Aircraft documents donated to a Langley museum

The Canadian Museum of Flight welcomed a pair who brought documents about a key aircraft.

by Heather Colpitts

Pilot Joe Hitch purchased the Waco INF airplane for “$10 and other considerations” in 1948.

The Canadian Museum of Flight has had a copy of the bill of sale when the American man purchased the plane that was in pretty rough shape.

Hitch refurbished it and sold it in 1949 for “$10 and other considerations.” It would have had a value of about $1,000.

The plane itself is in the collection of the Langley aviation museum and on March 19 two friends of Hitch visited from Reno with documents that will help fill in the story of the aircraft.

“I came up specially for this,” explained Elgen Long, himself a pilot and a Second World War veteran.

Hitch was a pilot, crop duster, fighter pilot in the 1950s, and mechanic who taught actor Wallace Beery to fly and did a lot of flying in Hollywood during the golden age of the Silver Screen.

He died in December and the documents about the plane were found in his papers.

“Eve, his wife, said ‘the people of Langley have this plane. Take these [documents] up to them’,” Long said.

There were various letters from the manufacturer about service and maintenance issues and a 1948 photo of Hitch in the plane.

The Waco was built in 1930 by an Ohio-based firm. It is the oldest one still flying in Western Canada and one of the few INFs around.

It was originally used for by a Seattle-based washing machine salesman, and was brought to B.C. air shows in the 1930s.

The plane would go on to be owned by 16 owners in 20 years and has been in B.C. since 1972. It was donated to the museum by Mike Meeker in 1979.

Terry Brunner, manager of the museum which is run as a non-profit, said this helps round out the story of the Waco INF.

“It’s an asset to the museum,” he said. “It’s a missing link.”

For Long, the trip was a chance to see his friend’s former aircraft.

“To see it in the flesh, this is the first time,” Elgen Long said when he walked into the museum hangar and saw the Waco.

It’s Long’s first time at the museum but not his first time in B.C. He’s considered the expert on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, having researched her for more than three decades. A few years ago Long brought letters of Amelia’s and her sister to SFU professor Dongya Yang who is trying to extract Amelia’s DNA.

Earhart was attempting to fly around the world at the equator in 1937 when she and her navigator disappeared.

The DNA can then be used to compare samples taken from artefacts and a bone fragment found in 2009 on an island in the area where she was thought to have disappeared.

Long, now 86, is a long distance flyer with the equivalent of six years of time in the air. He flew refugees into Israel as it was being created and was a longtime crash investigator.

Long also received the FAI Gold Air Medal for his north/south flight around the world while on leave as 747 pilot in 1971, a feat that set 15 different records.

Long was accompanied on the trip by Mark Goodrich, a Reno aviation enthusiast who is writing about the trip for a Canadian aviation magazine and a friend of Joe Hitch as well.

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