Pilots: John Damgard

March 1, 2009

A true honor for an aircraft owner is to see his pride and joy end up in a museum to be preserved and admired for years to come. And if that museum is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM), it legitimizes the fact that the aircraft is special. John Damgard of Washington, D.C., recently had his Ryan PT–22 hung up in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy annex of the NASM in Chantilly, Virginia.

Damgard grew up in a small Illinois town and learned to fly as a boy. “Dad owned a business where he had a piece of a Cessna 182 and the guy who flew it for him ran the FBO. I rode in the right seat while dad was in the back and the pilot was balancing his checkbook. I couldn’t see over the panel but I learned to fly that airplane by holding the heading and maintaining altitude when I was 8 or 9 years old.”

When he moved to Washington, Damgard brought his first Ryan Navion with him, but he eventually sold it. He bought another one in the early 1990s. “I have always had a fascination with the Ryan mark. They are very strong, rated in the Utility category, and lots of fun to fly.”

Damgard’s interest in Ryans grew to include the PT–22, although he wasn’t keen on owning an airplane without a starter. One seller with whom Damgard dealt equated hand-propping an airplane at his age to the Hemingway novel, A Farewell to Arms. Damgard finally found one that had an electric starter and for several years, Damgard puttered around in his PT–22 enjoying the open-cockpit experience, displaying it at local fly-ins, and visiting grass strips. But after the implementation of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), flying out of his home airport in Maryland became a hassle. Since the Ryan was not equipped with a transponder or radio, to fly it was a bureaucratic nightmare. “The ADIZ took all the fun out of flying it,” said Damgard.

A friend suggested that Damgard donate the PT to a museum. Damgard wanted to make one last flight in the Ryan to Washington’s Dulles International Airport—connected to the museum by a taxiway—but the airplane first had to go to the musuem’s Paul E. Garber facility in Suitland, Maryland, for repairs. So on the flatbed it went. Several months later the PT–22 was trucked over and hung in the museum among some of the world’s most famous aircraft. Damgard misses flying the Ryan but knows that it’s being well cared for and he can visit it anytime.