Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2019 issue
In writing about Don Pellegreno, the question becomes one of including 60 years of flying and restoring aircraft into a story that is not a heavy book. Soloing an Aeronca Champ in 1960 was the beginning of his love of and interest in all facets of aviation. After receiving a private pilot license in 1962 in his Cessna 140, he soon began looking closely at the airplanes themselves.
Yes, flying was fun, but building and restoring airplanes also beckoned. Seeing the photograph of a Smith Miniplane on the cover of Air Progress, he ordered the 12 pages of plans. Needing to weld, he took a course and practiced on pieces of an old fuselage. This first airplane was a total learning experience, from constructing the fuselage, to assembling the many wooden pieces for the wings, to ordering a Lycoming 0-290 GPU, and finally covering the aircraft. And what a thrill it was to take to the air in his biplane!
This encouraged him to use his new skills on other aircraft, and this he did with the varying array of aircraft that arrived at his workshop. Along with these airplanes came many friends from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Antique Airplane Association (AAA) with whom he had countless conversations and enjoyed the camaraderie of a cadre of people with similar interests in aviation.
In his life away from airplanes, Don was a professor at Bradley University and Iowa State University. In Iowa he and his wife, Ann, purchased a 120-acre farm northwest of Story City and seeded a 2300-foot runway for a private airport called Aerodrome, which was active from 1970 through 1997. Many fly-ins and chapter meetings occurred there.
Don obtained his A&P license so he could work on certificated airplanes and engines. Additionally, he maintained his 1952 Bonanza and a 1967 Cherokee Arrow that enabled the couple to fly to Alaska and many other states, often to fly-ins and other aviation gatherings.
In hangars on the Iowa farm and later in Texas, aircraft received the chance to be flown again after Don restored them. Among these aircraft were an Aeronca C-3, Aeronca Chief, a Schweizer glider, Beech Staggerwing, Christen Eagle, Cessna LC-126, Rose Parrakeet, the only Rearwin 8090, and a Piper Cub.
Don’s largest project was a Fairchild XNQ-1, one of two built that flew. This aircraft arrived at the farm in September 1982. Ten years later Don test flew it on June 1, 1992. Piece by piece this entire airplane had been painstakingly restored – a beauty to see and to fly. That year he took it to the EAA Fly-In at Oshkosh, Wis. and the AAA Fly-In in Blakesburg, Iowa. Through the years Don received much recognition for his outstanding restorations.
Don always helped others with their aircraft projects. Along the way he gathered many lifelong friends. This pilot truly loved his airplanes and maintained them so they always presented a like-new appearance as he flew them above this beautiful planet.