fighting tri pacer


The Project

Several years ago having flown my Kitfox experimental aircraft for 15 years, I was always wanting more cargo carrying capability mostly with fishing trips with another person. I was searching the airplane ads looking at Cessna 172,177 and 182s. I had owned a Piper Six aircraft prior to the Kitfox and missed the tricycle gear and cargo doors. Being a US Marine Corps Captain I had dreams of a Marine Corps war bird but the affordability of a Piper L4 or Stinson L5 still left me with more cargo capacity in the Kitfox. A Tri Pacer carries all camping and fishing gear to include an inflatable boat, electric folding bike and a fly fishing buddy.

For weeks I searched and on a raining weekend several years ago I just happened to discover the Piper Tri Pacer. They seemed affordable, had a rear passenger and cargo door plus having my Fly Rod Business in a 5000 square foot hanger, a fabric covered aircraft up keep and maintenance was no issue. The Kitfox I built and fabric covered, so what might have been obstacles for some owners were positives for me.

My Marine Corps background combined with a 35-year defense industry career where I worked with 29 Military forces in armament system upgrades allows me keen understanding of the Tri Pacer military technical history. Being a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute with a Bachelor of Science Degree in History has guided my accurate research in the historical military use of Tri Pacer “Liaison Birds”.
Once I settled on a Tri Pacer, the more research I did lead to Google searches of hundreds of Tri Pacer pictures and articles. The final straw in my trade off was seeing a French Air Force Tri Pacer in the French Air force Museum! Now the Tri Pacer solved cargo load, tricycle landing gear and an aircraft, which I could restore as a war bird replica. Not only did the French receive 12 aircraft for the war in Algeria, Cuban forces fighting Castro and the South African Air Forces received 12 aircraft each in their original Tri Pacer livery right from Piper factory in Lock Haven PA. Each country then militarized their Tri Pacers. Tri Pacers dropped hand grenades, smoke markers for bombers and some removed the rear door to mount a .30 cal. Machine Gun! Their missions where typical “L-Bird” ones of recon, artillery spotting, resupply, medical evac and convoy support. All services modified their Tri Pacers to support these missions.

My 6-month search started for N2650A. Trade-a-plane and Barnstormers where read multiple times a day. I joined the Short Wing club. In preparation for buying one I knew would not find one in my backyard of Reno so I flew to Portland Or. for a Tri Pacer check out. My IA who would assist me in maintenance for a certified plane gave me a call one day and he had seen a Tri Pacer I had missed in Barnstormers. N2650A (1952-Pa 22-135 up engined to 160 HP) was purchased from a great pair of son and father owners in the Dayton OH area. The great adventure started as I commercially flew to Dayton to bring N2650A home to Reno.

It was smooth flying against the typical west to east coast head winds and I can true fully tell you that the scenery didn’t change from Dayton to Rawlins WY! Green farm fields and red silos! August 25, 2019 N2650A landed at the Reno Stead airfield and within a week I started the restoration and transformation into my war bird.

Researching a 69-year-old Tri Pacer war bird is similar to what Egyptologists have done for two hundred years, dig up what facts are obvious and use educated guesses on the rest! Not many of any first hand Tri Pacer accounts, photos or written history remain. The Cuban forces lost to Castro so nothing historical is left from Cuba and the South African Tri Pacers disappeared into the desert. The French Air Force has their two remaining Tri Pacers in the French Air Force Museum with all technical and military historical data for N2650A’s replica transformation.

The original gyro panel was restored to French Marine Corps standard except for FFA modern day requirements of ADSB transponder.
The first challenge was to do the interior. I needed to upgrade to an ADS-B transponder, which I chose the Appareo Stratus ESG. N2650A’s son and father owners had yellow tagged a great Terra 1998 era NAV_COM and a King GPS 89. Using iPad map and chart capability allows basic IFR flights and more then adequate VFR flights with my nostalgic gyro panel.
My restoration criteria were to modernize only for safety and current ADS_B requirements on the original panel. All my Tri Pacers 1950”s gyro instruments worked, and even the 1952 wind up panel clock worked great.

Here is the list of restoration work I had before me:

  • Restore Gyro instrument panel and glare shield as close to original.
  • Rebuild electric breaker panel and all lettering with laser lettering.
  • Remove and redo the prior done 30-year-old interior.
  • Replace all with period colors of the French Air Force Tri Pacer.
  • Utilize aircraft leather and nostalgic pleated front seats (rear seats removed).
  • Install shoulder belts (safety Upgrade).
  • Make a 1950’s French Military cargo compartment net.
  • Restore control yokes as original including the original Piper Logos.
  • Restore the rugs and all interior Panels with leather per French colors.
  • Build clear observer doors for pilot and rear door per French Military mods.
As of March 30, 2020 the entire interior has been completed. The next phase will be exterior restoration and French Tri Pacer olive drab painting of N2650A. The French Air Force Museum has wrapped their support around my project and unfortunately I had to cancel an April museum visit because of the Corona Virus outbreak. That trip will occur later in the year but for now technical and historical liaison is supported by Email.