by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017
I have known Tom Janssen of Appleton, Wisconsin, for at least 10 years, when I met him at Beaver Aviation at Dodge County Airport in Juneau, Wisconsin, and he joined us on the annual Canada Fishing Fly-Out to Miminiska Lodge, Ontario. Tom is passionate about flying, and over the years, has accumulated a number of aircraft, including a 1978 Piper Arrow III, and has had an interest in vintage Stinsons ever since he was a kid, building model airplanes. For the past two decades, Janssen has owned and restored two Stinson aircraft – one of which he has since sold — and while a very rewarding experience, it took a lot of work, and cost a leg and an arm, and he doesn’t intend to buy and restore any more. But you just never know about Tom Janssen.
“I always liked the graceful design,” said Janssen. “My interest in Stinsons was rekindled at a 1998 New Year’s Eve party in Madison, when I met an old law school friend who owned one. After learning of his enjoyment with such an ancient airplane, I decided I would join the action and get a Stinson, myself. Little did I know what an interesting and circuitous adventure this would become.”
The following summer Janssen located an experienced tail dragger instructor. About the time he signed Janssen off, “perhaps concluding, he didn’t want to experience any more thrilling landings in the Cessna 170 he used for training,” he told Janssen of a Stinson for sale in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Everybody looks for airplanes in the local newspaper want ads, right? That’s when I found my first Stinson, N8068K, a 1947 108-2 Voyager.”
Janssen flew to the airport where the Stinson was located to view the object of his obsession. The aircraft was recently restored by a “Stinson guru.” At least that’s how he was described in an aviation publication, so how could Janssen go wrong?
After only 70 hours of flying, the Franklin engine needed a crankshaft.
“The Internet was an incredible resource to aid in the search. I ended up calling or emailing folks from every corner of the country, including Alaska, chasing down leads for a crankshaft. I found one in Oregon, but had to buy the whole disassemble engine. I did. And, for not very much more money, I could buy the whole airframe, which I did.” The airframe is N9275K – another 1947 Stinson 108-2.
The first order of business in the restoration of Janssen’s newly acquired Stinson was to get an engine, because the crankshaft from Oregon went into his then flying Stinson. As luck would have it, Janssen located a high-time Franklin in New Hampshire. Master mechanic and Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame inductee, Chuck Swain, of Beaver Aviation, Dodge County Airport, Juneau, Wis., took the crankshaft from that engine and rebuilt the engine from N9275K to zero time.
In the fall of 2011, Janssen decided that the wings were not worth the time and effort to restore, so back to the Internet he went where he located a nice set of 108-2 wings in Jacksonville, Florida. The wings just happened to be stored in airshow performer, Patty Wagstaff’s hangar, which made Janssen’s quick-hitting, four-day trip to Florida, a bit more enjoyable!
Janssen’s first job, beginning early in 2012, was to clean and strip the wings in his hangar at Appleton International Airport (KATW), which were then stored in a hangar in Iola, Wisconsin (68C). During the rest of that year, and all of 2014, Janssen removed the engine mount, boot cowl, landing gear, and longerons, cables and all pulleys from the fuselage, and began the tedious job of cleaning and stripping the metal parts. In 2016, master craftsmen Mark and Ron Unertl sandblasted and made repairs to the sheet metal, then painted the fuselage with epoxy, installed new wood flooring, cables and pulleys; restored the panel to factory exactness; and installed an Airtex interior, a “hidden” Trig radio system, and an ADS-B out transponder. All instruments were sent to Keystone Instruments, Inc. of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to be overhauled.
After the fuselage was assemble in late 2016, and the engine was installed, Janssen moved the completed fuselage from Iola to Waupaca (KPCZ), so the wings could be attached and the aircraft readied for its first flight.
“On May 20, 2016, at about 8:00 a.m., N9275K flew for the first time since 1974. What a thrill.”
At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016, N9275K won the “Outstanding Stinson Award,” which was an award earned by a man who had an affair with an airplane, and several very skilled aircraft restoration experts, who shared his desire to keep ‘em flying!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Janssen is a lifelong resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, and has been married for 50 years to his wife, Diana, who supported him throughout his restoration project. The Janssens have three children — one who is a college professor, one who is a professional pilot, and one who is a professional actor. Janssen has been a pilot since 1974 and is a University of Wisconsin Law School graduate. He practiced law in Appleton for 48 years. Besides flying and restoring vintage aircraft, Janssen is an avid fly fisherman.