Jan 10, 2017

Andy Andreason's Great Dream...

The Stinson Voyager -- Similar to Andy's plane
In 1975, I accepted a position in the LHA Program Office at Ingalls Shipbuilding (a division of Litton Industries) in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  I had previously worked in the Logistics Directorate at the same location.  My new job would involve managing the change boards that reviewed all proposed changes to the LHA ship, a 39,000-ton, 800+ foot long amphibious assault helicopter carrier.  Changes may be initiated to solve an engineering problem, or to meet some contractual requirement that was overlooked, or simply to improve the product.  Our job in the change boards was to determine if the change was truly required, whether the proposed solution made sense, whether it was the most cost-effective solution, whether it met specifications, and when it might make sense to incorporate the change.  We had representatives on the boards from many divisions of the shipyard -- material, planning and scheduling, production, etc.

One of the gentlemen, the representative from production planning, was a fellow named "Andy" Andreason.  Andy lived in Foley, Alabama, and commuted over 80 miles each way to work each day.  On a good day, it took over 1 hour and 15 minutes for his one-way trip.  He looked for an alternative.

The highway and straight-line distances from Foley to Pascagoula
Andy had been an active private pilot for about 40 years and had accumulated thousands of hours of flight time in small aircraft.  One of his favorites was the Stinson Voyager, a single-engine airplane that had been produced by the Stinson Aircraft Company of Wayne, Michigan, between 1939 and 1945.  They produced over 5,000 of these light aircraft that were unique for their slatted wing design.  The planes cruised at about 100 miles per hour.

Andy's idea was simple: Buy and restore a Stinson Voyager.  Then, by keeping a car at the Pascagoula Airport, he could commute by air in his own plane, from Foley to Pascagoula (a straight-line distance of about 50 miles), and drive from the Pascagoula airport to the shipyard, a distance of only about 8 miles.  What a concept!  Of course, it would only work in fair weather, but it would greatly reduce Andy's commuting time and stress level.  He found a good used Stinson, bought it, moved it to Foley, and began the restoration.  And, because we worked together, the entire change board got daily updates as the restoration progressed.

An early Stinson Voyager advertisement
It was probably early 1977 that Andy was ready to make his first commuter flight.  The restoration was completed and his "new" airplane had been flight tested and declared airworthy.  On the first day with favorable weather, he made the inaugural flight and his plan worked perfectly!  Over the next 10 days, the weather continued to be perfect, and Andy commuted by air every day without incident.  Then he told us he was taking a couple days off while his A&E mechanic inspected and readjusted a few items on the plane.

On the day that Andy was supposed to resume his airborne commute, he failed to be at work at 8:00 AM.  This was unusual for him, since he was a very punctual worker.  Unusual also was the fact that he didn't call to let us know of his absence.  Finally, about 9:30 AM, I called his home to check on him.  His wife answered.  The conversation went as follows:

"Mrs. Andreason, this is Bob Mead at the shipyard.  Is Andy in?"

"He's here, but he doesn't want to talk."

"Is he OK?"

"He's fine, but the plane isn't.  He'll tell you more when he comes to work.  He'll be there tomorrow."

The next day, we learned the whole story.  To fully appreciate this description, understand that Andy was 65 years old and a very large individual, probably tipping the scales at about 275 lbs.  Andy had gone out to the airport as usual and moved the plane out of its hangar.   Andy tried to start the engine, but the battery was drained from all the usage it had had in the hands of the mechanic.  Andy set the hand brake, set the throttle for fast idle, stepped in front of the plane, and pulled the propeller to hand start the engine.  To his surprise, the engine started and sped up to far more than a fast idle.  As Andy ran around the plane to reach into the cockpit to slow its RPMs, the plane started to move!  You see, his mechanic had, among other things, adjusted the hand brake and the idle speed.  Andy hadn't accounted for the handbrake readjustment, and hadn't pulled the brake handle far enough.  He then grabbed the tail of the aircraft to stop it from running into another nearby plane.  As Andy ran sideways to rotate the direction of the plane, he lost his grip and it plowed into the airport's fueling station, demolishing and igniting one of the gas pumps!  By the time he got a fire extinguisher and some assistance, the front half of the plane was destroyed.  Andy was embarrassed beyond words!

This story actually has a happy ending.  Andy's long-range plan was to retire and use the plane to travel across the country with his wife.  Not long after the disaster, Andy located another damaged Stinson Voyager, in Texas, with an intact front half.  He bought it, retrieved it from Texas, and completed a second restoration of the "married" air frames.

The last time I heard of Andy and his wife, they were flying the "new" plane to distant points and Stinson owners' gatherings.  God bless them for realizing their dream!

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