The silver, red, and black taildragger sports a newly rebuilt 180-horsepower Lycoming IO-360 to replace the factory’s six-cylinder 145-hp Continental. A pair of Cessna 175 wings holds additional fuel to keep the slightly thirstier engine happy.
The aircraft itself came with a bit of a story too. It was totaled in a 1972 water-crash in Alaska shortly after takeoff. Five of the aircraft's original skins survived, along with most of its original structure. Fosso said N2771C was stored for 40 years until the teenager picked it up for $12,000—his entire life savings at the time and money that he earned from three seasons of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
During high school, Fosso spent nearly every day at the airport. He traded his elbow grease with “Mac” so he could fund hangar space for the Cessna and flight lessons for himself. Fosso soloed at age 16 while some of his high school classmates spent their free time partying.
The young man pushed himself hard and wasn’t shy about the consequences. “I own this plane … and if I mess up it’s my fault,” Fosso told BizKids.com during a video interview taped when he was a sophomore in high school.
The battered Cessna was “hanging in a chicken coop and full of Christmas boxes and stuff down in Lynnwood [Washington]. It had the floats and everything, and I thought, ‘That’s cool I’ll have this flying in six or eight months.”
The journey was a struggle, Fosso said, because it forced him to be creative when funds ran low. He made friends with aviators near and far and used those relationships to strategize for spare parts. He credits Stoots Aviation for the upgraded engine. A lot of digging turned up a pair wings with larger fuel tanks and a need for serious TLC.
The restoration has taken six years, but nearly every piece of the aircraft he calls 71Charlie has been meticulously cleaned, replaced, or reconstructed. Along the way Fosso learned so much about aviation maintenance that he earned his A&P certificate and “finished college seven quarters early.”
Now Fosso wants to share his love of airplanes with the rest of the world. Once the restoration is complete and he has the funds for fuel and expenses in the bank, Fosso plans to fly 71Charlie to all 50 states to encourage young people to understand what aviation is all about.
He hopes to infect others with his enthusiasm by producing a video highlighting a unique flying feature in each state “to motivate youth about getting into aviation.” Fosso said flying is not always about the flight. “Sometimes it’s about where you can land and what you can do.”
The young aviator doesn’t have to look far for an interesting aviation destination. With the thirty-fifth anniversary of the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens recently making the evening news, Fosso remembered that pilots have a unique vantage point of the once-dormant volcano. General aviation aircraft can fly “right into the crater at Mount St. Helens," said Fosso. "You can look around there and for 270-degrees there’s just this wall and its insanely wide. It’s huge.”
Flying to the 48 continental states was a logistical challenge in itself but adding Alaska and Hawaii elevated Fosso's proposed 50-state trip to another level. He said crossing through Canada for Alaska wouldn’t be too difficult and Fosso already had plans in place to accomplish the hop north. However, he said he was still working the kinks out of barging the Cessna across the Pacific Ocean so he could fly 71Charlie around the Hawaiian Islands.
Fosso said he wasn’t “building an airplane to blast to the sunsets or anything” but has instead focused on trying to encourage more people to embrace his love of aviation.
Fosso reflected on his teenage years spent blazing his own path in, under, and on top of 71Charlie rather than following in the footsteps of others his same age. “I might’ve been working at McDonald’s or Wendy’s,” Fosso said. “I don’t know what else I’d be doing but I’m glad that I did it. I want to get it done for me, but I want to use it as a tool to inspire youth and make them see they’re more capable than they think they are.”