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A Flight Back Into Aviation History... With a Very Special Stinson

A Look At Doolittle's Shell Oil Co. "Gullwing" Beauty

by ANN Correspondent Dave Ziegler

Tom Dinndorf of Baudette, MN owns more than an immaculately restored 1938 Stinson SR-10 Reliant -- he owns a piece of aviation history. The "gull-wing" Stinson he bought in 1971, built for the Shell Oil Company and delivered on August 12, 1938, was flown by none other than aviation great Jimmy Doolittle himself.

"Doolittle, who was a Vice President for Shell Oil, flew to Wayne, Michigan where the airplane was built," explained Dinndorf, "and then flew an acceptance flight." After taking delivery, Doolittle flew this particular Stinson, NC21104, more than 100 times on various business trips between 1938 and 1940.

Stinson manufactured the Reliant as the SR-10 from 1938 until the beginning of World War II. During the war, Stinson produced 500 military versions of the aircraft for use as the AT-19 (US) and V-77 (British Royal Navy), which were used primarily as instrument trainers. About 350 of these military models were reintroduced into the civilian market after the war.

"I bought this project in 1971 with the idea that I was going to restore it," Dinndorf explained, but after making little progress he decided to find help. A well-restored Stinson SR-8 he had seen led him to Rod Roy of Roy Aero Service, Grand Marais, MN who he eventually hired to finish the project.

Roy, who worked on the aircraft for four years, utilized the entire original framework and built a new metal cowling which was missing when the aircraft was acquired by Dindorff. He completed restoration just prior to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005, where the aircraft won Reserve Grand Champion. A month later the Stinson was named Grand Champion by the Blakesburg Antique Airplane Association.

Inside and out, NC21104 is pristine. Large control wheels, which may seem more at home on a luxury yacht, grace the Stinson's elegant simulated wood-grain panel and fit in well with the fine leather seating.

According to Dinndorf, he and Doolittle met at Oshkosh in the 70s, where Doolittle confirmed the aircraft's authenticity. Dinndorf later learned that Shell had four Stinson's, with Doolittle's being the last, hence the old Stinson/new Stinson nomenclature in the logs he displays with the aircraft.

Dinndorf shared some of his knowledge on Doolittle's early career, explaining that the historic aviator made more contributions to aviation than most people realize. "People know him for bombing Tokyo, and people might know something about his air racing career, but Jimmy did a lot of things for the Army Air Corp immediately after World War I and throughout the '20s. He won the Schneider Trophy, the Bendix Trophy, the Thompson Trophy, and then he retired from air racing in '32 and that's when he worked for Shell Oil.

"While he was in the army, the army recognized him as a very bright guy, so they sent him to MIT where he earned a Ph.D. in aeronautics -- the first one ever -- and he was Phi Beta Kappa at MIT, so he was a very bright guy. And one of his biographies is called Calculated Risk, which are two words that describe him. He was a risk taker, he was a daredevil, but he was also a Ph.D. engineer so everything was calculated."

Doolittle was also the first pilot to fly solely on instruments when in September 1922 he flew a DeHavilland DH-4 equipped with early navigational instruments from Pablo Beach, FL to San Diego, CA.

While working for Shell Oil, Doolittle -- who saw World War II looming -- influenced the company to ramp up production of 100 octane fuel, something most oil companies were unwilling to produce in great supply on speculation. "At that time, the engine people wouldn't build engines because there was no fuel, and the fuel people wouldn't make fuel because there were no engines."

FMI: www.stinsonclub.org/, www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/doo.html


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