By Carol Taber
From the time he was a young man, Wake Forest resident Richard Netherby loved to fly. He soloed in his Dad’s 1952 Cessna 170B at age 16, earning his pilot’s license before getting his driver’s license.
Charlotte, Rich’s wife of 50 years, said that while they were dating, Rich would tell her that he loved her with all his heart, but that his first love was flying. The fact she tells that story with a delighted grin is evidence that Rich married wisely.
In 1991, after renting planes for years, Rich finally purchased a Cessna 150 two-seater, training aircraft. Rich is a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilot, meaning he is a recreational flyer who is licensed to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going.
He sold the plane in 1997, just before a job transfer with Bruker Biospin moved him and Charlotte to the Wake Forest area.
Rich has been actively involved with the flying communities in our area since that time. He joined the Civil Air Patrol Franklin County Composite Squadron in 2001, and has been serving as the Squadron Leader for the past two years.
He is also a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The EAA sponsors the Young Eagles program, giving children ages 8 to 17 the opportunity to take a free flight and see what licensed pilots do on the ground and in the air. Rich has also been involved in the Young Eagles programs flying out of Apex and Johnston County Airports, giving kids their first taste of the sky. For information about local flight days, see the EAA home page www.eaa.org.
In 2003, the Netherbys bought their second plane. The front-nosed, 1956 Piper PA 22 Tri-Pacer four-seater is a beauty, white with blue detailing. Rich’s plane is one of 7,629 originally manufactured by the Piper Company from December 1959 to August 1960.
The lightweight plane’s engineered steel-tube fuselage and empennage (tail assembly) with aluminum wings was popular with recreational pilots after WWII. It was innovative for its time, placing the landing wheel in the front of the plane as opposed to the rear.
The front-nosed con-figuration allows pilots visibility advantages in the air and maneuvering advantages while on the ground. The so-called “Flying Milk Stools” are still considered a good, practical flying machine.
Unlike modern planes with fuselages and wings covered with composite metals, the Pipers are currently skinned with a very, very thin Dacron Superflight fabric.
Yes — a vehicle that can move upwards of 130 miles an hour with a good tailwind is covered in fabric and paint. And, the owner, if properly supervised, can re-cover the plane himself.
The plane’s fabric skin has to be replaced from time to time for the plane to pass its safety inspection. Since his retirement three years ago, Rich has been replacing the skin on his Piper. It is a labor of love involving painstaking, detailed, multi-step work — just the kind of thing at which former engineers excel.
Rich is under the supervision of an FAA-certified airframe and power plant mechanic, who inspects each step of the process. Having completed priming the flaps, elevators, rudders and ailerons, Rich (with Charlotte’s help) is now working on the wings.
The Dacron fabric is cut to size and glued to the wing frame. Then the fabric is ironed three times using an ordinary household iron at increasingly higher heat settings to shrink it tight against the frame.
Next, using a very long needle and heavy-duty waxed thread, the fabric is sewn together — like quilting a blanket with thin fabric and thick batting. It is a two-person job, one on each side of the wing frame, each guiding the other as to where to push the needle through the fabric to the other side of the frame so the stitches match up.
Once sewn, all the seams and edges are taped. Next the whole piece is primed in a gun metal gray color. The final step is painting — eight coats of primer, four coats of paint and two coats of epoxy. Then the whole process starts again with the fuselage.
When asked how long the process usually takes, Rich said he could have it done in about a year. Although his estimate is off by a bit (unusual for an engineer, but not so much for a husband), Rich’s goal is to attend the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin July of 2015.
—Send comments or future profile ideas to Carol at email@example.com.