|Harry E. Pick is rightfully proud of the rare Culver PQ-14B he rebuilt from rotten wood over a 30-year period. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
|Butter-knife wing on the PQ-14B required a special fixture to steam the wood when Harry E. Pick rebuilt his masterpiece. Wing slots outboard of hte ailerons are anti-flat spin devices. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
By Frederick A. Johnsen
The brilliant red PQ-14B piloted drone in the Warbirds area is testimony to three decades of perseverance by Harry E. Pick.
When Pick bought the PQ-14 project, "it was a pile of wood that was all rotten and steel that was all rusted." So he began finding replacement parts, building his own components when spares proved unavailable.
The wooden-structured PQ-14 demanded creativity when Harry formed new bent wood parts. "I started soaking them in the bathtub." When the tub proved too small for some pieces, Harry designed a rig to lower them into a well on his Illinois farm.
When even bigger pieces needed forming, Harry built what one observer called a "Fred Flintstone" steamer-a large steel trough with a roaring fire beneath it creating steam to form the wing and fuselage skins.
The resulting airplane uses all new skins.
Pick's passion for the PQ-14 stems from his military service as an Army Air Forces flight officer in the Panama Canal Zone in 1945-46. "I flew one in the service 67 years ago," he said. He was 19 at the time.
His red PQ-14 was used for anti-aircraft gun tracking tests-not live fire.
The Culver company built PQ-14s for use as expendable radio-controlled targets that could be piloted for ferrying or other less-than-lethal purposes.
When he located a PQ-14 project in Idaho 30 years ago, Pick resumed a love affair with the sporty red aircraft whose lines can be traced to Al Mooney's Culver LFA Cadet design. Yes, that Al Mooney.
The restoration demanded dedication from Harry. "I've been all over the country scrounging parts," he said.
But like any classic love story, the affair with the racy red Culver hit some rough patches. "I've given up on it a couple of times," Harry conceded.
It was all proved worthwhile last month, however, when Harry flew its first post-restoration flight.
"I gotta tell you, it's really something to see it sitting here at Oshkosh."
Many visitors to the PQ-14 may recognize it only from YouTube film clips showing a PQ-14 drone smacking into a desert mountainside. When a wooden airplane is built to be shot down, spare parts can quickly become spare splinters.
Harry was fortunate to locate a new set of engine cowls in Canada. The stubby wooden Sensenich propeller that came with his project was less than flyable, but he sent it to the Sensenich company for measuring so it could be re-created by them. And a surplus buyer in California had a brand new old stock six-cylinder Franklin engine.
During the PQ-14's extended restoration, several people associated with the Culver drones contacted Pick, adding historical lore to the project.
Showing the airplane at AirVenture 2012 is an obvious joy for Harry, who says "I'm 85; I'm slowing down."
But there's little evidence of that in his enthusiastic engagement of visitors to his displayed PQ-14.
"I've had a lot of fun in life and life's been good to me. What more can you ask for?"