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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Celebrity Skymaster does heavy lifting

By JAMES WYNBRANDT
Joe Hurston
Joe Hurston in his Cessna 337 Skymaster with one of the water purification machines his relief organization distributes. Hurston and his plane starred in the ABC TV program Extreme Makeover Home Edition.
PHOTO BY MARIANO ROSALES

What is a pedestrian, unpainted Cessna 337 Skymaster doing on the south side of ConocoPhillips Plaza, AirVenture’s prime stage for showcasing the world’s rarest and most treasured aircraft? True, Skymasters (aka the “push me-pull me” because of its inline tractor and pusher engines) are hardly rare, but this C-337 is unique. And its unadorned appearance—though only temporary—is fine with owner Joe Hurston of Air Mobile Ministries in Merritt Island, Florida.

“The fact that it’s not painted brings more attention than the shiny ones get, because people say, ‘That airplane has got to have a story, and indeed it does,” said Hurston, standing beside the Skymaster, which, according to Hurston, has the miraculous ability to carry millions of gallons of water.

“This little airplane flies all over the Caribbean, mainly into Haiti,” Hurston explained. “We do relief work, carrying pure water, which makes the difference between life and death.”

In truth, Joe’s Skymaster doesn’t actually carry water, but something better: simple, compact water purification machines that can purify 20 to 25 gallons per hour. Joe’s ministry has distributed more than 760 of the water purifiers over the last decade. Additionally, the Skymaster has another claim to fame: it’s a TV star, as are Joe and his family, thanks to ABC-TV’s reality program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“Extreme Makeover” found out we bring water all over the world, and then, lo and behold, our home was destroyed by a very unfortunate water leak,” Hurston explained. “And the next thing I know [program host] Ty Pennington is yelling at us through a bullhorn, ‘Good morning, Hurston family!’”

The show’s producers decided not only would they completely rehab and refurbish the Hurston family house, they would also do an extreme makeover of Hurston’s plane, to enable him to accomplish his relief work more effectively.

A complete glass panel, donated by Garmin, has been installed by Orlando Aircraft Services. Extended range fuel tanks were installed by Skymaster specialists Aviation Enterprises in Nashville, Tennessee. And a brand new interior was made and installed by AirTex of Trenton, New Jersey. Many other aviation companies donated parts and components for the project. Now only one part of the makeover work remains–painting the aircraft to the specs created by Scheme Designers of Crestview, New Jersey. The Skymaster is headed for the paint shop right after AirVenture.

Besides setting a fine example with its selfless service, Hurston’s C-337 also showcases what can be done to a vintage aircraft to bring it to like new condition, something many AirVenture attendees will be interested to see. The water purification machine on display beside the aircraft is equally noteworthy. Weighing 30 pounds and taking one minute to set up, the units operate on 210 or 120 volts, AC or DC power, use less power than a 60-watt bulb, and can run off a car or motorcycle battery. It has a purification power 35,000 times that of chlorine, according to Hurston. And that’s how his Skymaster is able to lift millions of gallons of water, a lesson for all GA pilots.

“With little airplanes you can make a big difference,” Hurston said.

Meanwhile, he’s basking in his first time back to Oshkosh after his initial visit 24 years ago. “I feel like I’m home,” Hurston said. “I remember this square from my first time there. What a blessing it is that EAA put our little ugly duckling right here.” AVT

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