|The Buhl family's rare Buhl Airsedan very likely flew over the AirVenture grounds during the 1928 National Air Tour.
By Randy Dufault
Aviation was changing very quickly during the 1920s. Designers everywhere believed they had an idea that would leap-frog the competition and establish their concept as the airplane of the future. The Buhl family, a fixture in the Detroit area and owners of a diverse set of businesses, were no different. In 1927 they decided to build airplanes and, in fact, received the first type certificate ever issued by the CAA for one of their early designs.
But the pinnacle concept for the Buhl Aircraft Company was the Airsedan. Airsedans have a sesquiplane configuration. On a sesquiplane the lower wing is significantly smaller in chord, span, or both than the upper. The design intended to create less drag yet retain the strength of a traditional biplane.
On display this week is the prototype airplane of the Airsedan series, which will be featured in today's inaugural Vintage in Review program at 11 a.m. just outside the Vintage Red Barn.
Larry and Fay Buhl, of Harbor Springs, Michigan, are the owners. Larry's father was president of the Buhl companies in 1928, when it was built. The prototype, along with a restored Buhl Bull Pup, will be featured among a large collection of family and company memorabilia.
When the Buhls discovered the airplane, they called upon Andy Bowman, an experienced airplane builder and restorer, to examine the pieces and help determine whether the family should acquire it.
"Larry called me in September of 2009 and said, 'There's a fellow in Ohio that's got an Airsedan,'" Bowman said. He went there to inventory the parts to see if there was enough to put it together for static display. There was, and the Buhls acquired it.
Bowman said Buhl had no expectation that the airplane would ever be flown.
According to Bowman, the CA-3C Airsedan actively flew about 20 years after leaving the Marysville, Michigan, Buhl factory in June 1928.
"Just like every other plane of the era, by the time it was finished it was obsolete," Bowman said. "Things were changing so fast."
The plane's first big journey started only a month after first flight when it, along with 34 other airplanes, flew in the the National Air Tour for the Edsel B. Ford Reliability Trophy. One leg of the journey, from Milwaukee to Wausau, Wisconsin, very likely took the craft right over the top of the AirVenture grounds.
"It was in July, but I don't think the show was going on," Bowman quipped.
The only other flying Airsedan, part of Greg Herrick's Golden Wings Museum in Anoka, Minnesota, flew as part of a 2003 re-creation of the 1928 air tour. It carried tour No. 8, the same number this plane used for the original 1928 event.
After completing the tour the Buhl settled in with a number of owners on the West Coast. What records still exist seem to indicate it remained in some sort of flying condition until the early 1950s.
Homebuilding legend Ed Marquart, member EAA Chapter One at Flabob Airport in Southern California, discovered the airframe in storage sometime in the 1960s. He acquired it with intentions of getting it back into the air ... someday.
Marquart finally got the restoration project underway in 1995 and worked on it until just before his death in 2007. By the time the Buhls acquired the project, Marquart had completely rebuilt much of the fuselage, built new wings, and designed a new mount for a Lycoming radial engine in place of the original Wright J4.
The airplane did fly here to AirVenture. Despite early plans for a static display restoration, the Buhls changed their mind and Bowman completed it to flying condition. The plane first flew again on October 12, 2011.
However, once it returns from AirVenture 2012 the family has no expectation it will fly again.
"At least that's the current plan," Bowman said, "but things could change."