Date: October 29, 2020
By Janie McKirgan, President-Executive Director.
Indiana, PA has one more claim to fame. We now have the only airport (The Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport) that has a personal airplane on display that was owned and flown by its namesake. That is pretty cool! To see it in person is amazing but the story behind how it got here is even more amazing!
It all started back in 2015 when a man named John Hurn discovered that there was a neglected aircraft ready to be scrapped at the Dallas Executive Airport. After studying the Federal Aviation Administration records, he positively identified the owner of the Cessna 310 as the one and only Jimmy Stewart! Hurn stated “I learned as a little boy that if you found a pocket knife somewhere, it probably belonged to somebody that needed it back.” Using those same principles, he contacted our local Jimmy Stewart Airport to see if they would be interested in the plane. Members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) along with Charles Jensen offered to rescue the plane from being scrapped. They drove down to Texas with a flatbed trailer, dismantled the airplane and drove it back to Indiana.
Over the next 5 ½ years, Harold Wood and the local EAA Chapter 993 raised money to fund the restoration project along with soliciting local donations of supplies and labor. They restored Jimmy’s plane to its original paint scheme and erected it on a pedestal just outside the airport. The Cessna 310 is on a bank position on a pedestal and it rotates in the wind. The propellers also turn with the wind. There are strobe lights on the tail and wing tip lights as well that are powered by solar panels.
This airplane is the second of 2 Cessna 310’s that Jimmy Stewart owned. He reportedly made at least two trips to our Indiana airport in this plane during the four years he owned and flew it. He often flew his family to vacation destinations in it, along with flying with his good friend and racing pilot Joe DeBono.
The future second phase of the project will include a playground and pedal airplanes that children and propel down a runway. This is to draw the next generation out to the airport to see Jimmy’s plane, play on the playground and watch planes take off to unknow destinations. This whole project is in memory of Jimmy Stewart and serves as an inspiration to future generations of aviators.
This where I come in! A small (due to COVID) dedication took place on September 26, 2020. All of the people that were involved in the project were there and a few spoke and told the incredible restoration story. What passion these men had for this project! I was honored to speak for Jimmy Stewart’s children at the event. The following is the speech I read from Kelly, Judy & Michael at the dedication:
“Our family is beyond amazed and thrilled by this miraculous resurrection of our father’s Cessna 310. We have nothing but the most wonderful childhood memories of this plane. It meant a family adventure together, as Dad, with his friend and fellow pilot, Joe DeBona, would sometimes fly us to the family ranch for a vacation. It meant the excitement of being in a small plane. But above all, it meant the thrill of seeing Dad suddenly become the serious, focused pilot that he was: working those countless dials and switches; interpreting what sounded to us kids like incomprehensible garble from the tower. These times made us realize how flying was a part of Dad’s soul…one of the great passions of his life.
We were first contacted over 5 years ago by Charles Jensen, telling us that the shell of the long-unused Cessna 310 had been discovered languishing at the Dallas Executive Airport. When he told us about plans to transport and restore the plane, giving it a final home at Jimmy Stewart Airport in Indiana, we thought that it was a wonderful and, frankly, impossible dream. We obviously underestimated the vision and passion, the technical expertise and skill, and the coordinating abilities of people like Charles Jensen, John Hurn and Harold Wood. We owe so many thanks to these men as well as to all those with EAA at the Jimmy Stewart Airport, who took on the project, and to the Jimmy Stewart Museum for their support and cooperation.
And now, here stands the resurrected Cessna 310, with its beautifully engraved bronze plaque. Our father would feel thrilled and deeply moved to see this plane, poised as if in flight, displayed at the airport bearing his name. Our family is with you all in spirit for this dedication, and we hope in the not too distant future, to be there in person, to once again gaze upon our father’s plane.”
It was a touching dedication and it was capped off when Harold Wood played a recording of Jimmy Stewart talking to the tower and coming in for a landing. To hear his voice made it all the more poignant. There is a lovely plaque there in honor of the dedication. On the plaque is a picture of Jimmy Stewart, his wife Gloria and their children Ron, Michael, Kelly & Judy standing in front of the Cessna 310 N6775X.
When you visit Indiana, PA you have one more thing to experience in addition to The Jimmy Stewart Museum and his boyhood home. Besides the Stewart’s magnificent plane there is also a display inside the airport terminal about Jimmy’s life in aviation. You may even get to catch a few planes taking off or landing. It truly is worth coming to see!
Jimmy Stewart always said that if he hadn’t become an actor, he would have been a full-time pilot. Aviation was his other passion in life. Stewart is quoted as saying, “I guess I’ll go right on flying, as long as I’m able to fly. I can’t seem to help myself.”
Fly high Jimmy, fly high.