Profile Photo
Tom Cleaver
904 articles

Visiting the CAF Hellcat "Minsi III"

January 19, 2015 · in Show Reports · · 14 · 2.6K

Spent this morning out at the CAF Museum in Camarillo with David P. and Chris McCampbell, son and grandson of Navy Ace of Aces Dave McCampbell. The CAF guys gave us a really nice tour, and even cranked up that loverly R-2800.

I can testify that the cockpit is as tight a fit as it appears to be in models (I have no idea how a beefy guy like Wayne Morris crammed himself in there), but once you're in, everything falls to hand. This six-footer found my feet naturally on the pedals, put my right hand out and there was the stick, reached over to the side with my left and there was the throttle, very ergonomic. The panel is an easy scan, nothing gets in the way of any instrument, and vision outside is not that bad at all.

All in all, Walter Mitty had a fine old time, a fitting way to celebrate the return to the land of the living after being floored by the General Sherman Flu (it goes through you like he went through Georgia).

Reader reactions:
4  Awesome

10 additional images. Click to enlarge.

14 responses

  1. Quite a rewarding experience (I can only imagine). Many folks here would most likely give their proverbial eye teeth to sit in that cockpit. You've gotten grayer since the last pic I saw (the Chino outing with some fellow modelers from that "other" site). At least the new look is more complimentary than the 'greaser' look. 🙂

    • Actually, that shot of you wearing your glasses makes you look quite distinguished. Nice photos.

      • Yeah, but now that I had the cataract surgery, I don't have to wear the glasses that much (had them on here out of 30 years' habit) and the fact the CDL says "corrective lenses manatory." I think when I renew the license this summer I will try the eye test without them (but bring them along jut in case).

  2. Yeah the flu restyled his coiffure...

    Great day out.

  3. Lucky guy! Great photos.

  4. Looks like you had a great time there Tom.
    Thanks for the pics.

  5. Looks like you had a wonderful day Tom, wish I could have done the same.
    I've always found my Walter is always near when I'm around beasts that smell of avgas/JP-4, hot oil, leather and sweat. Not so much though in the antiseptic world of "electric jets".

  6. lucky dog...what a great day...thank's

  7. That Cat was once owned by John Sandberg a Minnesota business man and owner and pilot of Tsunami, one of the more promising Reno racers built from the ground up as a racer designed to fit around the Merlin engine. Sandberg tragically passed way in 91 while ferrying the Reno racer back to Minneapolis. Getting back to the Cat, it was found in Fergus Falls Minnesota. According to my neighbor who was an employee and friend of Mr Sandberg he decided to take on this project and he patched it back together at the airport and flew it to his hanger with a lot of skill and duck tape. The airframe is made up of a F6F-3 combined with a lot of components taken from F6F-5s . There were plans on racing it at one time and the wings were clipped and then the project was passed onto various owners and then onto the CAF. So its a Cat with nine lives. Why it ended up in Fergus Falls Minnesota ...the heartland of the Nation in the middle of small town with 10,000 lakes is anybodies guess.

    • So does the one pictured have "clipped wings" or were they restored to original condition?

      • No, the wing is standard. CAF restored it as a "stocker." The Hellcat is their most popular airplane on the air show circuit.

        For those who wonder what the truck outlines next to the flags mean, those are the "personal score" of this airplane, after a taxying accident up at Reno in September 2013, when two F-210s were parked in the wrong place out on the ramp and got taken out as the airplane taxied in from a performance. (As good as vision is from the cockpit, compared say to a Corsair, you're still about 80% blind forward with the tail down) The pilot was the CO of the RAG at NAS Lemoore, so it was Major Embarrassment Around for all concerned, but the FAA concluded the truck owners were where they clearly had been told not to be, so they ate the responsibility and liability. Had to put on a new engine and prop and some major metal work to the lower right wing outboard the gear.

    • Tsunami is actually being rebuilt. There is a booth every year at EAA where they display the progress. Unbelievable giving the state of the airframe. Tom's mention of the taxiing accident reminded me of EAA '05 (I think) when an Avenger taxied up on a Van's RV in the queue to leave on Sunday. I'm just glad I wasn't on the flightline because seeing it from the county tees was bad enough. He had even further restricted vision as the wings were folded.

    • Just came across this site: I grew up in Fergus Falls, and wondered why this Hellcat was sitting as a derelict alongside the airport approach road west of town. At a couple of local airshows, I took the opportunity to climb in and pretend to be high over the Pacific, an ocean I had never seen. It was in tough shape, I remember, with the canopy missing, gauges smashed, bullet holes from people driving by on Highway 210 using it for target practice, and other damage at the tail.

      It was not until 2017, nearly 50 years after I had moved to California for a career in Aerospace that I happened to see the story in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal: "From the Weeds to the Skies: Legend of the Fergus Falls stray cat Hellcat." It all starts at the end of the War with a Savings Bond campaign, and a plane costing about $80,000 being purchased by the County Fair Board for $100 to be used to promote the Savings Bond sale. Efforts to sell the plane went on for years until it was discovered by John Sandberg on Minneapolis. Nearly crashing on his first attempt at takeoff after some three months of repairs, he made it back to Fergus and on the second try made it successfully into the December I traveled with a friend, also of Fergus Falls, to Camarillo to see and stand next to the plane I remembered from my childhood in Minnesota.

      Attached photo from late 1950s after the Hellcat had been towed off the Fergus Falls airport property to sit in a field near the airport access road. I saw this plane every time the family car passed the airport on Highway 210...

      The second photo is from late 2017 when I saw the Hellcat again in Camarillo.

      2 attached images. Click to enlarge.

Leave a Reply