Howard NH-1 29457, N115KB

Copyright 2010, Glenn E. Chatfield, posted on 2010-11-26

I worked as an air traffic controller at the West Chicago, IL DuPage Airport from August 1981 until the end of November 1995.  During that time I photographed many aircraft passing through in the summers on their way to the EAA Convention in Oshkosh, WI.  On one of these occasions in 1983 I had the chance to photograph a Howard DGA-15P  after its unfortunate twist of fate during arrival.

For those unfamiliar, the Howard Aircraft Company started in 1935 near the Chicago Municipal Airport on 65th Street - what is now known as Midway Airport.  The company was formed to build commercial models of  Ben Howard’s famous race plane, the DGA-6 “Mister Mulligan,” winner of the 1935 Bendix and Thompson Trophy Races in the National Air Races.

The first commercial DGA was based on “Mister Mulligan” with less horsepower and was called the DGA-8.  (All of Howard’s planes were DGAs - “Damned Good Airplane”).  Successive models were made and improved upon, culminating in the DGA-15.  They were designed for performance, utility and reliability.  This roomy high-winged plane could seat four in earlier models and five in later ones.  A unique feature was the flaps, which retracted slowly, automatically on go-arounds, providing one less thing for the pilot to worry about during such actions.

Howard built a larger production facility in what was then St. Charles, IL, across the street from the DuPage County Airport, and it was one of the reasons the airport began to grow.

With war on the horizon, Howard got a fairly decent contract with the Navy.  During the war years the Navy bought four versions of the DGA-15: 29 GH-1 and 115 GH-3 liaison and utility aircraft (plus four “drafted” DGA-15s and one “drafted” DGA-11, also designated GH-1), 131 GH-2 ambulance planes, and 205 NH-1 instrument trainers.  (The Army Air Force even “drafted” 19 various DGA models as UC-70 utility transports.)  Problems with the Navy requirements eventually led to contract cancellations and Howard Aircraft Company’s demise.

One of these NH-1 instrument trainers was DGA-15P construction number 782, built at the DuPage facility in late 1943 and assigned Bureau Number 29457.  After serving 300 hours with the Navy, 29457 was sold as surplus to an Iowa man.  In December 1946 the plane was in Oklahoma City being converted to civil use by installing a rear seat and having military radio gear replaced with new civilian equipment.  The fuselage was re-covered, control surfaces rejuvenated, windshield replaced and interior re-trimmed, and finally given an airworthiness inspection.  The aircraft was then given the civil registration of N4622N.

N4622N was later purchased by five AIr Force officers, one of whom was General Curtiss LeMay, and based at Offutt Air Force Base.  On 6 July 1955 the officers sold the plane to 2nd Lt. Tad D. Hammond, who, from reading the logbooks, appears to have been LeMay’s personal pilot.  N4622N then passed through a few more hands, and in May 1973, with 814 hours, it was practically rebuilt and given the new call sign of N88WT.

In August 1982 Donald F. McDonald, Jr., of College Station, Texas, took over as the proud owner of N88WT.  Mr. McDonald had soloed on his 16th birthday, acquired his private license on his 17th birthday, and when I met him in July 1983 he was 25 years old and held a commercial license for single-engine airplanes and a private license for gliders.  At the time he was working on his master’s degree in Civil Engineering at Texas A & M.

During the last week of July 1983, Mr. McDonald departed Texas en-route to Oshkosh.  On 28 July, with 1031 hours on c/n 782 since it rolled out of the Howard factory, Mr. McDonald landed on runway 15 at DuPage Airport for a stopover.  As he was on short final, I received permission to leave the tower and drive to the north ramp where McDonald said he would be parking, so I could photograph the aircraft.  Expecting the aircraft to be taxiing in by the time I got there, I was surprised to find no sign of it.  One of the pilots who knew me and my hobby of taking photos of antiques and warbirds asked if I was looking for the DGA which had just landed.  He then informed me that it had a wee bit of a problem on landing.

Unfortunately, taildraggers are notorious in crosswinds and N88WT left the runway to the right side.  Fortunately, Mr. McDonald was able to regain control of the aircraft and keep it on an even keel during the rollout in the grass.  Unfortunately, McDonald found one of our drainage ditches.  As the aircraft hit the ditch the left main gear was sheared and the aircraft went up on its nose before settling back on its belly.  Although the aircraft was substantially damaged, the occupants were unhurt.

I had my hand-held radio with me and called the tower asking for permission to go to the site of the accident and was given clearance to do so (I was a temporary supervisor at the time and was responsible for all accident reports).  That was when I met Mr. McDonald and he told me what had transpired on landing.  The sad thing he told me was that he had decided the aircraft was too much for him and he was taking it to Oshkosh to sell it.

The next day when I met Mr. McDonald to get more details for the report, he gave me a photo of the plane and told me its history.  It was ironic that old construction number 782, after 40 years of absence, had its first accident and came to rest no more than a couple thousand feet from where it was built.

When I last talked to Mr. McDonald on 1 August he told me he had found at Oshkosh many of the necessary parts to repair the plane and he would soon have repairs underway.  He said he was trading N88WT for a Cessna 140.

When I first began posting photos on Airport-Data in 2006, I discovered many planes I photographed in earlier years were no longer registered under the number they carried on their sides in the photos.  Many of the photos of civilian planes were taken for aircraft recognition training and I had no way of learning what their current registration was.  However, N88WT, being an ex-military machine, had a construction number recorded on my photos.  Researching the c/n led me to discover the aircraft is now registered as N115KB.  (N88WT, by the way, is now a Cessna 140!)

Today I was in the process of cleaning up some old photos with a new photo-editing program and I decided to repost my shots of N88WT on the profile for N115KB.  Digging out the photo from Mr. McDonald, I came across the information he provided to me, as well as an article I wrote about the plane for the Illinois Aviation Newsletter that fall, and the January 1984 issue Air Classics Magazine with my photo and information in the “Warbird Report,” so I decided I’d write this article for Airport-Data.  

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