“I saw N816G for the first time sitting on the Viking Aviation ramp at La Crosse [Wisconsin] around 1972,” said Bummert. “My uncle, Carl Rebhan, was a salesman for Northern Engraving who needed a smaller plane to call on his extensive client list.” A local pilot and businessman owned N816G and leased it to Northern Engraving. Bummert often joined his uncle on sales calls and eventually earned his multiengine rating in the airplane soon after earning his private certificate. In 1979, however, the owner sold the airplane, closing that chapter of the story.
“I often thought about N816G,” said Bummert. Perhaps it is so memorable because N816G is a very rare Travel Air. It is one of only six of the type to be modified with Doyn Aircraft’s engine conversion utilizing six-cylinder, 250-horsepower Lycoming IO-540 engines in place of the original 180-horsepower Lycoming IO-360s. Doyn, long since out of business, was known for taking engines from one type and putting them on others. In this case, Doyn took the engines from the Piper Aztec and put them on the Travel Air. Piper Apaches were then fitted with the 180-horsepower Lycomings removed from the Travel Air.
“With the internet in the 1990s, I went searching for [N816G] and found it at a flight school in Naples, Florida,” said Bummert. “I talked to the owner and he wanted to sell it. So, I sold my [Ford] Cobra Mustang, a Ski Nautique boat, got a 401(k) loan, and bought it.”
While most Travel Airs move along at about 160 to 170 KTAS, the Doyn-converted airplane can best 190 KTAS. Fuel burn, of course, goes up accordingly to attain those last 20 knots. A stock airplane will burn about 20 gph total whereas the Doyn Travel Air will consume about 28 gph. Fuel capacity is 106 gallons usable, so the engines will burn through that supply in three hours with any sort of reserve. In turn, Bummert likes to cruise in the 11,000-foot range where fuel burn drops off to 25 gph total and true airspeed is still a very respectable 187 knots.
An even bigger boost in performance is felt on takeoff and during climb. Compared to a regular Travel Air, Bummert’s airplane scampers quickly to 80 knots where it will fly itself off the runway, rapidly accelerate through VYSE (blue line), and translate all of that excess horsepower into a 2,000-foot-per-minute climb. Extended-chord flaps lower the approach speed and a set of brakes lifted from the heavier Beechcraft Baron help N816G stop better than a stock Travel Air.
Is there a downside to the Doyn Travel Air’s performance boost? Yep, it’s a bear to slow down and go down. Descents have to be planned well in advance as any meaningful rate of descent quickly plunges the airspeed to and through the maximum structural cruising speed (top of the green arc) of 161 KIAS. Flight at airspeeds within the yellow arc should be in smooth air only. In fact, below 10,000 feet, the airplane is always flirting with the yellow arc in cruise and is another reason that Bummert flies at 11,000 feet or above whenever possible.
“With the internet in the 1990s, I went searching for [N816G] and found it at a flight school in Naples, Florida. I talked to the owner and he wanted to sell it. So, I sold my Cobra Mustang, a Ski Nautique boat, got a 401(k) loan, and bought it.” —Kent BummertOf course, most pilots see a high-powered Travel Air and think, why not get a Baron? Beechcraft’s Baron and Travel Air share many common parts and were produced concurrently through the 1968 model year. The original Baron’s designator in 1961 was 95-55, a nod to its Travel Air roots. The Baron 95-55, A55 (model years 1962 and 1963), and B55 models (1964 to 1982) use fuel-injected 260-horsepower Continental IO-470-L engines under slimmer cowlings and are 180-plus-knot cruisers with a maximum takeoff weight of up to 5,100 pounds. Historically, the Baron became Beechcraft’s “going places” airplane while the Travel Air became the “economical” twin, often relegated to trainer duties like the Piper Twin Comanche and Seminole or Beechcraft Duchess. All those airplanes use sturdy, reliable, four-cylinder Lycomings that can stand the punishment of flight training.
So why didn’t Bummert just get a Baron B55? “I never gave it a thought,” he said. “I wanted the Travel Air that I learned to fly in and got my multiengine rating in. I had been around and flew more Travel Airs than Barons and I just liked N816G.” Despite having chunkier cowlings and 20 fewer horsepower than a B55, N816G is a solid five knots faster. This is likely because of the Lycoming IO-540s’ greater displacement and torque than that of the Continental IO-470s on the B55. The Travel Air is lighter as well. And for those who think the Lycomings would run rougher than the Continentals, I’m happy to report that N816G runs just as smoothly as any Baron, thanks in part to its three-blade propellers that are dynamically balanced with the engines.
How did the airplane get from Florida flight school trainer to the museum-worthy showpiece it is today? “At first I only wanted to keep it airworthy and fly it,” said Bummert. “About a year after I bought it and had moved to Holland Airpark [in Holmen, Wisconsin], I noticed corrosion on the horizontal stabs—so bad that it was popping rivets. I had a long friendship with George Bolon, who owned Win Air in Winona, Minnesota, and his mechanic, Kurt Swogger. George was an IA mechanic who helped me with the purchase of N816G and helped me keep it airworthy as he had experience with his own 1959 Travel Air.”
“Kurt’s dad owned an auto body shop and he got me fired up to do the paint/restoration and mentored me through it all,” said Bummert. “Kurt did 90 percent of the painting while I did some flight controls and panels.” Bummert did the most important part of any paint job, the prep work. “I did all the chemical stripping, acid etch, and alodining. I bought some good paint stripper from a place that painted airplanes in Watertown, Wisconsin. Using this stripper and a heated pressure washer, I got the airplane stripped in two days,” said Bummert. He replaced the side windows with thicker acrylic from LP Aero Plastics and bought a pair of used horizontal stabilizers from a salvage yard that were in excellent shape. “It all started to snowball and I just kept doing more and more,” explained Bummert. N816G didn’t fly for more than four years while the restoration continued. Finally, they finished it off with a custom paint job that kept much of the original 1964 Beechcraft paint scheme. “The colors are Ford Wimbledon White, Ford Acapulco Blue, and Gold Metallic,” he said. “The blue was chosen because I sold my first car I bought, an Acapulco Blue 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1, to help finance the restoration.” It’s all topped off with two layers of clear coat.
In 2010, Bummert enlisted A-list interior shop Air Mod in Batavia, Ohio, to redo the Travel Air’s interior. Air Mod principal Dennis Wolter (“Pilots,” August 2020 AOPA Pilot) and his crew go far beyond just recovering seats and sidewalls. They gut the airplane down to the structure, clean up years’ worth of dirt and grime back to gleaming aluminum, and then prime the underlying structure so that it will be preserved and protected. It is a thorough, complete, and expensive process that jibed with Bummert’s desire to have an airplane as good as or better than new.
While interior work is difficult, thankless work that is easy to outsource, Bummert’s effort on the exterior is apparent. The results, even 20 years later, are astounding. Not one bit of corrosion is visible on the airplane and the finish is like a mirror, even on the belly. “I am so glad I got my A&P and later my IA,” said Bummert. “It has saved tens of thousands of dollars in labor costs. Although I have enjoyed every minute of working on N816G, and other airplanes, I have a deep respect for others that do this type of work.”
Bummert retired this year from Air Wisconsin after a 43-year airline career. In retirement, he and his wife, Denise, plan to fly to warmer destinations to escape Wisconsin winters. N816G is very much a part of Bummert’s life and will continue to be into his retirement.