Labor of Love: CAP Couples Restore Vintage Aircraft
In its 80 years, Civil Air Patrol has never been in the business of doling out marital advice — until now. And we’re not about to start. But if you’re a pilot mad about aviation and buying or restoring vintage aircraft, find an infinitely patient spouse and heed this advice from CAP Maj. Deb Maynard on Rule One of aviation restoration: “Pilots should only marry other pilots if they want to stay married.”
From opposite ends of the U.S., connected by a common bond of aviation, Maj. Deb and Capt. Tim Maynard and their East Coast counterparts, Lt. Col. Sean and Maj. Sue Neal, offer two stories of patience, restoration, remembrance, and romance — with a bit of Santa Claus, Glenn Miller, and doppelgangers of Betty Grable and legendary U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur to set the mood. There’s also a dash of the New Frontier.
A Frosty Find at the North Pole
Some three decades ago in North Pole, Alaska, Capt. Tim Maynard found a vintage twin-engine Cessna 310, one of the iconic aircraft types flown by CAP. Built in 1961 at the dawn of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, the aircraft was a bit cosmetically challenged. But now, it may be North Pole’s coolest aviation find this side of a miniature sleigh powered by eight reindeer, nine if you count the one with the shining red schnozzle.
After ideas and parts enough to fill a thousand stockings, new engines, state-of-the-art updated avionics, gauges, instrumentation, tons of TLC, gallons of Maynard elbow grease, and gosh knows how much money, the 60- year-old craft is purring as it rides the skies above the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, often on CAP search and rescue missions thanks to its twin-engine capabilities.
Its blue-and-white paint job also reflects the Kennedy era — the blue taking a page from JFK’s commissioned redesign of Air Force One. The president and first lady Jacqueline Kenney wanted the presidential plane to be less military in appearance, instead giving a more diplomatic vibe.
The Maynards call the vintage beauty “Spirit of the North Country.” The couple splits time between Tillamook, Oregon, and the Anchorage, Alaska, area, a two-legged hop for the aircraft.
It was also Tim Maynard’s daily ride to work as an air traffic controller as he commuted to flight service stations throughout Alaska, rotating as needed. The Last Frontier may be the state most dependent on air travel, keeping it connected to the Lower 48.
The discovery of the 310 at North Pole was “a unique thing,” Tim Maynard said. “I was actually looking for an Aero Commander 500, which is just an incredible airplane.”
Enter a classified ad from the Anchorage Daily News, pitching a 310 for $20,000 up in North Pole. The seller had bought the government aircraft, damaged in a gear-up accident, in 1981. He repaired the crash damage and performed maintenance over the next decade.
With his wife expecting a baby, he looked to find a new home for the Cessna. After a nose-to-tail inspection, a logbook review, and a test flight, Maynard was sold — and so was the 310.
The 310 has a sterling reputation as a dependable aircraft.
“If they’re maintained correctly, they can just keep going and going,” Tim Maynard said. “They’re like the little Energizer Bunny. They just don’t quit.” Cessna’s first 310 rolled off the assembly line in 1954 to compete with the Piper Apache in the hot postwar private plane market.
The 310 is one of 21 aircraft depicted by Maj. Ronald C. Finger of the Minnesota Wing’s Crow Wing Composite Squadron, who collaborated closely with historian Col. Frank Blazich of the Col. Louisa S. Morse Center for Civil Air Patrol History to create “Timeline Flight.” The project features some of the aircraft flown by CAP members over the organization’s history.
For Finger, the 310 posed a bit of an artistic challenge. He was unable to find any reference material showing the plane in CAP livery — a comprehensive insignia consisting of colors, graphics, and typographical identifiers used by governments, airlines, air forces, and some private and corporate entities.
“It would seem we didn’t fly too many of these,” Finger wrote to Deb Maynard, “and I based my rendering and registration number on a CAP graphic from a few years back. Regard- less of the specifics, it sure looks like a beauty!”
The Maynards have had their aircraft — “the family project” — for three decades now, Deb Maynard said. Rule One for pilots bent on restoring a vintage airplane?
Fortunately for Tim, his future wife was on board with the 310 when she received his marriage proposal. “Tim bought her almost 30 years ago, and I can’t tell you how much money we’ve put into this gal; but what the heck, you can’t take it with you, right?” she said.
Truer words were never spoken. And along with the whole North Pole business, there’s another reference to childhood, strictly for kids of the 1950s. An iconic early television show helped Finger paint the Cessna 310 for the “Timeline Flight” series.
“At the risk of dating myself, I remember the 310 fondly as the (second) aircraft flown by TV’s ‘Sky King’ in the 1950s,” Finger wrote.
An aviation Energizer Bunny found in Santa Claus’s hometown. And Sky King used to fly it — reason enough to celebrate the Cessna 310.
After the nation entered World War II, CAP made its mark in 1942-1943 flying coastal patrols to thwart Nazi U-boats targeting Allied shipping.
Connecting with CAP History
Eighty years later, Lt. Col. Sean Neal and his wife, Maj. Sue Neal, introduce a new generation of young aviators to that history with the help of two vintage air- craft bearing the vintage blue CAP triangle on their tail — a 1941 yellow Stinson 10A and a red 1940 Fairchild 24.
The Fairchild is a flying museum, a cayenne-colored aircraft emblazoned with the white CAP triangle and 11, Sue Neal’s favorite number. The plane is a tribute to the brave civilian pilots who prowled the skies of the Eastern Seaboard searching for German submarines that terrorized Atlantic shipping.
Armed with a single 100-pound bomb, the Fairchild flew its missions up to 70 miles off the coast, often in treacherous weather.
As for the Stinson, the plane belonged to a close friend, Elaine Huff, who had asked Sue Neal to help with getting CAP markings added to the craft. Sadly, Elaine and her husband, Tom — both CAP members — were killed in a 2014 crash. Almost miraculously, Sue Neal found her friend’s Stinson for sale online and bought it.
So a friend’s legacy lingers in the soul of the plane whose wings effortlessly slip the surly bonds of Earth.
When Sue Neal recalls the discovery of the vintage planes, an amorous phrase flies. She “fell in love,” she said. But that affection, she said, should extend beyond the aviation community. “The aircraft are irreplaceable,” she said. “There are very few and far between parts to keep them running. So we have to really take care and stewardship to keep the aircraft running and at the same time, be cognizant of the fact that they are so old. We just don’t hop in the Fairchild and say, ‘Hey, let’s go for a flight over the mountains.’ Every time we take the Fairchild anywhere it’s a carefully planned trip.”
She adds, “These aircraft … for us it’s a passion. They’re beautiful. When you look at them, you don’t see the same things nowadays when you look at modern aircraft.”
That passion extends to the couple’s activity as CAP re-enactors, celebrated at an annual World War II weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania. Not only are vintage aircraft from the era on hand, but so are other military hardware and participants in period uniforms. A big band dance, featuring Grable and MacArthur lookalikes, celebrates the era. All ages flock to Reading for the weekend.
“The airplanes kind of become the symbols for the deeds that were accomplished by the aircrew,” Sean Neal said. “The airplanes are very recognizable. … They just became the vehicle for the valor demonstrated by all the aircrew members.”
He added, “We fly our airplanes and present them to the public, because the airplanes are still here. But the people who committed those valorous acts are no longer with us. … They are still remembered as long as these aircraft are on display and flying.”
And simply by their presence, the vintage aircraft serve as vehicles to educate new generations about CAP’s history of service and sacrifice.
“We teach our cadets that these air- craft represent our CAP past.” Sue Neal said. “The reason we love to have cadet re-enactors is because we have them do the research and read the books that are out there … about their history. Granted, these people might be their great-grandparents now. But most of our cadets really connect with history.” She sees that connection at places like the famous AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, each year, where cadets regularly stop to pose for pictures with her bright yellow Stinson.
Sean Neal agrees.
“One of the things that the airplanes do for the cadets — whether they’re re-enacting or visiting an air show or working an air show and come by and visit the aircraft, it’s a tangible, direct connection to their Civil Air Patrol past. So they can actually touch it, feel it, sit in it, and see the same vision that 80 years ago their CAP forefathers, they had that exact same vision. They were in that exact same seat.”
This article originally appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Civil Air Patrol Volunteer, CAP's biannual magazine.