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The Short Saga of PT-19A, N58123

History of the High Sky Wing's PT-19

by Bill Coombes

Copyright 1999 by the Confederate Air Force and Bill Coombes. All rights reserved.

Originally published in The Dispatch magazine, Volume 24, Number 2, Summer, 1999 edition. If you are interested in subscribing to The Dispatch please write to The Commemorative Air Force, ATTN: Dispatch Editor, PO Box 62000, Midland, TX 79711-2000 or call (432) 563-1000. Reproduced with permission.

One of the most attractive airplanes of the Second World War was the Fairchild Model 62A, better known as the PT-19 Cornell. With its first flight in May of 1939, the Fairchild design was a success, and the Army Air Corps eventually ordered more than 6000, including those built under license by Aeronca, Howard, and St. Louis Aircraft. Production of the PT-19 halted in 1944.

The Cornell became one of the two most common primary trainers used by the Army Air Corps during World War II, the other being the Boeing PT-13/17 Kaydet. Boeing’s airplane, often referred to as a "Stearman," was a large steel tube and fabric biplane, equipped with a 220-horsepower Continental or Lycoming radial engine.

Fairchild chose to design a low-wing trainer, with a wooden wing, using a 175-horsepower, in-line Ranger engine. The smaller size and more streamlined shape of the PT-19 allowed for better overall performance with less horsepower. Both airplanes were effective trainers. The PT-19, in general, was easier to fly, while the Kaydet, being somewhat harder to fly, probably produced more proficient pilots.

The Confederate Air Force operates six aircraft of Fairchild’s design, including one of the newest additions to the fleet, a PT-19A, N58123, assigned to the High Sky Wing and based at the High Sky Wing hangar at Midland International Airport. This airplane, built in August of 1942, is a good representative of the post-World War II history of many of Fairchild’s trainers.

The previous owner of N58123 was Bill Laws, of the Coleman Warbird Museum. The PT-19 was the first airplane he purchased when the warbird bug bit in 1986. Laws quickly expanded his collection, and little time was put on the PT as a consequence. Also, Laws and the crew at the Coleman museum discovered that the wing of 58123 was in need of rebuilding, a not uncommon occurrence with the wooden wing found on -19s. After rebuilding, a process that takes considerable time and expertise, Laws decided that the Fairchild needed a new home, and in late 1998 the High Sky Wing bought the airplane.

58123’s original owner was Thor Solberg, a naturalized American citizen, who owned his own airport in Whitehouse, N.J. Records indicate that he purchased the trainer from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the bureaucracy established as the war was winding down to dispose of surplus government assets. Solberg paid $472 in September 1945 for 58123, a fair sum in those days. Within a month, he sold the plane to a Frank Studer, who was just beginning his flight training. Thus, 58123 found itself, with a bit more than 197 hours on its original engine, back in the role for which it was designed, although bereft of its military connections.

For the next 14 owners, 68123 stayed in the northeast, being based at various times in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In 1951 she acquired a canopy, perhaps due to her owner’s desire to fly with a modicum of protection from the elements during the rather chilly fall and winter. By the middle of the 1970s, 58123 had migrated south to Florida, having had one engine change and at least three complete recoverings and refurbishings. She once again sported the traditional blue and yellow color scheme she doubtless wore during her military service, with a big number 42 painted on her fuselage. By 1981, after what must have been an epic cross-country flight, the airplane came to Texas.

Her current logbooks reveal approximately 2700 hours total time on the airframe, and about 290 hours on the engine. To operate within the Class C airspace at Midland, #42 has been equipped with radio, encoder, and transponder, while an alternator and starter also have been added. Future plans call for installation of the original windscreens in place of the canopy, and a new paint job. With the commitment by the Wing to spend what it takes to keep #42 in excellent condition, the future looks bright for this 57-year-old "school marm of the air."

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