Kent Co. family’s vintage aircraft is museum-bound
Special from the Kent County News
— The Harris family of Worton has been flying the Kent County skies and beyond for several generations, and now plans to donate its last airplane for the public to enjoy.
Anne Harris said her father, Mike Harris, received his pilot’s license in 1928. He traveled all over the U.S. and across the globe.
“His longest trip was probably to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and he actually visited me while I was there,” Ann Harris said. “I would suspect he was the first to fly in Kent County. He introduced a lot of people around here to flying.”
She said one of her earliest memories is flying with her father and “seeing the ground upside down.”
Anne Harris said the last plane her father flew before passing away in 1984 was a 1946 Bellanca 14-19-3 Cruisair. She and her brother Arthur “Buzz” Harris are giving the plane to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pa.
Various museum representatives have been down to the Harris family farm — Sandy Hill Farm — to perform maintenance on the airplane. They repaired the engine and worked on the landing gear.
“We were searching to find something to do with it, because putting it back in flying shape
would have been very expensive,” Anne Harris said. “It was on their (the museum’s) wish list.”
Russ Strine, MAAM president, said he is excited about the Harris airplane. He said the museum has 109 planes, each one either built, flown or otherwise used in a MidAtlantic state.
“I’m looking forward to this being part of our collection,” he said. “The Bellanca is the one that we’ve been lacking, and we’ve looked for it for years. So Anne and Buzz have come to our rescue.”
Buzz Harris, who received his pilot’s license in 1955, said the highest altitude he ever took the Bellanca on a flight was 18,000 feet and the farthest trip was to Minnesota. Buzz Harris was a driving force behind the former Gill Airport/Scheeler Field, a former airport in Chestertown.
“It needs a home,” Buzz Harris said, referring to the Bellanca.
Strine said the Harris’ Bellanca was built post-World War II, by designer Giuseppe Mario Bellanca in New Castle, Del. He said due to the designer’s quirks, the Bellanca is in a class by itself.
“It really is one of the most efficient and fastest postwar personal light airplanes produced,” he said.
Buzz Harris said the family plane weighs about 2,300 pounds and can reach a speed of 150 mph.
Strine said one of the plane’s unique features is its wings, which are made of wood. Those are covered by a plywood skin, which then is covered with fabric to protect it.
“Wood is easy to work with and it’s light in comparison. It gives a good ride and pretty easy to maintain,” he said. “During the war, further development showed the wood structure replaced metal because metal was a strategic material.”
Anne Harris said she is glad the family plane has found a home. She will miss it.
“It gives me gooseflesh, but I think we’re doing the right thing,” she said. “I think my dad will be pleased it’ll be in a museum instead of sitting here and collapsing under its weight. But we won’t be the same without it.”
After repairs are completed on the Bellanca, Strine plans to fly it from Sandy Hill Farm, which is a private airfield, back to the MAAM sometime next week.
Buzz and Anne Harris stand next to their father’s 1946 Bellanca 14-19-3 Cruisair as they wait for Mid-Atlantic Air Museum volunteers to continue their work on the plane Tuesday, July 12, on their family farm. The Harris family is donating the plane to the MAAM, in honor of their father.