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L–4 restorer: Ken SchmittL–4 restorer: Ken Schmitt

Trophy winner at Oshkosh 2019

One of the most exciting aspects of a visit to EAA AirVenture each year is the opportunity to see the unique aircraft restorations that painstaking owners have been working on for months, even years.
Ken Schmitt

Photography by Mike Fizer

These beautifully restored airplanes take people back in time as their restorers have researched, repaired, and remade their antique finds to be as near perfect as the day they left the assembly line. One such restorer is Ken Schmitt, an Oregon-based former weapons mechanic during the Vietnam War. He worked on the aircraft of the iconic Misty squadron—which flew the two-seat version of the Super Sabre, the F–100F, in 1967.

“I always loved airplanes and loved working on model airplanes with my brother,” the soft-spoken, modest builder said. “I built a Stearman in my yard and garage but sold it and always regretted it.”

So, Schmitt discovered a bare fuselage with skeletal wings and, believing it to be a Piper Cub, began researching its restoration. He was delighted to discover it was in fact a 1945 Piper L–4J Grasshopper, one of the important liaison aircraft of World War II. He says it looked like a bird cage when he began in 2000, but after a 17-year restoration it “looks exactly like it would have in 1945” when the aircraft flew in the Pacific theater.

“I’m meticulous,” Schmitt said. “It’s why it took me so long. It’s an important part of our history. I think it came out really nice.”

Others agree; when he displayed the L–4J at AirVenture in 2019, the restoration won the L-Bird warbird trophy and was selected as one of the finalists for the convention’s airplane of the year. It also won the Henry “Hap” Arnold Trophy for military restoration from the National Aviation Heritage Invitational. Schmitt had hoped his Grasshopper would be on display again this year, but the big show is canceled because of the worldwide pandemic. In 2019, Ragwood Refactory owner Kyle Bushman (“Beauty or the Beast?” June 2020 AOPA Pilot) had flown the airplane to Oshkosh for Schmitt—and was prepared to make the trek again.

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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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