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A Special Cub

EAAers finish, fly airplane for dying comrade

Walt Crosby's Cub
Gino DiNucci taxis in Walt Crosby's Cub.

Walt Crosby's Cub
Gino DiNucci makes the first post-restoration takeoff in N88667.

Walt Crosby's Cub
Walt’s Cub on final approach at Clearwater Air Park.

February 2, 2012 – From EAA Chapter 282 in Clearwater, Florida, comes the heartwarming story of Walter Crosby, EAA 205800, who last week realized the dream of seeing his restored 1946 Piper Cub fly for the first time in more than 50 years. Thanks to the love and dedication of his fellow chapter members, Walt got to see his cherished airplane become airborne – just days before losing his courageous battle with cancer.

Last Tuesday, January 24, Walt was propped up in his hospice bed so he could see out the window facing Clearwater Air Park's Runway 16/34. What he saw was his airplane, N88667, in the air with fellow chapter member Gino DiNucci, EAA 14731, at the controls. Gino later learned from Walt's daughter that her father had a tear in his eye when he saw the plane fly past.

Four days later, on Saturday, January 28, Walt passed away at the age of 74.

Gino, 70, explained that although they had been working for many years on Walt’s Cub restoration (as well as Gino’s – “We were in a race to see whose Cub would fly first,” he quipped), Walt ramped up efforts about seven years ago after being diagnosed with colon cancer. It eventually spread to his lungs and liver, and he was severely weakened by numerous rounds of chemotherapy.

"2010 was almost a 'zero' year," Gino recalled. "We had our doubts that he would even make it (last year)." But by the end of summer 2011, Walt had improved significantly, and was again motivated to resume working on the project with hopes to finally finish it before the cancer could sideline him again.

But by the holidays, the disease and chemotherapy had weakened Walt to the point where he was not able to work on it anymore. On Christmas Day 2011, Gino was working on his Cessna 182 at the airport when Walt showed up to tell him that the end was near. He asked Gino to finish the plane and sell it for Geri after he had gone.

Gino immediately decided to "get the guys together" and finish the project for their friend. Chapter members Bob Henry, EAA 139688; John Shepard, EAA 446414; and Mike Canter, EAA 1030748, dedicated themselves to do whatever it took to complete the airplane, working almost every day over the past several weeks to get the Cub flying again.

Among the jobs that remained were the riggings and cables, weight and balance, installing the new cowling and fairings, and other fine-tuning items.

"The wings were on, but nothing was hooked up," said Gino, who also did the final inspection.

Walt bought the plane for $650 from the original owner back in 1962 with plans to restore it to airworthiness. It was a relatively low-time airframe (2,800 hours), but it needed lots of work, including recovering and a near complete overhaul. As is the case with some projects, life intervened, and his restoration plans were sidetracked for a number of years.

Walt and Geri lived in Massachusetts, but became snowbirds in 1995 when they bought a winter home overlooking Clearwater Air Park (KCLW). Walt earned his private pilot certificate and also became an A&P certificated mechanic.

Gino has worked as an airline mechanic all his life, including TWA and later American Airlines. He is an A&P (IA), chapter Tech Counselor, and received the FAA's prestigious Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award two years ago. Gino is also holds a commercial pilot certificate, has an instrument rating, and has logged more than 10,000 flight hours, including 1,500 hours in gliders.

After the test flight affirmed what Gino had expected. "This is a really nice airplane," he said before then taking Geri up for a flight around the pattern.

For now, Geri is keeping the airplane but the longer-range future plans are not yet know. Gino seemed receptive to the suggestion that Walt's Cub be flown from Florida to Oshkosh this summer to participate in the Cub's 75th anniversary celebration at AirVenture.

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