By Stephen Chapis
Ezell Aviation in Breckenridge, Texas, is currently in the final stages of a five-year restoration of an F8F-1 Bearcat for the Texas Flying Legends Museum (TFLM) of Houston, Texas. During its career, Bearcat BuNo 95356 served aboard USS Tarawa (CV-40) as 209 B. It first appeared on the U.S. Registry when Vernon Jarvis registered it as N7247C in 1963. It was on its fourth owner on April 26, 1969, when it was heavily damaged in an off-airport landing in a swamp near Madison, Wisconsin, after a complete engine failure. The aircraft ended up on its back, trapping the 43-year-old pilot in the cockpit. He was extracted after rescuers cut a hole in the fuselage. The fighter has not flown since.
TFLM acquired the wreckage of 95356 and F8F-2 BuNo 121528, along with a multitude of used and new old stock parts from John “Dusty” Dowd of Syracuse, Kansas, as well as the remains of the late-Howard Pardue’s XF8F-1 BuNo 90446 and an F8F-2 that belonged to the late-Robert Kucera. Because it was the best candidate for restoration, Ezell Aviation began to work on 95356 in 2012. One of the key elements of this restoration was the construction of a new stainless steel spar to replace the original aluminum spar. Chad Ezell recently spoke to Warbird Digest about the inherent design flaws of the original spar. The technical aspects are beyond the scope of this report, but in a nutshell the new spar is heavier but is twice as strong as the original. Ezell added, “We’ve made steady progress on it and currently we have the engine on it, the gear is in it, as well as 90% of the sheet metal. One of the big challenges we are working on now are the exhaust panels that run from the exhaust stacks and overtop of the wing. It’s a stainless steel piece that is about 28-30 inches long and it has a lot of curves in it.”
Currently, Chad and his crew are working on the electrical systems and fitting the gear doors, windscreen, and canopy. TFLM and Ezell Aviation intend to have the aircraft judged at Oshkosh, therefore great attention is being given to the installation of original equipment, including the instrument panel and the shelf-mounted radios in the tail. Chad explains, “We haven’t nailed down yet how we are going to do the avionics but it will be a balance of originality and safety.” Although Oshkosh is the goal, Chad said they are not going to rush in order to make it to AirVenture.
To whet the appetites of enthusiasts worldwide, Ezell said there are enough remaining parts to build two more Bearcats, one of which could be built as a dual control aircraft, while the other could be packaged and sold as a project. That being said, Texas Flying Legends Museum and Ezell Aviation have given fans of the Grumman Iron Works much to look forward to.
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