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Pilots hope to restore plane

Flight: Vintage Navy aircraft was damaged during crash landing in August; pilot to fly another plane at Family Freedom Day

Last Modified: 1:36 a.m. 9/26/2002

By Erin Adamson (785) 295-1185 or
The Capital-Journal
  A Grumman C-1A Trader rests in a cornfield near Macomb, Ill., after Topekans Robert Eichkorn, Doug Goss and Richard Cronn crash landed the plane. Nobody was injured in the crash. The three members of a flying club based at Forbes Field were returning from an airshow in South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 18 when the right engine of their vintage Navy aircraft suddenly exploded and the plane dropped out of the sky.

Three Topeka airplane enthusiasts were flying home from Indiana on Aug. 18 when the right engine of their vintage Navy aircraft exploded and the plane dropped out of the sky.

It took about three minutes for the plane to plummet into a cornfield near Macomb, Ill. Pilot Doug Goss said in that short time he experienced the first crisis situation in his 30 years of flying.

Goss, along with co-pilot Robert Eichkorn and Richard Cronn, who is co-owner of the plane with Goss, landed safely and no one was even bruised in the crash.

The three members the of flying club Warbirds of America Squadron 14, which is based at Forbes Field, were returning in their Grumman C-1A Trader, named "Miss Belle," from an airshow at South Bend, Ind., that day.

"There's a saying in flying that there's long hours of boredom punctuated by a few minutes of stark terror," Goss said. "I told those guys I had a guardian angel. There was a lot of divine intervention that day, I'm convinced of that."

While grateful that no one was hurt, the members of Squadron 14 were dealt a blow by the condition of their meticulously restored Miss Belle. Eichkorn said the engine explosion and ensuing crash ruined both engines, a wing, and crumpled the fuselage, or body, of the plane.

Eichkorn said the plane had been well maintained and the engine was in excellent condition, and the explosion was a rare failure.

Squadron 14 is trying to raise about $150,000 to restore the Trader and preserve a piece of military history. Eichkorn said the plane reminds him of the sacrifices made by members of the U.S. military to protect American freedoms.

"It's not so much like we're owners," he said. "It's like we're caretakers because of it's long history."

Goss said the group wants to preserve the unique history of one of the only 87 Grumman C-1A Traders that were made. The Navy used the Trader from 1958 to 1988 to carry mail, light cargo and passengers.

"It was essentially the taxi cab from the carrier to the mainland," he said.

During the Vietnam War, the Trader flew supply flights to bases in the Philippines, Guam, and South Vietnam.

Now retired from the Navy, Miss Belle has made a name for herself in Topeka. Goss and Cronn bought the plane four years ago for Squadron 14 members to fly and maintain at a hanger at Forbes Field. Members fly the Trader at airshows in the Topeka area and around the country.

Goss said the most satisfying part of owning the plane has been meeting people at airshows who flew the Trader during its 30 years of service. Squadron 14 has organized reunions for past pilots and crews of the Trader, and, Goss said, their stories motivate the group to keep the Trader flying.

"It's one thing to see it in a museum, and another to see it flying," smell the exhaust and hear the roar of the engines, Eichkorn said.

Goss will be back in the air Saturday flying another vintage military plane at Family Freedom Day at Forbes Field. He said Squadron 14 would be sharing information about Miss Belle and hoped the public would see the value in helping to restore the plane.

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