Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Friday, December 6, 2013

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013: Bellanca Transitions Into the Modern Age

Fred Harl, Carmelo Turdo
Mark Nankivil

Visitors to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh may encounter nearly any major U.S. and many foreign-made civilian aircraft types, and the 2013 event fulfilled this expectation well.  One unexpected find, a rare Bellanca T250 Aries (Model 51, number 3 of 4 produced), owned by Jim Rhoades of Livermore, California, was photographed by contributor Fred Harl as it taxied in the grass early in the week.   However, that is just the beginning of our story.  When reviewing photos from previous events, we discovered that we had encountered another Bellanca T250 (number 4 of 4 produced) in the St. Louis area and that contributor Mark Nankivil had taken some great photos of it on the ramp.  Time was running short to revisit the St. Louis-based aircraft, so a second examination of the rare Bellanca was made by The Aero Experience Founder Carmelo Turdo and has become a delightful addition to this review of Bellanca Model 51 and earlier generation Cruisair and Cruisemaster aircraft.  

Bellanca's entry into the post-World War II 4-seat general aviation market was the Cruisair series, introduced in 1937 as the Model 14-7 and 14-9 Cruisair Junior.  Following the wartime production shutdown, the Model 14-12 Cruisair and Model 14-13 Cruisair Senior series emerged in respectable numbers.  These aircraft offered 120-150hp Franklin engines and manually-cranked retractable main landing gear.  A 1947 Bellanca 14-13-2 Cruisair Senior based in Madison, Wisconsin, was spotted on the field and it looks to be available to a new owner.

The late 1940s development of Bellanca 4-seat Cruisair series was the Model 14-19 Cruisemaster with 190hp Lycoming engine and Model 14-19-2 with 230hp Continental engine.  These were essentially strengthened Cruisairs with larger engines and hydraulically-retractable landing gear.  The tricycle-gear version, the Model 14-19-3 Cruisemaster Bravo, offered a 230hp Continental engine 1957 and 260hp Continental engine in 1959.  During this period, the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation was dissolved, and production rights and tooling for the Cruisemaster went to Northern Aircraft in Alexandria, Minnesota (later renamed Downer Aircraft and later still International Aircraft Manufacturing Inc.).  This aircraft sold in relatively small numbers prior to the introduction of the more upscale Viking series.  A very nice 1959 Model 14-19-3 Cruisemaster Bravo was also flying at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013.

The Bellanca name re-emerged in the late 1960s, the company acquiring the assets of Champion Aircraft before becoming a subsidiary of Anderson Greenwood & Co. and later Viking Aviation.  During the 1970s, the development of the Citabria series continued, and a new 4-seat touring aircraft, designated Model 51 (T250 Aries) emerged during the Anderson Greenwood receivership years.  Due to the uncertainty of the company's future, production did not commence until 1980, and only four were produced before Bellanca declared bankruptcy.  Designed as a competitor to the Beechcraft Bonanza and Mooney M20, the T250 Aries featured a 250hp Lycoming engine and advanced construction techniques such as flush riveting and faired joints.  The aircraft can cruise at 185 knots with a range of 1150 miles on 76 gallons of fuel.  If conditions were better for the company prior to the takeover by Viking Aviation, this aircraft may have had a brighter future.

The very rarity of the T250 Aries makes the documentation of two of the four produced much more significant.  As mentioned above, Aries number 3 was seen at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh as it taxied out for a flight early in the week.  A very informative article on the aircraft can be found in "General Aviation News," October 25, 2013 edition.  The aircraft was purchased by Mr. Jim Rhoades and a partner (who owned a Bellanca Cruisemaster) new in 1981, and has been used ever since as primary air transportation. 

Bellanca T250 number 4 was seen in the St. Louis area in May of this year while visiting our EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 sponsor, Air Associates of Missouri, at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.  The aircraft, registered to Wings of Hope, the renowned humanitarian service organization, was available on the ramp.  Noting that the aircraft was unique, contributor Mark Nankivil took this series of photos:

In preparation for this feature, we contacted Wings of Hope to find the status of the aircraft.  Wings of Hope President, Douglas Clements, graciously invited The Aero Experience Founder Carmelo Turdo to visit the St. Louis facility and examine the aircraft before it is acquired by a new owner in the coming days.  During a tour of the hangar at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, it was obvious that one aircraft was different than the rest - the Bellanca T250 Aries.  Mr. Clements explained that the aircraft was bequeathed to Wings of Hope upon the passing of Judge Charles M. Travis in May, 2011.  Judge Travis routinely flew the aircraft out of the Chicago area, and also served Wings of Hope on significant assignments.  Wings of Hope accepts aircraft donations for use in support of its primary mission of providing medial relief through aviation to those in need in the local area as well as across the U.S. and the world.  Occasionally aircraft are sold, as with this T250 Aries, following their annual inspection and necessary maintenance.  The Aero Experience was given permission to photograph the aircraft once again as it remained this week:

The Aero Experience wishes to thank EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013Air Associates of Missouri, Air Associates of Kansas and Wings of Hope (especially President Douglas Clements and Chairmen of the Board Larry Lemke) for making this feature possible.

Some data for this feature was provided by Aerofiles and  Pilotfriend Aircraft Database.

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