While some people make New Year's resolutions to stop smoking or lose weight, Ken Snyder of Tiffin has a unique goal for 2012: to finish restoration of a 1951 Piper Tri-Pacer airplane. Snyder said his interest in flying began in his youth.
"My dad used to take me to the Philadelphia airport to watch the big jets come right over your head, taking off and landing. When I was in the (Army), I flew in helicopters every chance I could get," Snyder said.
In 1995, Snyder obtained his pilot's license. He owns the maintenance department for a group of 33 Wendy's restaurants, based in Sandusky. In 2010, he flew to Huron and noticed a neglected 1951 Piper Tripacer stored in a hangar there.
"I just saw it sitting in there one day. When the original guy owned it, he wanted quite a bit of money for it. It ended up he died and his son inherited it and his other airplane. This guy bought it, but he didn't want this one, so he sold it to me really cheap. I got all the covering with it and all the chemicals that go with that ... I couldn't go wrong buying it, with the stuff I got with it," Snyder said.
He became the new owner July 3, 2010. In his garage workshop, he removed everything that would come off. He has applied Alodine to the wings and all other aluminum parts to preserve them. The steel body was sandblasted and epoxy painted. Having researched the history of the plane, Snyder discovered it was the 39th of its kind produced.
"In the 1950s, the original owners bought it for about $4,000," Snyder said.
Records show a survey company in Wisconsin used it for business. Many private owners had the plane before the Huron resident bought it. Snyder plans to update the craft with modern instrumentation while refurbishing the polyfiber exterior. Snyder said multiple protective undercoats containing ultraviolet protection must be applied before the final paint goes on. He has decided on tan and dark green instead of the original white, brown and orange color scheme it had.
"Every cable, fuel line, brake line, all that stuff's been replaced. It should be better than it was when it was new, because they didn't have the preserving processes back in the day," Snyder said.
Snyder hasn't made as much progress as he had hoped in the year he's been working on it.
The chemicals require ample ventilation and cannot be applied in freezing temperatures. That task will have to wait until spring, but he can turn his attention to the mechanical and electrical work in the meantime. The process has required some trial and error to get parts on in the correct order.
"I've put some stuff together and had to take it apart again because I didn't remember the process I took it apart," Snyder said. "But I'm having a lot of fun with it. It's a heck of a project. I was always going to do a tractor or an old car, but I like airplanes better."
Instead of building a plane from a kit, he decided to go with a plane certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Snyder said it will be more costly because numerous inspections are required, but the finished product also will have a higher resale value. When it is finished, Snyder would like to take it to air shows or just fly off to distant locations for breakfast or sightseeing. Snyder's daughter, Laura Beth Elchert, is looking forward to that first flight.
"Dad wants to have me as his first passenger, just as I was when he first obtained his pilot's license. Of course, only after a thorough safety inspection by me," she said.
After the wings are attached, the plane will no longer fit in Snyder's garage. Moving it to an airport means more expenses for renting the space. On the plus side, the high-wing airplane is fairly easy to move and assemble - one reason Snyder chose it.
A member of the Piper Short Wing Club, Snyder can get advice from members who are working on the same kind of plane.
"The guys out at Tiffin Aire have been great with helping me and letting me use their facilities," Snyder said.
"There's a bunch of old timers out there that just love these airplanes. This is what they grew up with and they love to see somebody restoring them."