Eric Berens' 1929 Travel Air Restoration and First Flight

By Eric Berens

I had met Peter Bryn in the late 1970's while working a summer job in a small town east of Dazey, ND. He gave me a tour of his hangar collection one evening and learned about his interest in Travel Air aircraft. I was captivated, my interest in that era of flying continued to grow while hoping and planning one day to own a Travel Air.

In early 2006 I decided it was time see if by chance Peter Bryn’s family might still have any of those airplanes and drove to Dazey, ND, finding my way to that same hangar. Terry Bryn, Pete's son happened to drive over a few minutes after I arrived finding me with my nose pressed to the same windows I had looked though some 30 years earlier. Introducing myself to Terry, I explained how I met his Dad years before, he invited me in to look around and over a couple of hours learned many interesting things about growing up around flyers like his dad and Charles Klessig, and aircraft like Wacos, Travel Airs and Standard J1 aircraft!

I did learn that day that NC666H was one of the two aircraft remaining that he had (Peter Bryn had 12 Travel Air's at one time).  After another visit and several phone visits during the next several months Terry entrusted me with it. In October 2006 my Dad, Al, my son Chris and I drove to Dazey to pick it up and brought it back to Stevens Point, WI.
The Aircraft
NC 666H, s/n 1213 is a 1929 Travel Air, Model 2000 with a Curtiss OXX-6 engine, dual ignition Bendix-Scintilla magnetos, liquid cooled V-8 of 102 hp, (at 1400 rpm)with a 102" Ole Fahlin propeller, and 30X5 inch wheels. The aircraft spent most of its flying years in the eastern North Dakota,  Pembina, Caledonia and Dazey  ND and it was never used for spraying. Peter Bryn owned and soloed in this aircraft on October 24, 1936 and it remained with his family until I got it.

The Restoration
Membership in TARA, AAA and the EAA led me to Tom Brown, Tom Hegy and Kent McMakin a well know aircraft restorer. Mc Makin of Brodhead, WI had an opening in his shop for another Travel Air project and started work on it in xxx.  It is painted in its original colors "Travel Air Blue", with silver wings. Original period instruments are installed and the interior is duplicated from original fabric. The aircraft was covered using the Stits Poly-Fiber Process.

The engine was in good condition having been rebuilt while Pete Bryn owned it in the ‘70s and displayed in his shop office. It was cleaned, thoroughly inspected, valve seat lapping was accomplished, new bronze/aluminum exhaust guides installed, the water pump was upgraded with modern seals, bearings and bushings, a new stainless steel shaft and had the mags rebuilt.

After engine installation Chad Willie confirmed the correct timing had been accomplished, then supervised the first starts assisted by Josh Brownell. After finding the sweet spot of the choke, about ¾ closed, it came to life  belching some smoke quickly smoothing out to a 500 rpm idle!

The break-in process used was developed by Parks Air College OX-5 engine maintenance department described in the August 17 & 31,1929 editions of Aviation Magazine. See pages
67-73 (note pg 73) in the book “Album of Rare OX-5 Airplanes”. If followed exactly it amounts to almost eleven hours at various time intervals of rpms and coolant temps from 140 degrees not to exceed 180 degrees.

First Flight
NC666H flew for its second "FIRST TIME" November 15, 2013 at the Brodhead, WI airport! The first "first" was September 1929. Our flight test day was near perfect for Wisconsin in November... 55 degrees, blue skies with light west south west winds at 5-10 mph. Tom Hegy of Hartford, WI flew the first flight of NC666H after 76 years, 22 days. The last flight had been October 24, 1937 by Peter Bryn of Dazey, North Dakota. His test flight lasted 45 minutes finding
it to be stable on the ground as well as in flight with steady, responsive takeoffs, air work, approaches and landings. Performance was as expected from the 102 horsepower OXX-6 engine, with good acceleration, and a reasonable climb and 85-90mph in flight. He did note that with the slim cowled engine profile, it did not slow as quickly on short final and in the flare as do the radial engine models. Following Tom's flight test he gave me a thorough brief on the
airplane's characteristics. We then adjourned to lunch at the Sand Burr restaurant to celebrate the success of 666H's flight! After a thorough check of the aircraft I flew it for 40 minutes finding it all of Tom's description and enjoying every second! Wisconsin turned winter a couple days later so the engine was pickled and the engine/radiator system flushed with minus 55 degree coolant!

Genuine thanks to Kent McMakin for restoring NC666H, his knowledge and expertise of Travel Air aircraft has made it an authentic and grand airplane! Thanks to Dick Weeden for his machine shop expertise, his sons Mike, Jim and Pat for their aviation skills, graphics and photography, along with Terry Bryn, Tom Hegy, Chad Willie for his engine help, Mike Williams, Ted Davis, Bill Liimatainen, and Josh Brownell.
All of their knowledge, skills, encouragement, mentoring, humor and friendship have made this a rewarding, fun experience.