|Seating up to eight, Clu Colvin’s Vultee L-13 is a perfect fit for family and camping gear.
|A quick fold gets the L-13’s tail out of the way.
Finding a bit more space for the family tent was not a problem for Clu Colvin. He simply folded the right horizontal stabilizer on his Consolidated Vultee L-13 up and out of the way.
Originally designed by the Stinson Aircraft Company, Colvin’s 1947 L-13 is one of approximately 280 examples of the large liaison plane produced by Vultee. Vultee had purchased Stinson, and although rights for most of the Stinson designs had been sold to Piper, Vultee retained this model and put it into production.
“I wanted something that flew like a J-3,” Colvin said when asked what drew him to the type. “And I’ve got three kids so I needed lots of room.”
After a bit of research Colvin decided the L-13 would fit his needs and a search got underway. A listing on eBay turned out to be the most productive source of information.
“On eBay it looked like I was trying to sell something, but when you read the ad you found out I was looking for info on it,” he said. “That is what generated the most response.”
Ultimately the search was successful—maybe too successful—with Colvin now holding a collection of four L-13 airframes.
Originally powered by a 245-hp Franklin engine, Colvin’s bird was converted to a 300-hp Lycoming radial at the end of its military career. Also part of the conversion was registration as a Standard Category airplane, an act rumored to be in support of a CIA operation. Colvin believes his flying example is the only remaining Standard Category bird.
“I bought it [in January 2010],” Colvin said. “I got it home in February and got it flying sometime around the end of April, or the beginning of May.
“It was quite a bit of work, but I am an airline pilot and I could move my schedule around. I was pretty much working on it full time.
“It wasn’t damaged; it had just been taken apart. So I didn’t have to do much repair work—just put it back together. And, of course, paint it.”
A few aspects of the short takeoff and landing design created some confusion during the restoration effort.
“You’d start to look at it and try to figure out why they did this or why they did that,” Colvin said. “One little thing is that the tail wheel control is labeled as a lock. Well it’s not a lock. You turn on the steering and you turn it off. It’s either free swivel or it engages the steering mechanism.
“I also assumed that [airfoils attached to the ailerons] were some sort of high lift, high angle of attack device. They’re not; at least I don’t think so. The ailerons are really heavy if you move them right now. When you get it in the air [the airfoil] acts almost like a spade. The elevator is light too–same thing.”
Beyond the folding tail plane, its wings will retract and lie flat against the fuselage in an operation Colvin estimates two people can accomplish in 10 minutes. Once the wheels are rotated 180 degrees from their flight position, the entire airplane is no wider, and has the same wheelbase, as the standard military jeep of the day.
When asked if he folds the plane up to save hangar space Colvin said, “I just don’t do it because we fly it too much. We’ve put 130 hours on it in the last year.
“I hate buying 18 gallons an hour, but I hate not bringing it ’cause people like looking at the goofy-looking thing.”