Rebuilt 'Baby Ace' Plane Brings AirVenture Back to its Wisconsin Roots

Aug. 01--OSHKOSH -- This was the plane that put the Experimental Aircraft Association on the map.

The red and yellow open-cockpit, single-engine "Baby Ace" built by Paul Poberezny was featured on the cover of Mechanix Illustrated in May 1955 along with an article explaining how it could be constructed for just $800.

After the cover story was published, the small group of plane nuts based in Hales Corners quickly grew into what's now a worldwide organization that draws thousands of planes, pilots and aviation enthusiasts each summer to EAA AirVenture.

When the EAA founder died last August at age 91, his last unfinished project was a faithful re-creation of that original Baby Ace. The Wausau EAA chapter acquired the plane and worked overtime to get it finished and air worthy in time to fly to AirVenture this week in Oshkosh.

Poberezny began cutting tubing in January 2011 with a group of volunteers, and much of the fuselage and wings were done when he died. But it was just a bare-bones aircraft, said Kurt Mehre, the replica project manager and Wausau EAA chapter member.

"He felt that he wanted to bring back some of the energy and grass roots of EAA, to build the plane that started EAA," Mehre said in an interview inside a building near the home-built area of AirVenture where the finished plane is on display.

After picking up the completed parts in Oshkosh in November, volunteers in Wausau spent hundreds of hours finishing the control system and ailerons, covering the wings with fabric and putting the leading edges on the wings, among other tasks. Wausau chapter president Bob Mohr donated the Continental A-65-8 engine. Volunteers worked Tuesday nights and Sundays with a half-dozen to 20 people showing up each session.

On July 4, volunteers were still stitching the fabric for the wings. But by July 17 it was ready for its FAA inspection, and two days later the Baby Ace made its first flight.

The plane was flown to Wittman Regional Airport for AirVenture on Monday. The chapter plans to display it at air shows and conventions for the next few years.

In addition to completing a project started by EAA's beloved founder, the chapter also boosted its membership and introduced the excitement of building a plane to youths, said Mehre, who lives in Schofield.

"This airplane represents so much -- the birth of EAA and the connection to Paul," Mehre said. "It was also a way to rejuvenate our chapter and bring in fresh blood."

The Baby Ace was designed in the 1930s to be built by hobbyists in home workshops with easily acquired parts and materials. The one-seater has a maximum speed of 130 mph with a cruising speed of 85 mph. After Poberezny built his Baby Ace and published his how-to articles in Mechanix Illustrated, so many people wrote asking him questions and wanting to join EAA that he bought a bigger mailbox.

The original plane is on display in the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh. Meanwhile, the recently completed replica has its own Facebook page.

"It's really a great way of closing the circle. It's a replica of an aircraft that brought national recognition to EAA," EAA AirVenture spokesman Dick Knapinski said. "To have an EAA chapter finish Paul's last project is a wonderful way to remember how far we've come."

Copyright 2014 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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