N125C in the Air Again!

As reported on our News page on September 9, 2005 Dick Rank recently flew his Mite, N125C for the first time after a three-year rebuild (interrupted by another construction project -- a log cabin in the Appalachians!). Here is his report on this major achievement....

2005-11-14: We have added four photos, and now feature N125C as Mite of the Month for November, 2005

This is how N125C got to Atlanta.

August 24th, 2005: Sitting at the end of the runway with engine running for that first test flight is quite an experience. After many months of work and considerable expense, Mooney Mite 125C was about to do what it was meant to do, to fly.

All kinds of questions came to mind at that moment. Did I forget anything? Will the newly broken-in engine keep running? But then reason took over, and I pushed the throttle up slowly, watching gauges and the runway. Nineteen hundred rpm's, 350 feet of runway, and then the old bird was flying as it should. Testing mild control changes indicated all was well, and the climb out was uneventful.

The tower gave me clearance to fly a racetrack pattern over an inactive runway at 2700 feet, which kept me above the pattern and below the Lockheed C130's on final for Dobbins AFB. For 30 minutes I ran through my test checklist, but by plan the gear did not go up on this trip. Rpm's were a bit low (1900), but temps, pressures and speeds (110 mph) were as expected. Then it was time to feel the elation and enjoy the view. 125C flew hands off, just what I had hoped for.

Back over three years ago, I had sold my first Mite (118C) to Robert Schroeder, and immediately felt quite incomplete. Months later, I eventually did hear of a Mite over in Burlington, Wisconsin that was a good one, so on a flight down to Atlanta, I stopped there to check it out. John Gadeikis, the second owner and an employee of American Champion, had 125C all apart in his basement, and had beautifully redone almost all the cockpit sheet metal work already. His wife had fabricated excellent cockpit liners. But he hadn't started the wood, cowlings or the cover. Someone had stepped through both the top and bottom plywood on one wing, and many wing and tail joints needed re-gluing. That meant refreshing my scarfing joint skills, par for the course. The Continental, a "-8", certainly needed a complete overhaul. Later, Don's Dream Machines of Griffin did that for me.

Fine sheet metal work by John Gadeikis, the prior owner.

It was nice to immediately see everything under the skin for a change. No guesswork was necessary on condition of the wood and joints. It is sort of like a marriage. The skin may be nice, but you may not know much about what is underneath it.

The price was right, so a week later I drove back up to Burlington to pick it up. With help from several of you, I knew how to build the trailer frame to bring 125C back to Atlanta. The trip was good, with the wing overhanging the car. Finally, the Mite was now safely hanging in the shop.

The first owner had cut a big hole in the nose bowl to eliminate the external carb intake, one of those ill-fated changes we hate, making the aircraft an experimental, so the nose bowl had to be replaced, a real problem nowadays. I was fortunate to get the late John Neal of Griffin, Georgia to fabricate one. He was a master at shaping and welding aluminum. On an earlier trip to Griffin, we saw him fabricate the entire twin tail of "Glacier Girl"", the P-38 that Pat Epps and Richard Taylor recovered from under 260 feet of Greenland ice. The new tail was absolutely perfect, much better than the original – a true work of art..

Along the way, I saw the Workmans' beautiful Mite on the cover of Vintage Aviation, and I knew then that I would use its color scheme on 125C. They graciously agreed to let me copy their colors, and another difficult decision was behind me. Then followed three years of fun and sometimes unexpected problems, all of which we solved properly. I say "we", because I had the dependable help of Johnny Caldwell, a WWII pilot, mechanic, engineer and good friend. He was always there to hold the other wrench, to offer good advice, to hand me a tool under the aircraft, or to suggest a better way to go about something. I also have the good fortune to have my shop attached to the "recip" repair hangar of Epps Aviation, a very large FBO at PDK in Atlanta. I owe a lot to Pat Epps, who gave me steady support throughout the project, and to the many mechanics who offered very helpful suggestions and sound advice on a variety of problems.

Sheet metal artist John Neal finishes the nose bowl.

This Mite took much longer than it should have, because I completed a couple of unrelated projects along the way. Restoring an old aircraft should not be rushed. That recent day at the end of the runway was worth all of it and more.

Another test flight allowed testing of the gear. With the gear and flaps up, rpm's went easily to 2160 at 125 mph, and full throttle turned 2300 rpm's at 130 mph. I couldn't ask for any better performance. The prop is the original equipment Flottorp 65-66.

Now I expect to have many happy flying hours, some of which should be in formation with Jim Frank, Gus Hertz, and Monroe Spake here in Atlanta. Five other Mites are within 500 miles of here. A fly-in may be in the future as well. It will take a long time to catch up with you West coast guys, but it could happen.

Okay, pull the chocks. Time to test it!

For a time, Dick's shop looked like a Mooney Mite factory.

A nice Mite fuselage on the spit.

Before the test flight -- concentration.

After the test flight, a celebration with John Caldwell.

The plywood was rippled. A light-weight smoothing compound reduces drag.

Dick with the finished product.

Updated: 2005-10-03