, to Medford, OR (Mercy Flight), to Klamath Falls, OR, to Boise, ID, to Miami, FL, and now Petaluma, CA!
This aircraft was always a flyer until disassembled at Abel Hera’s Miami hangar in 1985—a remarkable history and a testament to the durability, desirability and timeless utility of the Stinson Reliant SR-9F.