Michigan pilot restores long-lost Luscombe

October 1, 2012

luscombe 8a

Bill Spencer spent three years restoring the 1947 Luscombe in which he took his first flight. Photo courtesy Bill Spencer.

He could not have been more than five when he took that first ride in his father’s 1947 Luscombe 8A, but Bill Spencer never forgot it. When the airplane was sold in 1963, he ached over the departure, and later recalling that it was like losing a brother.

luscombe 8a Bill Spencer fashioned a new bottom cowling for his 1947 Luscombe 8A. Photo courtesy Bill Spencer.

“I swore then when he sold it,” Spencer said in a telephone interview, “I wanted to own it again someday.”

In 1998, Spencer, who lives in Houghton Lake, Mich., and runs a CNC mill at a local machine shop making parts for the automotive industry, earned his pilot certificate, and set to work tracking down the two-seater that had lit the spark.

Spencer said he would visit fly-ins with a sharp eye out, but it was the Internet that finally did the trick. In 2003, he traveled to Florida to lay eyes on the old Luscombe, and secured a promise from its then-current owner that if it ever came to selling it, he would give Spencer a call. In 2009, that call came, and the work began.

luscombe 8a Bill Spencer had some work to do after tracking down the Luscombe his father sold decades ago. Photo courtesy Bill Spencer.

“The biggest thing was I had to remake the lower cowl on it,” Spencer said. The previous owner had put years of effort into the restoration, but Spencer had a few other items to take care of—including fabrication of new doors.

“It’s all done on my own. I had no training at all,” Spencer said. “It took me probably a lot longer than somebody who knows what they’re doing.”

Spencer, encouraged by his wife, Sue, son Chuck, daughter Jaclyn, and granddaughters Emily and Elizabeth, learned as he worked, and labored happily on an airplane that, it turned out, had been closer than he thought. A friend of his father had bought the airplane in New York after it left the family, and quickly sold it to another owner from Spencer’s hometown: Yale, Mich.

“He kept it at a different airport,” Spencer explained, and he was never aware his once and future Luscome was so close at hand—for 20 years. In another near-miss, Spencer’s hangar neighbor snapped a photo of the Luscombe in Bad Axe, Mich., in 1992 during his own airplane search.

luscombe 8a Though he had never flown it himself, Bill Spencer said his 1947 Luscombe, in which he first flew with his dad as a young child, “felt right.” Photo courtesy Bill Spencer.

“I had no idea that I was so close to it back then,” Spencer said.

There is still work to be done, paint and interior updates still on the checklist. Spencer got used to the airplane, and found it was like flying an old friend—though he had never flown it when his father owned it.

“It just felt right, right from the first flight up to the present,” Spencer said.

In July, Spencer gave the first ride in the old Luscombe to his granddaughter Emily, who at the time was the same age her grandfather was when Charlie Spencer, her great-grandfather, sold the airplane in 1963. The local newspaper was on hand to document the event.

“She loved it,” Spencer said.

Perhaps the spark was lit for a new generation, and a future pilot given her first taste of flight. “I hope so,” Spencer said.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.